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Indigenous crops bring climate solutions for farmers in Brazil's Caatinga – IFAD and Slow Food take the lead

Languages: English

January 2018 – Longer dry seasons and unpredictable rainfall are having a serious impact on the farming communities in the semi-arid zone, or Caatinga biome, in the state of Bahia in north-eastern Brazil.

Against this background of water shortages across the Caatinga, IFAD has focused on reducing rural poverty through income generation, increased production, better nutrition, and the creation of agricultural and non-agricultural employment opportunities.

Part of that work is to develop the production of indigenous crops, such as umbu and licuri, which cope better with the dry conditions. IFAD is working with its local partner the Government of Bahia (which implements the Pro-Semiarido Project), Slow Flood Brazil, local farmers’ organizations and technical assistance providers.

In Testa Branca, in the municipality of Uaua, umbu fruit is grown and processed locally; and in the village of Raposa, in the municipality of Caldeirão Grande, investments in processing and education are helping the local community members increase their income from the licuri palms that grow here.

"In the semiarid zone there's not much rain and high levels of poverty," said IFAD's Custodio Mucovale. "But also in this region we are lucky to have umbu and licuri. These are drought resistant native species and through this project we're helping communities add value to these crops."

Custodio added, "Before these native trees used to produce fruits that were consumed in a very short period, say one or two months, but communities have learned to add value to licuri and umbu by processing them and this has provided farmers with an opportunity to make more money. The products once processed can also last longer and be distributed for sales further afield."

Drought for seven years

Revecca Tapie, Regional Coordinator for Slow Food in the northeast of Brazil, added that the drought has had a serious impact for the last seven years.

"We’ve seen a reduction in production of umbu and people are scared. Before, they had a rainy period and they had maize, beans and cassava, but now they aren't growing these crops as they don’t know how long the rainy season will last for," said Tapie. "This is complicating things as they are buying the products from outside. This means they are losing contact with the land.

"This is also a threat for the younger generation as they don't see their parents work the land."

But things are changing.  Previously licuri and umbu were not valued by farmers nor were they  protected. Today you see farmers in Testa Branca in the municipality of Uaua protecting young plants and avoiding cutting down these trees as they give value to the land.

"There is one more benefit - women are participating very much in processing of licuri and umbu. Before they were not so involved in income-generating activities but now they are very much active in day-to-day income-generating activities," added Mucovale.

Today a processing facility  build with support from IFAD in 2016 and run by the Cooperative (COoPERCUC) in the town of Uaua,  turns umbu into juice, jams and pulp. But in the future it expects to produce a lot more.

Slow Food Brazil's Revecca Tapie explained that back in 2003 umbu trees were at risk of extinction in the semiarid zone of Bahia so they decided to look at ways of promoting it commercially through the Slow Food network in Brazil.

IFAD and Slow Food have been working together since 2009 and more recently, in December 2017, IFAD Brazil also signed a cooperative agreement in the framework of the IFAD knowledge management programme, SEMEAR International, which is under implementation in Brazil.

"We started working with umbu in 2003 first by encouraging local communities to rediscover local traditional recipes for umbu, such as umbuzada," explained Tapie. "Then we opened up to a wider more urban market by producing jams - this was really liked by people in the cities."

Tapie added, "IFAD is a great partner for Slow Food, we speak the same language, not just in the commercial way but we also give value to the people behind the products, that's so important as these people are the guardians of biodiversity, and if you don't empower local smallholder farmers those products are going to end… we complement each other."