Day 4 – Conservation Agriculture Needs an Enabling Environment

After a dinner reception hosted by the mayor of the municipality of Pato Branco on Tuesday evening, the workshop resumed Wednesday morning slightly later than usual. We travelled to Coronel Vivida to learn about microcredit opportunities for smallholder farmers in the state of Paraná, after which we had a chance to visit an idyllic and successful organic family farm outside the town (fish pond surrounded by indigenous fruit trees, pasture up the hill and beyhond that sugar cane).

(The below ppt was delivered on Day 3, and has great background on conservation agriculture and cover crops)

Thirteen years ago Adir Lino (at left) completed his farm's transition into organic production. He chose organic farming because he could not make ends meet with conventional (chemical / input intensive) farming of soybeans and noticed negative health effects on his family. Today his farm has high levels of diversity, and all of the production is integrated into one system (the meat and honey production is not fully organic). This, Adir says, has been the key for success. For the Paraná region the farm is relatively small – a total of 17 hectares, half of which is under cultivation while the other half is kept as a reserve forest (more than the federally mandated 20%).

The farm uses only family labour, with Adir, his wife and his parents working together . And it sounds like there might be quite a bit of work to do with all the different products of the farm: sugar cane, corn, beans, rice, fruits integrated in the agroforestry system, cassava, vegetables, honey, fish, poultry, dairy… You name it! Where possible, the production is organic, and minimum tillage and cover crops such as black oat, ryegrass and radish are used. In addition, agroprocessing is being done at the farm to further add value to the products, which are then sold to Brazil’s school feeding programme, in regional markets, and to customers directly at the farm.

Today, Adir’s family farm is a shining example of what can be achieved through using diversified and integrated farming systems. As workshop participant August Basson, from Lesotho, put it, Adir’s farm is something of a paradise. The question remains as to how these practices can be adapted to the realities of African smallholder farms.

Parana State has seen incredible yield and productivity increases since 1992 thanks to conservation agriculture, but other things have changed, too.

As Dr. Ricardo Ralisch of EMBRAPA and University of Londrina and Danilo Rheinheimer dos Santos of FEPAGRO (Rio Grande Do Sul) tell it, in the 1980s no-till was increasing for big farmers and mechanized (tractor-powered) farms, but smallholders were not in the picture at scale. During this time the research institutes (EMBRAPA, IAPAR, universities) were learning about conservation agriculture to help farmers become more efficient and smallholders more productive. The turning point for smallholders was the introduction of animal traction tools for conservation agriculture, which IAPAR designed. With financing from Monsanto and Semeato, the first 36 prototype animal traction planters, “gralha azuls,” were produced in 1985. They were provided to the extension agency EMATER, who then worked with smallholder farmers, IAPAR and others to introduce conservation agriculture through countless field demonstrations.

Conservation agriculture helped the struggling smallholders who previously produced only grain or cash crops, to develop integrated crop-livestock systems. Now Parana state is a major producer of dairy products, powered by smallholder production.
In 1992, the conservation agriculture federation FEBRADPDP was founded and the revolution was in motion.

During the 1990’s some government support for small farmer programmes came in the form of loans through PRONAF to cooperative investments for agro-processing and storage systems. Work also continued on improving infrastructure including rural roads for market access.

As incomes steadily grew, smallholder communities became more organized and asked municipal leaders and politicians for stronger support. In the 2000s, government investment in smallholders increased through beefed up credit programmes through PRONAF and the creation of a new Ministry for Agrarian Development, which implemented policies and programmes specifically targeting smallholders. One key policy now regulates market for smallholders and includes a programme of direct buying from small farmers by municipalities – each municipality must purchase at least 30% of food it supplies to schools, welfare programmes and military needs from small farms.

Adir Lino accessed credit from PRONAF to buy his agroprocessing equipment (a 5 year group loan at 1.2%/yr interest) and also sells his produce to the municipality, among others. Clearly, his family's success is the result of organic and conservation agriculture approaches together with a strong enabling environment.

Reporting by Jeff Brez and Waltteri Katajamaki