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FEATURE: Resilience to climate change in the semi-arid region of Brazil

Leonora Zoninsein is a researcher focussing on community-based resilience strategies and agro-ecological knowledge in Brazil, Mexico and Mozambique. Here she outlines how the Adapta Sertão enterprise is helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Since half of the world’s poor have livelihoods dependent on agriculture, ensuring sustainable production in uncertain climates is central to reducing socio-economic challenges.

In the semi-arid region of North-eastern Brazil, an enterprise called Adapta Sertão has been developed to help smallholders adapt to climate change impacts. The project works to create sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers by helping to guarantee food security and stable incomes despite unpredictable rainfall. Achieving these aims, however, requires new methods of preserving resources already available. Investment in water storage capacity both in landscape and in post-agricultural production has proved an effective approach.

By focusing on both infrastructure and training, Adapta Sertão has enabled many smallholders to be less dependent on unpredictable precipitation. On the infrastructure side, the project has introduced several traditional storage mechanisms including the construction of small, localised reservoirs and household cisterns. Alternative storage enhancements, like pulping and freezing technology, prolong the life-time of agricultural products. There are also plans for seeds banks and grain silos. These mechanisms are designed to enable the sustainable intensification of agriculture, build resilience to climate change, and reduce the agricultural sector’s significant greenhouse gas emissions.

The domestic baseline

In Pintadas, Bahía, the central hub of Adapta Sertão, a focus on drip irrigation technology has brought increased efficiency and productive opportunities to small-scale farmers. The success of this model is centered on dual investments in water storage – at the household level and in the wider landscape. Household cisterns ensure a stable water supply for homes; this is an essential prerequisite for the further development of water for productive use. By increasing the number of small reservoirs in the landscape that capture rainwater and run-off, the inefficiencies associated with distribution – such as energy, cost, weight, quantity – can be reduced.

In addition to increasing water security, access to new water resources has meant the town of Pintadas is now less reliant on imported food. Now, they can grow more of it, more easily. As a result, emissions from transportation have diminished, and local incomes have been supplemented.

Prolonging the lifetime of agricultural products

In Pintadas, the short ‘shelf-life’ and simultaneous seasonal blossoming of fruits results in widespread rot, and ultimately leads to all produce not immediately harvested and consumed being wasted. Recently, the local agricultural cooperative partnered with Adapta Sertão to invest in a fruit pulper and two large freezers. Women who received a loan for this equipment started buying seasonal fruit from the neighbourhood, then pulping, sealing and freezing the products.

The saved fruit is now sold to families, supermarkets, and most recently the region’s public schools. Where most school meals are traditionally sourced from other regions of Brazil, and are commonly heavy in preservatives, this scheme offers double benefits. The fruit-pulping project has ultimately prolonged the fruit’s shelf-life, decreased external food dependence, and improved nutrition in the region.

Banks and silos

In the semi-arid region, most smallholders have limited capital to access drought-resistant and diverse seed varieties. The seeds for each year’s produce depend directly on the harvest that came before it. To ensure the future livelihoods of dry-land farming communities, investment in simple techniques like seed storage can enhance systemic resilience to loss during occasions of drought.

The region’s current farming system suffers from an additional inefficiency – each day, farmers spend hours feeding their animals. Investment is grain silos will also offer dual benefits: a secure supply of animal fodder despite possible ‘bad seasons’, and an opportunity to redeploy labour if necessary.

Tackling the threats associated with climate change introduces many opportunities for development. Increased water storage capacity in resource-scarce regions simultaneously improves the welfare and productive capacity of smallholders while mitigating the negative effects of climate change. Alternative storage strategies will increase the availability of water. Scarcity of water then becomes less of a debilitating factor in determining resilience to climate change.

Image courtesy of Dep. Neusa Cadore. 

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