Planting for the future in Brazil

Environment and climate changeFarming

by Flávia Marques Amorim

ACEV (Ação Evangélica – Evangelical Action) is a Tearfund partner working in the semi-arid region of north-east Brazil.

Semi-arid regions are vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns, which can be caused by climate change. Photo: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund
Semi-arid regions are vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns, which can be caused by climate change. Photo: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund

ACEV works with its partners to develop sustainable projects that encourage a healthy relationship with the environment. Its Planting Project works alongside its other projects on well-drilling and agroforestry. The wells provide vital drinking water in poor communities and the agroforestry work promotes environmental sustainability and reforestation.

ACEV’s Planting Project encourages organic farming methods. It helps families learn how to grow healthy, good-quality crops without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilisers. The project team support and guide families for six months, and an agricultural consultant provides advice. They work with farmers on issues such as water use and micro-irrigation; soil care and fertility; appropriate crops; crop rotation; and natural fertilisers and insecticides. They also encourage participants to set up farmer cooperatives.

ACEV values education. Communities can join workshops on environmental issues, such as:

  • disposing of rubbish sensitively
  • valuing and protecting rare local plants and animals
  • planting appropriate tree species such as neem and moringa, which cope well in semi-arid areas.

At the end of these workshops, communities are asked to commit to good environmental practices. Over the three years of the project, ACEV staff have seen habits change in caring for the environment.

José Ivonildo Fernandes worked with the Sítio Pinheira community in Manaíra. He notes:

‘The area was first fenced. Then we planted crops like bananas, passion fruit and pigeon peas along the fence, which acted as windbreaks and could also provide food and an income. Another important step was to diversify the vegetables that were planted. The community now plants new vegetables such as beetroot, peppers, carrots, courgette and cabbage, as well as the lettuce and coriander they grew before. These crops are all produced organically with natural insecticides [Editor: see box for examples]. People used to burn scrub and crop remains, but now we compost it and mix it with animal manure to fertilise our land.’

The Planting Project means that people have a reliable supply of healthy organic food. Because no chemicals are used, water quality is protected. Using minimum tillage protects the structure and fertility of the soil and reduces erosion. All these practices encourage local biodiversity and help protect the environment.

Antonio Felix Florentino leads the cooperative in Sítio Pinheira. He comments:

‘Today, with ACEV’s help, I no longer need to leave Pinheira and work elsewhere for income. What has most impressed me about ACEV has been the encouragement and support they have given us to preserve nature and the environment. In the past, we did not care much, but now we want to preserve the land God has given us.

‘This year there has been a terrible drought, but I thank God that we are now seeing the benefits of the Planting Project. I am sure that God has blessed us, and will continue to bless our lives and this place.’

Flávia Marques Amorim is ACEV Social Programme Coordinator

Making natural insecticides

Chilli Grind a cup of chillis (be very careful not to get any on your eyes or mouth), add 2 litres of water, stir well and allow it to settle. Drain off the liquid and add some soapy water to it. Spray onto crops.

Tobacco Boil 2 handfuls of dry leaves or cigarette ends in 2 litres of water for 20 minutes. Add some soap, mix and cool. Dilute with 5 litres of cold water and spray onto crops.

Neem Grind two handfuls of ripe neem fruit and mix well in 1 litre of water. Soak overnight, strain and use as a spray.

Words used in this article

Agroforestry means growing crops and trees together so that both benefit.

Biodiversity means the variety of plant and animal life in an area.

Minimum tillage means disturbing the soil as little as possible when planting seeds. This improves fertility, reduces soil erosion and retains water in the soil.

Semi-arid describes a region that has low levels of rainfall, but is not a desert.

Flávia Marques Amorim