The latest micro loan project update arrived in the VinB office this week. This always causes a great deal of excitement as staff are keen to follow the progress of the smallholders that are fast becoming part of our family.
… some projects are running smoother than others; some are faster and others slower. We have to treat each case individually. Although there are some delays at some projects, we have to understand that nothing is quick in Brazil! We have to be patient and encourage the recipients to do their maximum to repay a loan on an agreed date. In my opinion, the micro financing is definitely changing the lives of local people!
Smallholders that we are supporting:
Miguel used his loan to purchase a small herd of cattle. Despite the setback of a grass fire last year, Martin reports that Miguel is confident that he will repay the loan in January, 2014.
Similde and Fabiana used the loan to install a mechanical irrigation system on their vegetable plot; greatly improving productivity. They told Martin that one of the advantages is that they now have more time to do things with their two young daughters!
Neto, an experienced chicken farmer used his loan to create a purpose built chicken rearing unit closer to the family home.
Raul is using his loan to extend his chicken rearing unit. The increased income is vital to paying to support his two sons at university!
Brothers Valdglan and Valdgley and fellow student Denis from the local Agricultural College are using their loans to develop chicken rearing units as part of their college studies.
Neto is making great progress with the construction of his chicken shed, that will enable him to extend his flock and increase egg production on the farm. He had raised most of the finance himself and just needed a helping hand to finish it off. That’s were the students from Longridge High School came into the story. Inspired by the plight of farmers in North East Brazil and wanting to help they did some fund raising to support Neto and his family. Here he talks with Martin about his strategy for making the shed last.
Last Friday evening students and teachers from the Agricultural College travelled to the Town Parliament in Cristino Castro to present the College, and explain its work to the MPs and townspeople. Martin explains why the College needs to find additional resources and support here.
For most of the students it was their first visit to the Town Parliament combined with a rare opportunity to visit the town. Almost all the students wanted to take part, so we managed to put 30 students in 4 cars to travel the 6 Km to town (yes, 30 students in 4 cars is possible). I was impressed by the effort they put into preparing it and dressing for the occasional. For a while I felt like we are going to the theatre to see an opera!
It was a surprise to me that so many people, including the MPs in Cristino Castro, did not know about Agricultural College which is just 6 km out of the town and which is so beneficial to the region.
The College Director made an impressive speech and our students were on their best behaviour. It made a great impression on the MPs who have arranged to visit the College and promised more support and co-operation. (And also, during the informal part of the evening MPs were joking about offering citizenship to me and Martin, so soon we might become Cristinocastrenses).
Escola Família Agrícola, translates to Family School of Agricultural and is a new idea for supporting families in rural communities. It also plays an important role in the VinB volunteer programme in Cristino. Once volunteers are accepted for a placement the agricultural school acts as the guarantor and prepares the visa documentation, in return volunteers such as myself teach English to the students.
The college has a non-traditional approach to timetabling and to developing a supportive relationship with student and their families. The students alternate between two weeks of residential full time education and two weeks of home study. As the school name suggests this is to sustain the bond with home and family and provides the time and space for students to apply and share the skills and knowledge back on the home farm.
Though the focus is on agriculture and animal husbandry (with some agronomy), the
students learn Portuguese, mathematics, geography and chemistry and the course concludes with an obligatory internship with an agricultural company.
The school opened in 2008 and like other agricultural schools belongs to the community and though salaries and some funding is paid by the state, the college is always short of resources and looking for partnerships. As a relatively new school it is also working to build its reputation and to increasing student numbers. It is an initiative to support and encourage youngsters to stay and farm in rural areas.
VinB’s micro loan scheme is another initiative that contributes to the sustainability of farming in the rural areas around Cristino. As co-ordinator I am excited to be involved in helping students to prepare business plans for a micro-loan.
One of the pleasant duties of a teacher at the Agricultural College is to visit families of our students. As the College is administered by the association of parents and friends of the school, it is very important to get to know them, to build a relationship and connection between students, families, teachers and the College. So we decided to visit few families during our Easter holidays.
It is rainy season now, so driving to the interior might be a bit of adventure and indeed, our plans were slightly changed because of the flooded roads. But finally we safely reached one of the villages.
I find it really interesting to see how my students and their families live. I think the best way how to experience the reality of their everyday life is to not to let them know in advance that you are planning to come so they are not worried what to prepare. Families often live in modest conditions, but the hospitality is admirable.
One of the important gestures of Brazilian hospitality is to offer cafezinho to visitors and guests at home. Cafezinho is a strong black coffee served in a small glass and enjoyed with LOTS of sugar. I really like to have one in the morning and maybe one more after lunch. So I definitely broke my personal record when in order to be polite and not to refuse any of them I managed to drink six cafezinhos (it took a while to fell asleep that night!).
I am looking forward another interesting trips and visits, but I really have to think about polite and believable excuse how to avoid caffeine overdose!
What really surprised me was to find out that my students at the Agricultural College are motivated to learn English. Maybe you ask, what is so surprising about that? Everybody needs English nowadays! But you have to imagine a different reality. We are in the northeast rural Brazil, far away from the industrial south and the big multinational companies and where it is very rare to meet a tourist or a foreigner.
During the first lesson the students had to answer three questions – if they like English, if they find it useful for their life and finally if they want to learn and understand English. Just to help them to be as honest as possible, I didn’t ask them to write their names. I was expecting anything but the final result was a surprise. All of them (except one) want to learn English and they understand the importance of a new language, to improve better job opportunities, to travel out of Brazil (they mentioned Slovakia a couple of times; flattering and at the same time make me smile as not everybody in Slovakia speaks English). Or to marry an American woman – why not – it is said that love is the best motivation.
Indeed, I was surprised and happy about the honest answers those teenagers gave and I think this ‘revelation’ will keep me going for a long time!
It isn’t easy to write about the politics of North East Brazil, but following elections in October 2012 I just thought that it would make sense to touch this topic and explain some of the issues.
While elections in big cities in the South of Brazil (São Paulo, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, etc.) more or less follow European democratic standards, North Eastern Brazil is still influenced by heritage of so-called coronelism. Many smaller towns are controlled by influential groups of local politicians and vote buying is not uncommon.
I‘m not saying that there isn’t any progress. There are towns where you can see significant improvements in education, health care or agriculture during the last few years. This happened especially in places where people from poorer families got to power and ended the command of influential groups.
Cristino Castro and regions of the Brazilian North East are undergoing a period of severe drought. There was some rainfall in November and December, but since then there was only one rainy week at the end of January.
Droughts are not uncommon, though. The rainy period in southern Piauí normally starts in November and ends in April. However, there are some years with very little rainfall. Or even if there is rain, it might come too early, too late or there can be a big gap in the middle of rainy season. These irregularities have a greater affect on small farmers who can lose significant part of their crops.
To counter the impact of the drought the government releases loans with a prolonged time of repayment (up to 10 years) in case of emergency. These loans are related to use of water sources and enable people to build water tanks, ponds, cisterns, fences, planting pasture or other types of technical infrastructure. It is available only if the municipality declares a status of emergency.
But this still isn’t a solution for immediate food aid. The truth is that Brazil has enough food resources coming from southern part of the country. Hopefully there will be a strategy of bringing the food to the North East if needed later this year.
This entire situation repeatedly brings up the importance of sustainable development based on underground water resources. Cristino Castro has a huge potential for agricultural production, even in times of drought, but the water resources have to be used effectively and wisely.
As part of Fairtrade Fortnight, CAFOD have published a report which highlights five ways that smallholder farmers can be empowered. The third way highlights the need for access to timely and affordable credit, which is the aspiration behind our Micro Loan scheme.
focuses on the 500 million women and men who produce 70 per cent of the world’s food but who make up half the world’s hungry people. The report says that even when smallholder farmers are producing cash crops at the sharp end of lucrative international supply chains, the global food system still fails them.