Proposals of the agroecological movement

Image: Romina Ordonez


The mass introduction of agroecology depends on many factors, which are not yet present

Balance of policies in favor of agroecology in the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff

I participated in all formulations and negotiations of public policy proposals for agroecology since the end of the FHC government until the 2016 coup. period were the so-called “universal” policies, that is, policies accessible to all family farmers. And, not all relevant policies were evaluated, formulated and proposed by our field of activity.

The most important policies for promoting the development of family farming were Credit (PRONAF), Technical Assistance (PNATER) and Market (PAA and PNAE). Other policies, in the areas of teaching and research, had less relevance, but are also, strategically, of the greatest importance.

The ANA, National Articulation of Agroecology, acted in all these policies with varied results that we now evaluate.

Negotiations on the incorporation of the theme of agroecology into PRONAF resulted in the inclusion of three credit modalities in the agenda of this program: PRONAF agroecology, PRONAF semiarid and PRONAF Florestas. Despite all our efforts, the format of these credit proposals was far from what we wanted. The result was that all were very little accessed by farmers and even, in the case of PRONAF Florestas, completely deviated from its initial objectives, to the point of being known as PRONAF pinus or PRONAF eucalyptus.

The PAA and the PNAE included clauses aimed at purchasing organic or agroecological products, paying a difference of 30% (if I'm not mistaken) over the price of government purchases. There was greater access by agroecological family farmers to these programs when compared to access to PRONAF agroecological modalities, but nothing that was very significant. Even purchases of conventionally produced food, largely prevalent in both programs, never had a massive impact among producers.

The Technical Assistance policy was, by far, the one that had the greatest impact in promoting agroecological development. I believe that all civil society organizations that promoted agroecology had broad access to this policy, but the design and operationalization problems led to considerable negative impacts for these entities. I believe that the projects financed through contracts with the government under the Technical Assistance Law considerably inhibited all the participatory methodologies that the entities had applied until then. Inexorably, these projects led to a rather conventional Technical Assistance format, with an emphasis on diffusionism. Not to mention the permanent crises generated by the bureaucracy to receive resources and use them. The format of projects is, in my view, something that has to be completely reworked in the future.

In the area of ​​education and more generally, the training of Technical Assistance agents, the impact was very limited. Agroecology courses were created at universities, and in basic training they were nothing more than isolated subjects in a conventional conceptual universe. Some postgraduate courses were more efficient, but had to deal with the problem of working with professionals, whose academic background was conventional. Finally, the effort to recycle the training of agricultural science professionals, with 40-hour agroecology courses, was a huge effort (more than 8 graduates) without tangible results. No one becomes an agroecological technical assistance agent with these intensive courses that, incidentally, favored the introduction of general concepts or the presentation of a restricted menu of techniques.


Impact of popular government policies for family farming

The balance of all these limitations indicates that little progress has been made in promoting agroecology. We have to reflect and evaluate how much progress actually existed. We have no idea how many farmers adopted agroecology in its different modalities (organic, agroforestry, agroecological per se) and how many were at different levels of transition in 2003. We also have no idea how many started to incorporate agroecology and, how many have advanced in the agroecological transition since then. We navigate in guesswork and self-glorification of our efforts, but we lack a more in-depth assessment of the results and processes to obtain them.

We know that in this period, what prevailed was not the promotion of agroecology, but the promotion of “agribusiness”, especially in the south and southeast regions, and that the impact of this process was the creation of a strong differentiation between the farmers who adhered to this model. A significant minority became rich, at least in the short term. These farmers abandoned their traditional systems of diversified polycultures to become soy and corn monocultures (transgenic!), embarking on the chain linked to export commodities and incorporating the technological package of agribusiness. Most ended up losing and many went bankrupt, selling their land or leasing it to larger producers and starting to live on income and retirement.

Family farming has been decreasing in Brazil since 1996, when government support policies for this category began. Today there are 400 fewer family farmers than in the 2006 census. This occurred despite the fact that, in the same period, 400 families were settled. This indicates that no less than 800 thousand families have left their lands. Not all of them left because of the policies that promoted agribusiness. Many abandoned their way of life for lack of other adequate policies, especially in the North and Northeast regions. Among other policies that were needed is the one that should support the permanence of young people in the countryside. Young people are leaving in droves and the average age of farmers is leading the category of family farmers towards aging.

It is worrying the fact that, with so much time of government action intending to support family farming (22 years) many of the producers in the northeast and north are classified as part of the population in severe food insecurity, that is, hungry. The fact that there are so many families going hungry in the countryside despite having access to land indicates that there are no policies that suit their conditions or that reach the recipients.

There is a refusal by technicians and left-wing politicians who worked in the sincere search for solutions to the reality of the Brazilian countryside to admit that they were wrong in the diagnosis and in the solutions they presented. This brings us to a concern about what will happen when we get rid of the nerd. Will the Lula government repeat what was done in the period 2003/2016?


Agribusiness as a government priority

The mistakes of these policies for family farming are added to the mistake of betting on agribusiness to guarantee food security and sovereignty for all Brazilians. Agribusiness is focused on its profits and globalization has led it to direct its investments towards a restricted number of products that can be exported (soybean, corn, meat, coffee, orange juice, wood and cellulose and others of lesser importance). and for those demanded by the A class. The products of the basic diet of Brazilians, especially rice, beans and cassava, have per capita supply in decline for two decades and this is reflected in the prices of food, in the shortage and in the hunger that we see grow in the countryside and in big and small cities.

Agribusiness cannot solve the problem of hunger and food insecurity that affects, in current numbers, 125 million people, 33 million of whom are in a state of severe food insecurity, that is, hunger. It will not do so because it earns more by exporting, and because its production costs are linked to the international prices of oil and gas, potassium and phosphorus, which it uses in its fertilizers. It cannot do so because it destroys renewable natural resources such as soil and biodiversity. They cannot do so because climate instability, to which their practices greatly contribute, causes droughts, frosts and storms that affect crops.

The agroecological movement has already demonstrated, in Brazil and in the world, that it has the potential to face the problem of food insecurity, but it will not be agribusiness that will adopt this technical option. This is explained by the fact that agribusiness operates on a very large scale, which can only exist with immense monocultures, the antithesis of the agroecological model. Only small-scale family farming can adopt productive models, using a wide variety of plants and animals in an integrated manner with each other and with the native vegetation. This will require many more family farmers than there are today. It will be necessary to “repeasantize” Brazil. This does not happen overnight and, above all, not with the format used in agrarian reform until today.


Proposals for the new Lula government

Would the proposal for the Lula government be, then, to agroeclogize the Brazilian countryside in the next four years? It is not viable. The mass introduction of agroecology depends on many factors, which are not yet present. Firstly, the effect of demonstrating the advantages of agroecology will have to operate so that all family farmers can see this alternative as something advantageous and within their reach. The vast majority of farmers do not know what agroecology is and those who already know it do not understand how they can adopt it. It is at this point that the proposal for the next government comes in.

In my view, we should abandon attempts to formulate and implement public policies on credit, technical assistance, market, education and research in a generalized way (universal, aimed at all farmers), to focus on proposals that allow accelerating the agroecological transition of farmers already involved in this process, in addition to attracting nearby producers to join it.

In the National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production (PNAPO), drawn up by civil society and rural social movements in 2011/2014 and adopted by the Dilma government, the non-governmental project was extremely ambitious and sought to integrate a coherent set of universal policies. , the government part conceived a much more modest program (although still unrealistic), aiming to increase the number of agroecological/organic farmers from 50 to 200 thousand (numbers estimated by the government) in 3 years.

The government, however, did nothing more than bring together dispersed elements of policies that had some relation to the theme under a large umbrella, where there was no new resource or expansion of the existing one. The bulk of the resources allocated to the dissemination of agroecology distributed by the government were in the technical assistance program and something else in the PAA, in the integration program between universities and civil society organizations and in the BNDES/FBB program called ECOFORTE. It was very little even for the modest goals proposed by the government, perhaps around 50 million reais a year.

In order to achieve the demonstration effect that we need, we must seek to create an integrated program of agroecological development with a financial allocation that allows covering the needs of up to 500 projects to support agroecological production, advising, on average, 400 families each. These resources should finance credit and promotion, productive infrastructure (such as water, for example), technical assistance, and processing, packaging and marketing. These resources should be available in a fund to support agroecological development, managed by the state with the participation of support organizations and producer organizations.

Projects must be submitted by producer entities in cooperation with non-profit public or private support entities. Unlike the current model of projects where the government defines almost everything that must be done, in this modality the proponents define their objectives and methods and adjust the evaluation terms with the financiers.

The amount to be assigned to this fund should be evaluated by a joint government commission with civil society organizations involved in promoting agroecology. Credit resources must not pass through a banking system, but must be paid by beneficiaries into a local fund established by each project to be reinvested for all participants. That is, for the State these resources are a donation for the projects and will not be reimbursed.

This proposal is not intended to address the serious problem of food production in the country in the short and medium term. It aims to consistently prepare the alternative for the future.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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