Light for All in the Amazon

Image: Luca Nardone
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By LUIZ ENRIQUE VIEIRA DE SOUZA, RODOLFO DOURADO MAIA GOMES, ALINA M. GILMANOVA CAVALCANTE & MÁRCIO G. PEREIRA*

The government needs to incorporate civil society in the implementation, evaluation and monitoring processes of Luz para Todos

“We are going to bring energy to all Brazilians.” With these words, President Lula announced in Parintins the reissue of the Light for All Program, which has benefited more than 18 million people since its first edition in 2003. It is one of the largest programs to combat energy poverty in the world , internationally recognized for guaranteeing fundamental rights and improving the lives of disadvantaged groups.

However, over these two decades, researchers and social activists have highlighted that it is not enough to “light up poverty”, it is necessary to provide incentives for communities to use electricity in order to promote local development according to their own parameters and needs.

This qualitative leap depends on an institutional rearrangement that makes the program's governance transversal and inclusive. Furthermore, it requires the creation and implementation of evaluation and monitoring systems that ensure not only the good technical functioning and optimization of financial resources, but that also encourage social responsibility projects, such as the implementation of electrical equipment to benefit rural production, such as eco-stoves, flour machines, freezers, etc.

These measures converge with the objectives established by the government, according to which Luz para Todos should contribute to “reducing social and regional inequalities in the country, promoting the social and productive inclusion of vulnerable communities, (…) citizenship and quality of life in rural areas and in remote regions of the Legal Amazon, through the fight against energy poverty” (No. 11.628, 04/08/2023, Art. 2nd, item III). It is worth highlighting that the emphasis on the Amazon region arises from the fact that around one million inhabitants of the Legal Amazon (AL) remain “in the dark”, without access to electricity (IEMA/USP).

The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) claims that the demands of Amazon communities have not yet been prioritized for logistical reasons. It is recognized that many are located in remote areas, with low population density, and the construction of new transmission lines to serve them would be financially and environmentally unfeasible. However, these regions have become the last frontiers for universal access to electricity, and Distributed Generation Systems (SGDs) – which work through the association between photovoltaic panels and batteries – offer an alternative to overcoming such obstacles in a more efficient way. economically and environmentally responsible.

In practice, however, what has been observed since Parintins' speech is the continuity of a model in which distributors view the expansion of access to electricity from a purely quantitative perspective. Their concern is to reach a sufficient number of new connections, meet targets and present statistics that qualify them for the benefits established in contracts signed with the government.

In other words, Luz para Todos will not produce the multiplying economic and social effects on the desired scale, as long as the government does not promote an institutional arrangement that approaches it as a transversal public policy. The program is the responsibility of the Ministry of Mines and Energy and there are no effective channels with other bodies that collaborate to transform it into a development vector.

An example of this was the creation of a National Bioeconomy Secretariat, which aims to promote the “use of environmental assets, including Sociobiodiversity products”, but which has not yet established bridges with the Ministry of Mines and Energy so that the bioeconomy has energy infrastructure. , including in remote regions.

There is still no consistent articulation for the Amazon biome to become an “incubator for sustainable cooperatives”. Most bioproducts are natural resources exported as commodities or traded with other regions of Brazil, without a policy that actually stimulates new value chains and facilitates communities' access to processing technologies that allow them to reconcile a dignified quality of life and maintaining the forest standing. It is not a question of utopia or creating something from scratch, as there are already some successful initiatives that could serve as a reference, such as the Community Production Centers (CCP), which benefit more than a thousand families by offering support for efficient and productive use of electrical energy.

It is true that the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Family Farming and the Ministry of Integration and Regional Development also developed projects for the Amazon region, but each of them pursues its own goals, without an effective institutional dialogue with those responsible for energy planning. An exception is the “Connected Schools” program, which aims to ensure that all Brazilian schools have access to the internet. To this end, the Ministry of Education established a channel with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, responsible for the energy infrastructure of computers and other devices necessary for connection.

A potential strategic solution to overcome this institutional disarticulation would be to make the Civil House co-responsible for implementing Luz para Todos. With its ascendant power over all ministries, the Civil House would mobilize the necessary resources, establishing inter-ministerial dialogues so that the program fosters regional development, stimulates entrepreneurship, innovation, the transition to a high technological density economy and better use of Amazonian socio-biodiversity.

Effective and at the same time inclusive governance also depends on the creation of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for Luz para Todos. This means that a technical visit when installing electricity points is not enough. Relevant information about communities needs to be recorded and quantitative and qualitative indicators created to analyze the real impacts of electricity on the local economy and the quality of life of beneficiaries, including issues of health, energy efficiency, education, gender, connectivity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

More than agile responses to technical failures in the energy supply, assessment and monitoring policies would make it possible to adapt electricity services to local dynamics. This would mean, for example, identifying regions where installed capacity is no longer sufficient to meet the socioeconomic needs of communities.

These measures depend on the engagement of a sufficient number of government staff. However, like other government bodies, the Department of Electricity Universalization and Social Policies, which manages Luz para Todos, was gradually dismantled in recent years, so that the shortage of professionals hinders the universalization of access to electricity and the transition energy. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize that the Lula government's main programs for the energy sector are unlikely to be successful until they make up for the deficit of trained professionals in the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

In a complementary and not substitutive way, the government needs to incorporate civil society in the implementation, evaluation and monitoring processes of Luz para Todos. Dozens of indigenous, quilombola, riverside and extractivist peoples met in Belém (May 9 to 11) to debate and draft a letter with demands relating to “energy exclusion and resilience of the people of the Legal Amazon”.

These actors know the specificities of their territories and have been making an invaluable contribution as “guardians of the forest” in the fight against land grabbers, loggers and illegal mining. Intelligence in the fight against deforestation also means bringing electricity to these territories and providing their populations with internet, drones and other necessary technologies so that they continue to be the main allies of the institutions responsible for preserving the forest.

* Luiz Enrique Vieira de Souza He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of São Paulo (USP).

*Rodolfo Dourado Maia Gomes is Executive Director of the International Energy Initiative.

*Alina M. Gilmanova Cavalcante holds a PhD in social sciences from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

*Márcio G. Pereira He has a PhD in energy planning from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).


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