Chisel plow, starch production plant, and a fine new tractor. These are just some of the benefits for villages in the Roça do Povo programme in Bahia, Brazil. Since 2008, Veracel, Stora Enso's joint venture in Bahia, has worked with local authorities and NGOs to find the best ways to support the communities around Veracel's plantations. As there are few options for livelihoods in this area besides cattle ranching, helping family farms seemed to be the best place to start. But what started out as a modest initiative has now turned into a successful business venture that is being copied in other communities.
Roça do Povo, or The People's Farmlands, began as an effort to boost the growing and further processing of cassava and to increase the incomes of local farming families. Cassava, a native root vegetable rich in starch, was chosen for its great popularity in Bahian cuisine, which means there is plenty of local demand. Together with its partners, Veracel leased 80 hectares of its land to the Association of Small Farmers of Bahia, who represent the communities involved in the Roça do Povo project. Local farmers then received technical training and institutional support from state and federal agencies, also promoting the cultivation of other crops besides cassava.
As a result of these efforts, the Roça do Povo project has grown considerably from its initial scale of 54 farming families to now serve 82. The project has created jobs for about 500 people, making farming the most important source of income in the community. The Roça do Povo families have saved over 82 000 EUR in payment incentives granted by the National Family Farming Programme PRONAF, and witnessed an increase of 85 000 EUR in annual product sales. Farming villagers have also been able to invest 275 000 EUR in community property such as tools, ovens, entire buildings – and that fancy tractor.
Learning and sharing, the ingredients for change
In the project it has been crucial to identify the best ways to support local families, and to find the right partners to do just that. Key partners have included the municipality of Itagimirim, the Bahia Agricultural Development Movement (EBDA), and the regional bank Banco do Nordeste.
The Roça do Povo community is now self-supporting, and the largest producer of flour and starch in the region. The farming families are branding and marketing their products on their own and selling them directly to supermarkets and other retailers. But the benefits of this project are becoming more widespread every day. The Roça do Povo project leaders are often asked to share their experiences and train other project management teams, while the project model is being copied by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture for use in other communities.
The Roça do Povo project is just one example of how Veracel is contributing to local communities. Agrovida is another family farming initiative where the mill has made some of its land available for family farmers. But Veracel also has several other on-going social programmes that are making a difference in the lives of local people, including projects related to child protection and indigenous rights.
Good social responsibility work is about identifying relevant challenges and finding the right partners and solutions to tackle those challenges. And sometimes, like with Roça do Povo, a modest effort to support family livelihoods can turn into a great success story that inspires other communities to follow suit. That is what lasting change is all about.