written by Livia Montenegro
photo by Fernando Vivas
Sildinei dos Santos, 18, dreamed of becoming a rural entrepreneur. A farmer’s son, over the years he witnessed his father’s dedication to their farm and his hard struggle to support the family. “We sold our crops to middlemen and didn’t see any profits. Everything we went through inspired me to seek better conditions in the countryside,” says the young resident of the Recôncavo community in the northeastern Brazilian municipality of Presidente Tancredo Neves, Bahia.
His vocation for farming and pursuit of knowledge motivated him to enroll at the Presidente Tancredo Neves Rural Family House (CFR-PTN) in 2012. There, he learns about farm management, cooperatives, soil management, irrigation, drainage and different types of crops. Sildinei says that he does more than just learn farming methods – he has experienced a personal transformation. “Here I’m recognized for my performance. I’ve learned to respect other people’s space and work with more discipline.”
All these changes have highlighted his spirit of service and the desire to make things happen. Sildinei is putting the knowledge he acquires at the CFR-PTN into practice and has managed to restore his father’s abandoned farm. On the same property, he is also carrying out his own educational and productive project on a hectare of land where he is growing plantains. The first harvest will be in December. That crop already has a route to market: it will be sold by the Presidente Tancredo Neves Farmers’ Cooperative (Coopatan), of which his father is a member. “Building up my life and career plan, I realized I could own my own business. Today, I believe that my dream is coming true and, in the future, I want to produce more and more, always striving for sustainability.”
The CFR-PTN and Coopatan are two of the institutions that form part of the Development and Integrated Growth Program with Sustainability for the Southern Bahia Lowlands Environmental Protection Areas Mosaic (PDCIS), developed by the Odebrecht Foundation with the support of public and private partners. The Rural Family Houses use a unique teaching method known as Rotation Pedagogy, which combines theoretical knowledge with practical activities. This bolsters the concept of Education through Work, which is the basis of the Odebrecht Entrepreneurial Technology (TEO). Transferring and adapting this technology to the social context is one of the Odebrecht Foundation’s greatest contributions to the PDCIS.
Inspired by the values of TEO, leaders of PDCIS cooperatives and civil associations seek to develop their teams. “Everyone here is very talented and teaches me a lot every day. Grooming people means valuing their different characteristics and generating knowledge while fostering smart solutions,” says Liliana Leite, Executive Director of the Southern Bahia Lowlands Institute for Sustainable Development (IDES), one of the institutions that form part of the PDCIS.
“My business is waiting for me”
The experience of José Marculino, 55, in the practice of TEO, has taught him a great deal. With the support of the Southern Bahia Lowlands Hearts-of-Palm Producers’ Cooperative (Coopalm), he has drafted and follows an Action Program (PA), with targets to be achieved during the year while cultivating peach palms. “Ten years ago, I thought that just having land was enough, and I went about my work the wrong way. Thanks to the help I get from Coopalm, I now know how many peach palms I should plant, how much it will cost, the role of each family member, and what the results will be – and I always strive to surpass them.”
A resident of the Mata do Sossego settlement in the municipality of Igrapiúna, Bahia, José Marculino has a guaranteed buyer for his crop. Produced in quantity, his high-quality peach-palm stems are processed at Ambial, Coopalm’s industrial sector, which produces canned hearts of palm. “My average income, from hearts of palm alone, is BRL 1,000 per month. I take pride in waking up in the morning and knowing that my business is waiting for me.”
The farmer does not work alone. His wife and children help him with the daily chores. One of them is Daniel Gonçalves, 18, who contributes what he is learning at the Igrapiúna Rural Family House (CFR-I). He says that he has become more disciplined since he started studying at the school, where he is in his second year. “Previously, I didn’t help my father on the farm. Now I can see that hearts of palm are the future for me and the whole family.”
Strength through teamwork
Valuing teamwork is part of TEO and the life of Alex Melo, 15, and Jeté Estevão dos Santos, 18. They faced the challenge of working together on an initiative of the Agroforestry Family House (CFAF), which, like the CFR-I and Coopalm, is also part of the PDCIS. “The idea is to encourage students to play a leading role in agricultural projects,” explains Alex.
In the Agroforestry Condominium, located on the Fonte da Prata Farm in the municipality of Nilo Peçanha, Bahia, CFAF students have just finished planting two hectares with beans and bananas. “We all help each other out and share what we know,” says Alex. Jeté adds, “Our goal is to build a sustainable future in the countryside. And we realize that we need lots of support from many people to achieve that goal.”
Governments (at the federal, state and municipal levels), businesses and civil society are working in partnership in the context of the PDCIS to create development opportunities for young people like Sildinei, Daniel, Alex and Jeté, who are determined to become the lead characters in their own stories. With the support of their communities, they are helping form a more just society.