Visit to the Town Parliament in Cristino Castro

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.

townHallvisit3For 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).

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New thinking helps farming communities

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.

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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.

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Land grabbing…this is how it feels

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.

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I’m in

On Saturday 8th June, David Cameron and the UK Government host the Hunger Summit in London, ahead of the G8 Summit. This is our big chance to tackle hunger and save millions of lives.

Join the Enough Food For Everyone IF Campaign as tens of thousands of people gather in Hyde Park to demand action on hunger.

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Towards a solidarity based economy

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.

Social Currency

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 .

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A helping hand for Edilma and Raul

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.

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What hope for land Reform?

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.

layofthelandYou can read more about this in  Lay of the Land p.15-17  research  carried out by ActionAid.

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Enough food for everyone IF

The Big IF London event on Saturday 8 June will begin IF’s 10-day campaign in the lead up to the G8 summit.

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Micro financing….still learning

microfinance rioSolidarity 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.

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Can two wrongs make a right?

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

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?

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