Brazil: Building agro-ecological knowledge at the 6th Cogress
Between the 9th and the 12th of November, 2009, the city of Curitiba in southern Brazil, hosted the 6th Brazilian Congress of Agroecology, and at the same time the 2nd Latin American Congress.
In total, more than 4000 persons got together, including farmers, extension agents, researchers and policy makers - most of them from within Brazil, but also from many other Latin American countries. Hundreds of papers and posters were presented.
One of the most interesting meetings during this congress was the III Seminário Nacional sobre Construção de Conhecimento Agroecologico - a special meeting meant to look at the way in which agro-ecological knowledge is built. This was organised by ABA, the Associação Brasileira de Agroecologia, as part of its efforts in influencing the development of public policies that promote "the dissemination of an agroecological perspective in all institutions involved in research, education and extension".
This seminar was organised following the idea that there are already many interesting initiatives being carried out, or being tried, by different organisations - be them public or private. The problem is that most of these are taking place in isolation, or without being widely known or disseminated. The objective of ABA was to facilitate a broader exchange of lessons learnt, and to motivate all those involved in these activities to share and learn from each other.
The November seminar was therefore the last of a series of meetings and workshops which took place during the year. Organisations from all over Brazil got together according to the area where they operate (on the basis of Brazil's six broad regions ), and each of these groups was asked to to select 12 experiences, as "work in development", that would show interesting results in terms of co-operation between the work of research / extension organisations and one or more groups of farmers.
One representative of each of these cases (72 in total) participated in a national workshop in Brasilia, in July, where they all looked at a documentation process in detail. By then, all participants had already started documenting his or her work, and was expected to continue doing so until the November congress.
The main objective of this workshop was to share some general ideas as to how to document, when to do it, why, etc. All participants looked at the major steps to follow in every documentation process (regardless of the methodology), and also discussed their plans for the near future. "The main idea was not to teach how to document, but rather to go through a collective reflection processs on the basis of the experience we all have."
These "reflection processes" continued with regional workshops, where 2 of the 12 cases from each region were chosen to shown in Curitiba. These were not only presented, but also discussed in detail there.
Please write to Paulo Petersen , AS-PTA
Rua candelaria, no. 9, 6 andar
Centro, Rio de Janeri, Brasil 20091-904
One of the cases presented - Ecocitrus and the process in Rio Grande do Sul
The are known as Vale do Cai is the perhaps the most important citrus production region in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil's south. In a total area of 11,000 hectares, there are at least 7,500 hectares with bergamota (Citrus bergamia), 3000 hectares with orange trees, and 500 hectares with lemon trees. There are at least 3,500 families involved in producing these fruits; almost all production is meant for direct consumption, and is sold either directly or through supermarkets.
Hoping to solve the major problems which they faced, many of these farmers opted for an ecological production mode. It was thus that they started "Ecocitrus", an ecological production co-operative in Vale do Cai. Soon, this co-operative was working together with another group, the Associaçao Amigos da Natureza. All members of the co-operative felt the need to analise and validate their work, and also to find answers to some of the problems commonly found by all members.
Ecocitrus started working with researchers and other actors in the region. A first step was taken thanks to a participatory research project which was funded by the state's government, and which was co-ordinated by EMATER, the state's extension agency. This involved the Ecocitrus farmers and also the members of Amigos da Natureza, together with representatives of EMATER, and also students and lecturers at the Federal University. This group of professionals and specialists on ecological citriculture was formed in 2002. EMBRAPA, the Brazilian agricultural research organisation, joined the group later on.
Focusing on the need to control a disease known as pinta preta (or ), a special research group was formed in 2008 within this broad group. Formed by students, lecturers and farmers, this smaller group has been carrying specific research in the field, and also in different labs. They meet regularly, and they analyse the procedures followed and the results found, and discuss the way to go in terms of control mechanisms (such as, for example, when using organic inputs for biological control). The results presented by the members of Ecocitrus show that these attempts have been positive.
Documentation and more analysis
During the seven years that this group has been working together, they have had many opportunities for meeting and analysing their work. A new opportunity arose with the Seminarios de Construccao do Conhecimento Agroecologico, organised by ABA Brasil. The group decided to take part, and a representative attended the workshops organised in Brasilia in July 2009.
Two months later, between August and September, the group got together again in order to look at its own own contribution in terms of building knowledge. The group started a systematisation process, looking in detail at the work of the different organisations which make up the group, and at the results achieved.
Representatives of all organisations got together to plan this process and decide how to carry it out. After several meetings, they decided to consider a few parameters as the main structure of their analysis:
- participation; looking at the commitment of all organisations, and the participation of individuals in the meetings and when carrying out different tasks; taking into accound the differences seen according to gender;
- communication, sharing and dissemination of information, considering the communication processes within the group, and also looking at how information was (and is) shared with the general public;
- consolidation of a network, looking at the way this is being built outside the group itself;
- technology and other results, considering the way in which the specific results of the research process are being taken and used by farmers in and outside the group;
- training and non-formal education, looking at how the different groups exchanged ideas;
resources, their use, needs and availability;
- the impact of the whole experience on the group.
The last step considered a broad meeting, where this was all put together, coming to a final document. This was presented at the 6th National Congress of Agroecology which took place in Curitiba in November 2009.
Please write to Derli Paulo Bonine, EMATER / RS