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How a local business may help on the restoration and conservation of the Caatinga

Read the first blog post about the “dream factory in Bahia’s backlands” here.

The factory “Delícias do Jucuípe”, headquartered in Pintadas, a small town located 300 kilometers from Bahia’s capital Salvador, is an example of how the community engagement of backland women and men may promote the sustainable rural development and the restoration and conservation of the Caatinga.

In operation since December 2016, the plant was founded and is now maintained by female leaderships from Cooperativa Ser do Sertão, and produces frozen fruit pulp in the Brazilian northeast semiarid region – with native species of the biome included – and distorts the so called 'drought industry’ by maintaining the rural producer in the backlands and offering opportunities of income generation to the family farmers of Pintadas and of 13 other cities located at the Jacuípe River Bay (see map below).

The idea of the community factory came from a group of female local farmers, which sought out alternatives for the fruit of the ‘umbuzeiro’, a typical northeast ‘Caatinga’ tree which may be found in the rural properties of such region. Those women are creating opportunities to improve life in the backlands, to develop family agriculture and to find new forms of production to generate income.

Half of the 11,000 inhabitants of Pintadas live in the rural area. The city registers one of the lowest collection of taxes in Bahia and a low Human Development Index (0,625). In the whole Caatinga area, there are approximately 27 million people.

“There was wasted ‘umbu’ in the field. Women realized that it [the fruit] might be used. ‘Umbu’ had no [commercial] value [in the region], but ‘umbu is good’, we said. People then decided to do something with it”, says farmer Nereide Segala. Born in Passo Fundo (a city in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul) and mother of three sons, Nereide lives in Pintadas since 1987 and is one of the counselors of the Cooperativa Ser do Sertão.

Map of the 14 cities located at the Jacuípe River Bay, in Bahia (Source: Google Maps)

Community builds strength

The intention of those pioneer women took more than a decade to become a movement capable of initiating the transformation of the local economy. In 2015, the partnership among different civil society organizations (WRI Brasil, Rede de Desenvolvimento Humano – REDEH and Cooperativa Ser do Sertão) contributed to the settlement of the community fruit pulp production factory ‘Delícias do Jacuípe’.

With the support of both public and private organizations, the Cooperative made possible the necessary investments in order to start up the factory. Besides ‘umbu’, the industry also produces pulps of ‘umbu-cajá’, ‘Caatinga passion-fruit’, all native fruits of the biome, and ‘acerola’, mango, guava and, in a little smaller scale, ‘cupuaçu’ and ‘seriguela’. By transforming the fruits produced by local family agriculture into pulp, the factory values the agro-ecological production of Bahia’s backlands.

In June 2015, WRI Brasil has started a study called “The contribution of local agro-ecological knowledge for the adaptation to climate changes and to the restoration of the Caatinga”.

The social engagement at the Jacuípe River Bay has been essential to the local development

The research focuses on the knowledge of local female and male producers about native species, and the opportunity to encourage agro-forestry practices with native species and to incorporate such knowledge into the productive systems of the local rural properties, contributing for the restoration and conservation of the Caatinga.

To understand the agro-forestry practices already in curse at the ‘Caatinga’ area enables the generation of knowledge about the production of food in an area of low water availability. Such fact contributes to the settlement of long-term viable business plans and, in consequence, the income generation based on the production of fruits from native species in a biome susceptible to climate change scenarios.

Besides that, such initiative does not intend to substitute traditional activities, but to offer a complementary opportunity originated from the utilization of fruit trees not yet linked to commercial use.

O Caminho da Polpa

From the farm to the cold storage, follow the path of the fruit until it is processed and frozen (Photos by Luiz Fernando Ricci and Aurelio Padovezi/WRI Brasil)

Fruit from the Caatinga: economically viable and sustainable

The rescue of the traditional knowledge associated to the technologies of agro-ecological production may represent an opportunity of income generation to the population, the resistance of the backlands’ culture, adaptation to climate change, restoration and conservation of the Caatinga.

Although female and male farmers are the greatest holders of environmental and agro-forestry knowledge at the Caatinga, there is a big lack of knowledge when it comes to the economic potential of the native forest – specially the fruit trees.

“There are people who say that ‘it is only ‘umbu’, it is not a fruit tree’”, points out the president of the Cooperativa Ser do Sertão, Valdirene Santos. Due to the lack of organized and large-scale production, the region of Pintadas does not appear as an area of fruit farming in the statistics by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). It appears only as a shy producer of greenery and of cattle and goats breeding.

While the loss of native vegetation in other Brazilian biomes was accompanied by agricultural expansion, in the Caatinga the agricultural area has decreased almost two million hectares in the last 15 years, whilst approximately four million hectares have been deforested. Such loss, aggravated by the lack of productive compensation, is noticeable, specially for being considered the semiarid forest with the biggest biodiversity in the planet, occupying 11% of the Brazilian territory, i.e., 844,000 square kilometers.

Around four million hectares have been deforested in the ‘Caatinga’ since 2002

In this process, fruit farming has also changed. In the last 25 years, diversity in the production of fruits in the whole country has been substituted by the specialization of the production of, mainly, watermelon and pineapple. In the Northeast region is wasn’t different. Deforestation has shattered the availability of fruit native trees in the ‘white woods’ – ‘caatinga’, in Tupi language. Today, fruits are spread in conserved, devastated and degraded areas.

Since native fruits have become scarce, the price paid to the rural producer has increased since 1995. The scenario opens an opportunity for the exploitation of endemic fruits from the ‘Caatinga’, both in the agriculture and in the small agro-industry.

For the factory to be profitable, the supply of fruits in the Jacuípe River Bay must be expanded. A large number of Caatinga productive orchards shall be installed in Pintadas and its surroundings. The increase of raw material will also diminish the high local competition, currently concentrated in a few family farmers.

Preço pago ao produtor pela fruta nativa cresce no Brasil desde 1995 (Fonte: Sidra/IBGE 2017)

Price paid for the native fruit to the producer has increased in Brazil since 1995 (Source: Sidra/IBGE 2017)

Native fruit farming adapted to climate change

The production of native species fruits may collaborate to the maintenance of the ‘Caatinga’ biodiversity, one of UN’s Global Goals. To drive the restoration of this biome is possible, but difficult, arduous and expensive. Therefore, it is important that the restoration models generate gains for the conservation of the biodiversity and, also, economic and social results.

An efficient strategy in this sense is agro-forestry, which incorporates local practices and knowledge and introduces multifunctional native species into the productive system. Such systems have demonstrated to be more resilient and adapted to climate change, offering a larger biodiversity of products and ensuring a bigger food security to populations who live in climate risk.

According to the 12th edition of The Global Risks Report, produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), extreme climate events are in the top of the planet risk list in terms of probability and impact.

De 17 a 19 de abril, agricultoras, agricultores e estudantes secundaristas receberam treinamento e foram conscientizados em Pintadas (Foto: Aurelio Padovezi/WRI Brasil)

From April 17th to 19th, female and male farmers as well as students have received training and become more conscious in Pintadas (Photo by Aurelio Padovezi/WRI Brasil)

Northeast region, where the Jacuípe River Bay is located, is considered one of the most vulnerable regions socially, economically and environmentally. Recent studies conducted in the bay call attention to the fact that the rainfall rates have diminished since 1962. Periods without rain are recurrent and leave a razed land, a dry vegetation and skinny animals.

Rainfall rates have diminished at the Jacuípe River Bay since 1962

The region currently faces its driest season in 100 years. The last 16 years have been the hottest ones in History. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) analysis, extreme climate events tend to be intensified as the temperature of the planet increases.

The consequence for the life of backland people is the constant necessity of preparing to face the drought under penalty of suffering the consequences of climate change.

The research in curse by WRI Brasil shows that the factory may be a driving force for the restoration and conservation of the ‘Caatinga’ once it is in full operation and with fruits supplying the production line.

Umbu: To Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha, “it is the sacred tree from the backlands”. The fruit, which has a bittersweet flavor and is rich in vitamin C, is consumed ‘in natura’ and in pulp, from Ceará to the north of Minas Gerais (Photo by Mariana Oliveira/WRI Brasil)

Umbu: To Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha, “it is the sacred tree from the backlands”. The fruit, which has a bittersweet flavor and is rich in vitamin C, is consumed ‘in natura’ and in pulp, from Ceará to the north of Minas Gerais (Photo by Mariana Oliveira/WRI Brasil)

Women from the backlands

Social engagement is historical in the Jacuípe River Bay. And backland women play a fundamental role in the local agro-ecological production chain, acting as leaders in cooperatives, in the adoption of agro-ecological practices, in fruit farming and in the coordination of rural communities.

The fruit pulp agro-industry aims to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and the capacity of innovation in the backlands. Women have conceived the establishment of the factory, are responsible for its management, take decisions, seek resources to finance actions, benefit from what they help to generate and are the work force in harvesting and in transporting fruits to the factory.

In the last year, they managed to regularize the company before the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) and also to file six types of pulps which may be produced in the facility.

The fruit pulps are consumed in several schools and establishments in Pintadas and surroundings. The perspective is to enlarge the covered area for the marketing of the products. Women from the backlands of Bahia teach us that this brave new world we live in requires adaptation. To live it is necessary to produce and, at the same time, to conserve the environment.

April 28th has been designated as the National Caatinga Day.

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