This region has some of the worst socio-economic indicators in the country. For example, almost 40 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank – this means living on less than one US dollar a day.
It is also an area affected by severe droughts. The effects of climate change are increasing the socio-economic problems and forcing people to leave their rural areas in search of better opportunities in the cities. In the city they often end up living in ‘favelas’, or shanty towns.
Francisco remembers that in the 1980´s there was a good water stream running through his land. Only a decade later, the stream had reduced to a trickle and, as the drought intensified, the water virtually disappeared, causing major difficulties in Francisco’s community.
‘Our life was very difficult. Our livelihood involved selling our products to intermediaries and my income was generally inadequate to support my family. I also had to use large quantities of pesticides and chemical fertilisers as this was a requirement of the “middle man” who bought our agricultural produce’, said Francisco.
Then one day, someone from a Christian organisation called Diaconia visited Francisco’s community and an amazing process of transformation began. Diaconia is a Brazilian Tearfund partner. Since 1999, their Family Agriculture Aid Programme has provided Francisco and his community with water in abundance. They can now breed animals and grow more than 50 types of fruit and vegetables.
All this has been made possible by the construction of a simple underground dam which collects the water to be used in irrigation as well as for human and animal consumption.
Diaconia provided Francisco and his family with training and technical assistance in order to convert the land into an agro-ecological plot (using low-cost cultivation techniques that are friendly to the environment and focus on the family and local community).
They have also helped Francisco and other local farmers to set up an agro-ecological market. They have cut out the ‘middle man’ and can now sell their produce for a fair price.
The quality of life of Francisco’s family has also had some dramatic improvements, especially in their self esteem, diet and health. Francisco can now pay for basic medical care and for his children’s educational needs. Some of his savings are also invested in the family plot. With a big smile on his face, Francisco says that by having a good income, his family is much happier.
When asked about the effects of climate change, this is what Francisco had to say: ‘Although droughts are on the increase, we have been blessed by the support of Diaconia as we can now have our water needs met.
‘Our plants continue to suffer from the drought but now we know that because of what we have learned and put into practice our yield will be considerably better than in recent years, when the crops were so meagre. Climate change is a real concern for us, as our environment is so much drier and not even our village elders can predict what is going to happen.’
If you would like to find out more about what Tearfund and its partners are doing around the world to support farmers such as Francisco Neto, please visit the Tearfund website, at www.tearfund.org.