Brazil: Cashew micro-enterprise


Drought is a natural physical phenomenon that frequently and regularly afflicts Northeast Brazil. For a long time, drought has been harming Brazil’s semi-arid regions, mainly by destroying local ecosystems, which causes significant losses in biodiversity.

On the economic and social fronts, drought also has various societal repercussions. Small farmers who cannot produce crops cannot provide for their families. They move to other regions of the country, which creates other social problems, like unemployment, poverty and marginalization. Official actions up until now have prioritized emergency intervention, strictly technical projects, or an “assistance” approach; all of this has added to the vulnerability of the population. Drought also increases instability in regional economies. The living conditions of farming families in Northeast Brazil show that rural poverty is the product of the process of unsustainable development.

The Human Development Report (UNDP, 1996) revealed that the poverty of the agricultural Northeast represents 63% of the rural poverty of the country. As for the main causes of the region’s poverty, the report presented the following: quality and access to land (soil type and land concentration); seasons and unpredictable weather conditions; difficult access to technology; trade relations and few employment opportunities; and low level of human capital (access to education). More specifically, in the state of Ceará, the economic development model has been inadequate for the region and has destroyed the main local ecosystem, the thicket. There have been no efforts to teach farmers how to make better use of soil and water, and how to cultivate and use the unique features and diversity of the area (plants, animals and climate). In addition, a large number of women in the city of Marco work in cashew farming. They grow, harvest and sometimes process cashews, but this production can hardly meet the needs of home consumption. As it is now, cashew farming can in no way help increase family income. Large amounts of the harvest are lost due to lack of knowledge and appropriate technology.

The project:

Faced with this type of situation, it is important to promote initiatives that stimulate the local economy by helping farming families. These initiatives promote the sustainable development of family farming to potentially generate additional income, therefore improving quality of life and regional development. In this context, Alternatives is working with the Brazilian NGO Terrazul on a project to develop a micro-enterprise with women to manufacture and market cashew products. With this program, participants would be able to be a part of a production project that in the long term will ensure sufficient income to meet their basic needs.

The drought situation in Ceará does not hinder sustainable development projects that will create jobs, and incomes, for the poorest populations, mainly women farmers. It is important to preserve the unique features of semi-arid regions and know how to make the most of them: the salubrious climate, abundant xerophilous plants with high industrial value, harvesting of tropical products, and agricultural and mineral diversity. These people use practices that cause minimal harm to the environment and with hardly any technical or financial recourse.

The project will allow an already-organized group of women to start up their micro-enterprise to manufacture and market cashew products. Alternatives is thus financing a project that promotes the cultural participation of women and helps the cashew industry, which will in turn help improve the status of women in their communities and families. The training program also aims to improve the quality of life of people in the targeted rural regions. Specifically, the goal of the project is to train women as agents involved in ecological production and the development of local sustainable agriculture. In addition, this project will spread to various networks of farming, environmental and community organizations in the state of Ceará and the rest of Brazil. These networks are formalized through many regional and national movements as well as through the World Social Forum (WSF). Also, Terrazul supports the activities of a group of young people in the Brazilian hip-hop music scene. Alternatives supported the participation of the Terrazul team in Porto Alegre at the last World Social Forum.

2003 - 2004