The federal district of Brazil, home to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, is an important water production area. It is a part of the larger Cerrado hydrographic system, which supplies most of the water for consumption, agriculture, and energy production in the country. The Pipiripau River Basin itself supplies drinking water for the 180,000 inhabitants, as well as water for irrigation.
However, most of the federal district is under significant development, with 45% of the land being used for large scale, intensive agriculture, and more than 20% dedicated to pasture for grazing animals. The local communities have increasingly voiced their concerns about the quality and availability of water in the Pipiripau River Basin, which is subject to the extensive, annual dry season that is typical of the Cerrado biome.
To address these concerns, in 2016 the GEF Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by UNDP, supported the efforts of the local NGOs Instituto Salvia Soluções SocioAmbientais (ISSA) and Aprospera to support local farmers in the shift from conventional to agro-ecological farming. The objective of the project was to reduce the pressure on the land and water to secure future recharge of the groundwater, and limit pollution by decreasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Dorvalina Teresa Soares, a GEF SGP beneficiary and rural settlement dwerller, commented on the conditions on the land before project implementation: “When we came here there were no trees, the fire burned everything, there were no birds. There has to be more people planting trees, planting native trees, recovering a land that's been destroyed.”
The project promoted the adoption of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In this model, consumers agree to pay farmers in advance for their harvest, enabling farmers to plan for the season, purchase key tools and seeds, and make repairs to equipment, among other investments.
The model also allows producers and consumers to share the risks involved in farming more equitably, thus changing the relationship between farmers and consumers from a price oriented relationship to a relationship of appreciation. Smallholders receive a more stable and secure income to plan their production and consumers benefit by eating fresh, healthy and locally produced food.
Through the project, 13 farmers adopted the CSA model, and are sharing their harvest with 175 consumers, known as co-farmers. The farmers received their payments up front and were willing to experiment more with the crops they chose to grow, which stimulated food diversification. Today, the participating farmers produce more than 30 varieties of food crops, contributing to the families’ food security and to combating the monoculture typically found in farms.
“We are transforming the territory, a region where agriculture is done very aggressively, with agroforestry,” said Fátima Cabral, project coordinator and beneficiary. “Through this project, families are remunerated fairly while producing diversity and richness in their own food.”
In addition to providing a more secure source of income for the farmers, the CSA model also places a significant emphasis on agro-ecological farming and food production. ISSA & Aprospera gave 40 farmers training in sustainable land management and agro-ecological farming, which brought a total of 80 hectares under improved soil-management. Some of the participating farmers have also succeeded in having their produce certified as organic.
The CSA model is still very new in Brazil, however, the potential for applicability is great. Many of the smallholders who had experienced difficulties in marketing and selling their produce have encountered success with the CSA model. Increased livelihood opportunities are also incentivizing youths to return to the region.
This shift to agro-ecological farming has reduced soil erosion and the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides, in turn reducing groundwater pollution. By increasing vegetation cover, farmers have also successfully improved the soil’s water retention capacity and groundwater recharge, which improves the Cerrado’s capacity to withstand the dry season.
In 2017, Aprospera was recognized by the local government and awarded the "Sustainable Rural Initiatives - Jorg Zimmermann Award,” for their work to support local farmers and to secure water quality in the region.
Following the third GEF-7 replenishment meeting, which took place in Brasília, from January 23-25, 2018, participants visited the Botanical Gardens in the Cerrado biome to learn about the impacts of the GEF SGP in Brazil and the adoption of community-supported agriculture in the Pipiripau river basin.