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.
After posting about land grabbing and supporting the IF campaign, in support of those under threat in Brazil, I realised yesterday that a local housing proposal has the features of a land grab!
In no way can it be compared to people who lose their homes but I am beginning to know a little of what that sense of powerlessness feels like. For the moment, I am trying to think past the notion of a village development being in the hands of venture capitalism and the display of self interest of others in the community. But this is my personal view in all its subjectivity.
Intuitively I know that ‘small’ is nearly always best. But faced with the huge problem of hunger, can ‘small’ be a sustainable solution ? I have been encouraged recently by the idea of social currencies. It is a concept that sits well within the field of micro finance and community based living.
If anyone has time and could do some research for us, useful starting points could be the BBC report and a more recent article by Shane Huges .
Lending a helping hand with a micro loan to farming families, who are struggling with drought and rising living costs to stay on the land, is a practical way of expressing our solidarity.
This week Martin, our volunteer who supports these families has been to meet Raul and Edilma who are about to receive a loan to extend their chicken rearing unit.
I could not understand why the government’s policy on land reform in Brazil was moving so slowly, despite reading about the departments set up for the purpose and huge amounts of money being poured into them.
I knew corruption was an issue and that speculative investment was a factor in land grabbing, but was bemused to learn that government ministries have been set up that have conflicting interests. For example the ministry of Agriculture (mApA) deals with agribusiness, while the ministry of Agrarian Development (mDA) ministry which deal with agrarian reform. You can easily imagine the difficulties this is going to cause.
You can read more about this in Lay of the Land p.15-17 research carried out by ActionAid.
Solidarity lending describes the process of micro-financing a group of people each with their own individual business idea. The loan is made to one member who takes on the role of co-ordinator. The group becomes self-supporting, sharing expertise, problem solving and encouraging each other to repay the loan, that they share responsibility for.
With a tendency to think of micro financing on an individual basis, such as the initiatives we support around Cristino in N.E Brazil, I was interested to read of solidarity lending but maybe even more interested to read of the micro financing facility being available in cities as well as rural areas. Generally, provided by subsidiaries of high street banks or through the state micro-financing bank they tend to award loans on the basis of credit history, which is usually a barrier to those living in the favela communities!
One does wonder about the involvement of profit based commercial banking with the social justice aspirations of micro financing. Indeed Hugh Sinclaire has written a book based on personal experience of commercial micro-financing as a betrayal of the poor.
Indian children from Xavantes attend a fight ritual at Maraiwatsede tribe in Mato Grosso, about 375 miles (600 km) northwest of Brasilia, February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
The Xavante tribe are back, fifty years after they were evicted from their land. The government have recently redressed the injustice done to this community by returning them to their ancestral land.
Ironically, the farmers who were once encouraged by the government to settle and farm this land, have themselves been evicted to make way for the reservation. Understandably they are protesting about the lack of consultation, disregard for land ownership certificates and unfair compensation.
These are the familiar protests of the victims of ‘land grabbing’. A term that describes the unjust and often illegal appropriation of land. Yet another name for the theft that finds it way into all areas that have a potential commercial interest, be it farming, mineral extraction or the urban development that is taking place in Rio de Janeiro.
Wherever it happens, the victims are typically, those least able to defend their rights through the over bureaucratic and often corrupt civil courts. A good starting place might be to reform and uphold a just system for establishing and protecting the property rights of everyone?