Northeast — a new scenario

Image: Prashant Gautam
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By JOSÉ DIRCEU*

The Northeast will be seen as an example for Brazil, in the same way that public schools in Ceará are a reference in teaching quality

It is true that the Northeast still accounts for almost half of the country's poverty — 45% of poor people, equivalent to 27,5 million, live in that region —, but it has not only been improving its indicators but is also taking great strides towards designing a new scenario. Today it is an exporter of fruits and grains, its tourism grows every day, it is self-sufficient in clean energy from the rapidly expanding wind and solar farm and its growth is 50% above the national average.

In the first quarter of 2024, the region grew 3,2% and has a privileged position to export to Europe, Asia and the USA, as it has several ports.

Just travel through the Northeast to see the changes. The expansion of tourism is visible; agribusiness, in the region known as Matopiba (a region basically formed by cerrado areas in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, and where grains and fibers are planted); its network of highways and railways; of its fruit growing; and even its industry, such as the clothing, footwear and crafts sectors.

The presence of the federal government is notable: 40% of PAC investments — that is, R$688 billion — will be allocated to the Northeast. The region will also receive 80% of energy transition investments and will benefit from the Nova Indústria Brasil program, which adopts a vision of regional integration, and from the Believe program, which aims to support small and medium-sized companies and entrepreneurs to stimulate productive inclusion.

The Northeastern states are advanced in research and production of green hydrogen, which promises to revolutionize global industry and transport. The union of the nine states in the region, with the creation of the Northeast Consortium, currently chaired by governor Fátima Bezerra, from Rio Grande do Norte, strengthened cooperation between them and gave international visibility to the initiative. Two Consortium missions, with the participation of representatives from all states, went to Europe to seek investments and business opportunities for the region, increasing the capacity for social and productive inclusion.

Speaking of productive inclusion, as a result of the Northeast Consortium's first mission to Italy, where a cooperation agreement was signed with the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development — IFAD, the BNDES is developing the Sertão Vivo project, in partnership with the Northeast Consortium. and IFAD for projects in the semi-arid northeast. The project has already been launched in Pernambuco, where R$299 million will be invested and will benefit 75 thousand farming families. In total, R$1,8 billion will be invested to serve around 500 families (approximately two million people) throughout the region.

At the forefront of northeastern development are Banco do Nordeste and the Northeast Consortium of the nine states. BNB is responsible for 49% of rural credit and 90% of family farming, which involves 1,8 million families. These farmers need credit, support for rural extension, access to technology to develop organic agriculture and produce essential foods for the tables of Northeastern and Brazilian families. And, thus, definitively remove the Northeast from the hunger and poverty map.

Numbers

There is still a lot to be done to get there. The Northeast accounts for 60% of the number of people in extreme poverty: in 2023, according to a study developed by researchers Flavio Ataliba Barreto, João Marcos França and Vitor Hugo Miro — published on the Ibre Blog (FGV's Brazilian Institute of Economics), on the 11th of this month — this contingent was 9,5 million people.

But the Northeast was the region that showed the biggest absolute reduction in the number of poor people between 2012 and 2023, the period covered by the research that used data from IBGE's Continuous PNAD. In these 11 years, the number of poor people in the Northeast was reduced by 3,3 million people, a decline of 8,9%. Percentage-wise, the biggest drop was recorded in the North region: 11,6%.

In the same period, the number of people in extreme poverty in the Northeast also decreased. In 2012, the first year of the series, the region recorded a rate of 14,2%, with 7,7 million in extreme poverty. In 2023, the percentage was 9%, equivalent to 5,6 million people.

The study confirms the rapid response, with the drop in extreme poverty and poverty rates, to income transfer policies. In the period observed, the drop occurred in 2020, with emergency aid instituted due to the Covid 19 pandemic, and from 2022 with the resumption of income transfer programs by the federal government — Plano Brasil, in the last year of Jair's government Bolsonaro, and Bolsa Família, with Lula's return to government.

The worst year in the series in terms of poverty was exactly 2021, when Jair Bolsonaro's government ended emergency aid without instituting any other income transfer policy. That year, the extreme poverty rate reached 17,6%, affecting more than 10 million people.

The priorities

Among BNB's investment priorities are the universalization of basic sanitation and water supply; the ecological transition, with green hydrogen and green cement; the energy transition, with wind and solar energy; and logistics and tourism.

To support the expansion of the region's economy, road and rail infrastructure needs to grow. Transnordestina already has 61% of the 1.206 km completed and FIOL (West-East Integration Railway) has 65,8% of the works completed. The project is expected to be 1.527 kilometers long in broad gauge, connecting the Bahian municipality of Ilhéus to the North-South Railway (FNS) in Figueirópolis, municipality of Tocantins.

There are new investments in the industry, especially in the automobile industry — Stellantis and BYD —; in Petrobras and Noxis Energy refineries, and in mining, in the case of the Galvani/INB consortium. At the other end, tourism supports the construction industry, hotels and employment. Last year, the Northeast opened 340.776 new vacancies.

It is clear that there is political direction and integration between the Consortium of Governors and the federal government, that the role of the BNB is fundamental and that the Northeast is moving towards erasing once and for all the prejudice against its people and the image of dependence on social assistance, fermented in the cauldron of fake news produced by Bolsonarism.

Soon, the Northeast will be seen as an example for Brazil, in the same way that public schools in Ceará are a reference in teaching quality: the ten best elementary schools in Brazil in 2021 were from Ceará, according to the Index of Development of Basic Education (Ideb). And last year, according to another indicator developed by an entity in the educational sector, Roda Educativa, among the 50 municipalities with the best scores in educational opportunities, 40 were from the Northeast and 32 of them from Ceará.

* Jose Dirceu He was chief minister of the Civil House in the first Lula government (2003-2005), national president of the Workers' Party and federal deputy for São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Memories — vol. 1 (editorial generation). [https://amzn.to/3x3kpxl]


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