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Increasing the production of traditional crops in Brazil

Thanks to investment and training from IFAD, the Kirirí indigenous community of Bahia, Brazil have increased their production capacity for traditional crops. Now Adriana Pantaleón dos Santos, a young Kirirí girl is able to save money to fulfil her dream of going to university in the state capital. ©IFAD/Lianne Milton/Panos

10 February 2017 - A better life will soon be a reality for Adriana Pantaleón dos Santos, a 19-year-old from the Kirirí indigenous community of Marcação, Brazil. Since she started to work at the cassava processing unit, she is now able to save extra money so that she can study Medicine at the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador. 

Santos descends from a long line of indigenous peoples who have cultivated the land using traditional methods. In 1995, after long years of struggle, the Kiriri indigenous people regained their ancestral lands in the north-eastern state of Bahia, Brazil. That was the beginning of a new life for most of them. But there were also challenges: in order to survive in a changing climate, they had to learn new agricultural techniques and specialized equipment.

Over the last eight years, the community has received support from a number of rural development projects funded by IFAD and implemented by the Bahia state government. Thanks to the investment and capacity building, the Kiriri have increased their production capacity for traditional crops and their resources to process and market them.

In this photo essay, photographer Lianne Milton from Panos Pictures visits and meets members of the Kiriri, a community undergoing tremendous change.   

Jose Miguel da França, ''El pajé'' (Kiriri spiritual leader) from the village of Marcação, leads a welcome dance to receive visitors. Located 296 km from Salvador, the capital of Bahia, and distributed among the municipalities of Ribeira do Pombal, Banzae, Quijingue and Tucano, the ancestral land of the Kiriri occupies a territory of more than 12,000 hectares. The Kiriri indigenous group itself is made up of about 2,000 people. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

The Kiriri have lived on this territory for centuries, adapting themselves to the harsh conditions of the semi-arid (sertão) terrain. In the eighteenth century, the Jesuits, in charge of the evangelization of the area, grouped them into four villages. The establishment of a civil administration over the next few decades involved a process of assimilation between Indians and non-Indians and an invasion of indigenous lands, with the consequent loss of indigenous culture and way of life. The town of Saco dos Bates, whose name was later changed to Mirandela, resisted this process better, being a little further away from the precarious communication routes of the semi-arid area and being its worst quality land. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

From 1949, the Kiriri began the struggle to preserve their indigenous identity and to protest against the occupation of their ancestral land with the help of the Indian Protection Service (SPI, a Brazilian federal agency). However, the decline of the SPI and its alliance with local oligarchies meant that in the mid-1960s, the situation of the Kiriris was quite unfortunate, marked by disputes among indigenous groups, high levels of mortality and alcoholism, and violence resulting from clashes with non-Indians.

Since the 1970s, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI, the Brazilian federal agency for indigenous issues that replaced the SPI), started to organize the Kiriri community. In 1981, they got their ancestral lands delimited. The following year, they began to take them back and to expel the non-Indians who had occupied them. In 1990, the Kiriri territory was legally recognized. By 1995, the Kiriri were able to regain and take control of their entire territory. In this photo, the cacique (chief) Kiriri Lázaro Gonzaga de Souza ,76, wearing traditional clothes. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

In the last eight years, the IFAD-supported supported Rural Communities Development Project in the Poorest Areas of the State of Bahia (Gente de Valor Project) and Rural Sustainable Development Project in the Semi-arid Region of Bahia (Pro-Semi-arid Project) have contributed greatly to improving the Kiriri's living conditions. Thanks to the training and investment provided by these projects, the Kiriri have greatly increased their production capacity for traditional crops (especially cassava and maize) and, above all, their capacity to process and market these products. They are no longer limited to selling to intermediaries. In this photo, a couple of Kiriri farmers check the honey production from a honeycomb in the vicinity of the village of Marcação. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

In order to increase their incomes and improve their standard of living, the Kiriri community has counted on the advice and support of rural development projects for a complementary strategy: on one hand, the conservation and recuperation of traditional Kiriri knowledge and on the other, the implementation of innovative technologies that allow for better adaptation to the harsh semi-arid environment. In the case of the latter, the Kiriri have installed water collection systems (tanks, small dams), biogas utilization plants, agro-ecological cultivation, and recycling of the manipueira (the poisonous liquid resulting from pressing manioc, which can be used as fertilizer or as a natural pesticide after processing). The gas bio-digester is a good example. It does not require a large investment - just the construction of a cement tank where the Kiriri livestock waste slowly decomposes, releasing methane gas that is used to fuel the ovens and kitchens of the community’s families. The material left behind from this process is used as fertilizer. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Ebaldina Jesus Santiago prepares a beans stew in a kitchen fueled with gas produced by a bio-digester outside her house. Her husband, Jailson de Jesus Mendes, is in charge of collecting the cattle waste that feeds the bio-digester. Five kilos of dung is mixed with 15 litres of water and after two hours, there is enough gas for use in the kitchen for a whole day. "Before this, we used to spend 50 reais (about US$16 ) a month to buy gas cylinders. Now we can spend that money on other things," they explain. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

The Kiriri have created systems for the processing and marketing of agricultural products that allow them to make much more money, especially from their maize and cassava crops. Previously, members of the community planted and collected maize and cassava and sold them unprocessed to homes where they were milled, or to intermediaries near their villages. They now have their own mills and a factory where they produce cookies and sweets. In this photo, Jose Raildo de Souza and Jailson de Jesus Mendes transport boxes loaded with cassava roots from the fields to the village of Marcação. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Maria do Carmo Vieira Araujo, 50, Ednalva Maria de Jesus, 31, and Dilma Jesus Panteleon, 40, peel cassava roots at the headquarters of the cassava processing unit of the Kiriri Santo André de Marcação Community Association in the village of the same name. The IFAD-supported projects have placed special emphasis on the access of women to remunerated jobs, which not only makes it possible for them to work but also gives them the opportunity to socialize and to be recognized as contributing to the economic well-being of the community. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Once the husk is removed, the manioc roots are milled to be processed into flour. This process, which was previously carried out in artisanal mills, is now done thanks to the investments made by IFAD, with electric mills installed at the headquarters of the cassava processing unit, run by the Kiriri in the village of Marcação. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Adriana Pantaleón dos Santos and Michelle Batista de Jesus, two young Kiriri girls, set the already ground flour to dry, in the facilities of the cassava processing unit in the village of Marcação. This is a necessary step before processing. The improvement in the Kiriris’ standard of living since they got their land back is allowing them to dream of achievements that seemed impossible years ago. Santos, who is 19, is going to study Medicine at the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador, the state capital. "Before, everyone stayed home with their families. Now that we are making some money, we can save and study," she says. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

João Leandro Araujo Leo, Gabriel Pantaleón dos Santos, and Sandra Beatrice Jardim Souza make cassava flour cookies at the headquarters of the cassava processing unit, run by the Kiriri in the village of Marcação. They produce 14 kg.  of cookies a day and sell 50 kg. a month to local schools. The rest of the production is sold in the regional markets. The benefits are divided among all the workers. Each kilo is sold at 40 reais (about US$13 ), 30 per cent of which goes to the workers, while the remaining 70 per cent is reinvested in the company and pays for the operational and maintenance costs.

"Working in the cassava processing unit helps me maintain my independence," explains Sandra. "I learn a lot, and I feel how my skills increase every day. Before, I stayed at home taking care of the children. Now, I help develop my community." Sandra is not a Kiriri, but her husband is. They met in São Paulo 21 years ago. Over time, the couple decided to return to the community, thanks to the existence of new economic opportunities in the Kiriri territory. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Cassava crackers are packaged in strict compliance with sanitary rules so that they can be sold not only in the local markets but also beyond. The investment in technology and training received by the Kiriri community from the IFAD-supported projects has allowed them to transform a traditional product into a product that is now able to respond to more modern tastes without losing its essence. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

The agricultural production of the Kiriri community is diverse and is used for different purposes. The group has worked hard to recover and preserve its ancestral knowledge. Much of it has to do with the use of medicinal herbs in the treatment of ailments and diseases. At the age of 79, Andrelina Maria de Jesus continues to dedicate herself to the cultivation of these plants in the village of Mirandela. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Ines Teodora dos Santos, and her daughters Eliara (14-months) and Isabel (3 years), look at the family garden in the village of Segredo. Not only have the Kiriri community increased their production capacity, they have also worked to improve their food security. A programme of small family gardens has been developed which guarantees a minimum of essential foods with a minimum of investment. This, coupled with increased income from paid work, has greatly improved the Kiriris’ nutrition. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

The projects, developed in collaboration with the Kiriri leaders and the community, show how it is possible to build on indigenous peoples’ traditions - a development plan that is both respectful of their culture and effective in economic terms. A third pillar of the economic development of the Kiriri is the introduction and enhancement of non-agricultural income generation alternatives. Among them, craftsmanship occupies a prominent place. The Kiriri craftsmen use, with great ingenuity and skill, the few elements that the semi-arid terrain provides them with to create beauty. Josê Valdo Jesus dos Santos holds in one hand a bunch of green beans and, in the other, a necklace made with this plant’s seeds. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Pottery is another skill the Kiriri have cultivated for hundreds of years. In the photo, the cacique (chief) Lázaro Gonzaga de Souza shows a set of vessels stored in an old colonial building in the village of Mirandela. These vessels will be sold in some of the region’s markets or in Salvador, the state capital. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Traditions for the production of ceramics have been handed down from generation to generation. "My grandmother taught me how to make pottery when I was a child," recalls Eduarda Amélia de Jesús, who is more than 70 years old, as she gives the final touches to a vessel in the company of her daughter, Maria Iracema Jesús de Souza. Eduarda is cacique (chief) Lázaro Gonzaga de Souza’s wife. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

For many years, the Kiriri have also been weavers, making many cotton and imbé (fiber obtained from the palm tree known in Brazil as licuri) items. Among them are beautiful and colourful hammocks like the one that Geani de Jesus Santos weaves on this loom at the headquarters of the Kiriri association of artisans in the village of Segredo. Geani needs three full days of work to finish weaving a hammock that will be sold in one of the local markets in the region. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Maria Delina de Jesus' hands patiently prepare the thread coils that will be used in the making of hammocks and other traditional textile products at the headquarters of the Kiriri association of artisans in the village of Segredo. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

Mirele Mairingque Santos de Andrade and Erlândia Maria de Jesus Santos show the result of the Kiriri weavers' work: a beautiful handmade hammock, ready to be sold in one of the markets and craft fairs in the state of Bahia. Dressed and painted according to the Kiriri traditions, they are living proof of what this indigenous community has achieved, after decades of struggle: to recover not only their land but their pride, their identity, and their culture. Lianne Milton/Panos/©IFAD

This photo essay was originally printed in El Pais. It has been translated and adapted for IFAD's website, with permission.