Seven rural entrepreneurs who want to stay in the countryside are writing their own life stories in Presidente Tancredo Neves, Bahia. They have chosen to make farming their business and decided to stay in their hometowns, near their families. To do so, they are working hard and seeking sustainability, every day, with every crop they plant.
They are all alumni of the Presidente Tancredo Neves Rural Family House (CFR-PTN) - a unit that offers technical professional education in agriculture, integrated with the regular high school curriculum. After graduating from the three-year program at the CFR-PTN, where they learned about business administration, cooperatives, and soil and crop management, they faced a challenge - developing and growing productively. After all, they also had something else in common: a lack of land. “My family's farm is small, and by the time I graduated, I had already used every hectare available. I needed more land to plant,” explains Sandoval Santos, 26, a resident of the Serra da Bananeira community.
A way to turn this situation around is already in sight: the Land Access Fund (Portuguese acronym: FAT). This initiative was created by the CFR-PTN in partnership with the Rural Producers' Cooperative of Presidente Tancredo Neves (Coopatan) - institutions linked to the Development and Integrated Growth Program with Sustainability for the Southern Bahia Lowlands Environmental Protection Areas Mosaic (PDCIS), backed by the Odebrecht Foundation and public and private partners. “We saw that each youth had, on average, just five hectares to plant, which does not guarantee sustainable production, and that was influencing them to go to the big cities,” says Juscelino Macedo, the Leader of the Cassava and Fruit Growing Business.
The FAT is a mechanism that aims to provide financial aid to former students of the CFR-PTN who have joined Coopatan, can take care of their own farming projects and can live exclusively and entirely on income generated in the countryside. The resources that enabled the acquisition of 138 hectares, divided among the selected farmers, were contributed through the Cooperative with the support of the Odebrecht Foundation.
“These seven young people had a history of outstanding academic achievement. They stand out from the rest for their experience and dedication. It was they who chose us and embraced the challenge of taking on this pilot project,” points out José Neto, the coordinator of the Fund and a CFR-PTN monitor.
Discipline and ethical values
Edvan Alcantara, 23, is one of the participants and believes that it is possible to change the course of his life. “By taking what I've learned and putting it into practice, I have been able to go further than I ever dreamed,” says the resident of the Alto da Prata community. Benivaldo Santos, 26, from Ouro Preto, feels the same way. “Today I'm a role model in these parts, and I owe it all to the discipline and ethical values that I've learned.”
Farmers who use FAT funds have a one-year grace period to start paying for the land and up to 10 years to repay the full amount, which will be used to help other young people in the region buy farmland. Sandoval is also a Fund participant. Previously, he worked as a day laborer on other peoples farms. Now he is bringing in partners and paying them for their work. “There were lots of hurdles, and the lack of profitability has always been a challenge, but planting in larger areas is feasible. I believe that I can make a living in the countryside,” adds the young rural entrepreneur.
Like him, Adriano Santos, a resident of Ouro Preto, is putting his chips on the FAT. “My income has grown. Every month, I have a net profit of about BRL 1,800.00 and it's likely to grow even more. In the future, I intend to purchase another property and keep planting more crops,” says the 25-year-old farmer, who is also an assistant teacher at Coopatan, which enables him to share his knowledge with the community.
“We want to show that there is no point in being prejudiced against farmers. We drive the city; drive the world,” says Marcelo Roma, 23, who also accepted the challenge of taking out a loan from the FAT and lives in the Gendiba community. He grows cassava, pineapples and bananas, and he and other young people sell their crops through the cooperative. “We used to work hard, but at harvest time, we'd lose money, because there was no one to sell to. Now we have buyers for our produce,” says Ednei Lima, 19, who lives in Ouro Preto and also participates in the FAT.
Through Coopatan, they also get help in accessing rural credit lines, such as the National Program for Strengthening Family Farming (PRONAF), via the Bank of Brazil. In addition to financing crops, that program also helps farmers purchase agricultural equipment. Jailton Ribeiro, 22, also a resident of Ouro Preto, bought a tractor that is not only boosting productivity on his own farm but on those of all the young people aided by the FAT. “I didn't even have enough money to invest in a bicycle. I got the loan and bought a piece of equipment that makes all the difference in farming. I also rent it out to other farmers, which brings in even more income,” he says. “I'm starting to see my dreams come true,” he adds.
The farmland acquired to start the FAT was named the Eliane Oliveira Agricultural Condominium, a tribute to a young woman who, at 21, was the first president of Coopatan and died in an accident in 2011. “She made her mark in the struggle for the young people of Brazil. Her motto was access to land for rural youth,” says Juscelino Macedo. Eliane's story is an inspiration.