The sanitary, political and economic crisis in Brazil, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, gets more acute every day. Day by day, Brazilians have to confront a lack of access to basic rights and deepening inequalities, which make survival more difficult for women, black people and rural workers.

After moving through the country’s metropolises and large urban centres, SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for COVID-19, has quickly spread to the country’s towns.  According to research conducted by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz: FIOCRUZ), using data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE), there has been a significant increase in rural areas, with approximately 50% of new cases occurring in municipalities of between 20 and 50 thousand inhabitants.

In conjunction with more compromised health service capacity, the inland spread of the pandemic has intensified problems for rural workers, with difficulties accessing credit, a lack of public policies in general, and problems in disposing of products due to isolation measures.

These are the circumstances in the municipality of Queimadas, located in Bahia’s semi-arid region, approximately 300 km from the capital, whose main feature is a way of life where people survive by working the fields. The community of Lagoinha finds itself in this situation, suffering the dramatic effects of the pandemic’s arrival.  With an increase in the number of infected people, there is a need to follow social isolation recommendations and close down commerce, which has caused significant financial damage, a fall its economy and in that of neighbouring rural communities.

In the light of this, CESE and the Association of Lagoinha Residents and Farmers (Associação dos Moradores e Produtores de Lagoinha: AMOPROL) have come together to use Match Funding Methodology to support those families in the community who are most vulnerable at this moment of social isolation, providing information about how to combat the coronavirus, distributing food and protective, hygiene and cleaning products and ensuring that family farmers can plant their maize and bean crops.

For Jackson Diego dos Santos, AMOPROL Secretary, activities such as this are absolutely essential during the pandemic.  For him, the issue of access to credit is one the main problems faced in the Queimadas region.  This has been intensified by the crisis, and structural measures and activities are required from the responsible sectors to take 70% of food to Brazilians: “There is a need for financial resources to improve the animal herd, enlarge fences and plant palms, among other things.  Farmers are unable to access Agroamigo [the Banco do Nordeste bank’s Rural Microcredit Programme] because of bureaucratic problems with documents held by bodies such as the Courts, the Department of Agriculture and the Rural Workers’ Union.  Furthermore, the bank’s credit agents are working virtually, which creates difficulties for many semi-literate workers in the municipality,” he declared.

Measures announced by the Federal Government, such as a line of emergency credit for farmers during the pandemic, come with administrative problems.  The interest rate for this amount, announced as up to BRL 20 thousand per person, is 4.6% above the Special System for Settlement and Custody (Sistema Especial de Liquidação e Custódia: SELIC) rate, the country’s basic monetary policy interest rate of 3.75%. Moreover, the banks exclusively assume risks in the case of default.

For Aristides Santos, President of the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Rurais Agricultores e Agricultoras Familiares: CONTAG), this credit is not viable for most farmers: “You say that they have instituted credit, but workers won’t access it.  For two reasons: one that the bank will not provide it and, with whatever the bank does agree to, the workers will have problems paying higher interest.  If they do access it, this doesn’t really seem to be emergency in nature, because this isn’t emergency interest. Emergency interest is zero interest, it’s a rebate to encourage repayments.  That would be an emergency measure” Santos explained in an interview with the Envolverde Jornalismo Agency.

Family farmers are still waiting for emergency measures, announced by the federal government to confront the pandemic, to reach rural areas, such as the Lagoinha community, says França Lima, AMOPROL treasurer: “The associations and small producer groups in our municipality need support, both technical and financial, provided by both the state and federal governments, support through public policies.  However, so far no action has been carried out.  We are hoping that the focus will soon turn to the producer classes to improve productivity.”

During this time, while funds and public policies fail to reach the Lagoinha community, home to approximately 100 family farmer families, AMOPROL has worked with these people, who have historically struggled with a range of difficulties to ensure their families’ livelihoods and basic rights. Through local fundraising activities, undertaken before the pandemic, such as a festival of games, bingo and individual donations, the community raised BRL 5 thousand for the project “Together and apart, we will win”.  Through its Match Funding Methodology, CESE provided a further BRL 5 thousand.

As well as distributing 100 kits containing food and hygiene/cleaning products to vulnerable families, the association ran a campaign to purchase maize and bean seeds for the community.  The initiative aims to distribute these grains to local farmers and set up a seed bank, in order to ensure the autonomy of family farmers and restore links for mutual aid in Lagoinha.

França Lima talks about the importance of CESE’s support at this time: “We were able to ease the difficulties experienced by families who live below the poverty line.  CESE lit up our lives, helping us run this really valuable project.  We recognize the effort, the organization’s contribution, and we know how important it is to have an organization by our side that has a vision which focuses on projects that change lives.”

For the association, the post-pandemic period may bring to the table agendas embraced by rural populations, for example, resistance to the agribusiness model, seen in many families.  In this sense, AMOPROL has linked up virtually with other bodies and communities to strengthen family farming and the consumption of poison-free food: “We are working together for the region’s 7th Goat and Sheep Trade-Fair, which will be held after the pandemic.  We believe that this will be an opportune moment for debates about semi-arid issues, in particular how to strengthen family farming. We have contacted around 12 communities in the area, who basically work in the same activities. We want to strengthen agricultural production with quality organic products,” Jackson Diego dos Santos declared.


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