Planting hope in the countryside

 

Grupo Trama na AGRIMINAS. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

“Trama” weavers at AGRIMINAS. Photo: Amalapinha

In the mountains of Minas Gerais, as in other rural areas of our region, life seems to go on peacefully and slowly, simple and joyful as in so many poems and songs that have always praised the good country life.

However, when we get closer, we see that just a few communities have resisted in the 21st century. Quite often, these communities are made up of old folks who were left behind in places abandoned by public authorities, after their children moved away in search of work and study in the cities. These folks have lost their roots and their traditional way of life, and have never known the hoped-for future.

Festa da Lapinha. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

Papaya candy production group. Photo: Amalapinha

People with traditional knowledge of the environment, cultivation techniques, and how to live in harmony with nature felt they had no space or incentive, and had been left without access to new technologies that might enhance their lives. Abandoned to their own fate, they had no access to basic health and education services. In addition, incentives to agribusiness and extractivism led to the occupation of more and more territory, while a new model of society strongly attracted young people to the cities.

 

Guaranteeing rights to the good country life

 

How can the good county life be preserved, ensuring access to basic rights, living a decent life, having exchanges with the urban population, and maintaining organic cultivations and proper care of clean water sources? This has been one of the focuses of the CASA Fund, a strategy to strengthen those populations, enabling access to adequate and clean technologies, and improving the lives of family farmers, who ultimately supply most foods consumed in the cities.

Entrega de mudas para reflorestamento. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

Delivery of seedlings for reforestation. Photo: Amalapinha

 

Earth’s generosity

 

Simone Fontes Pasko and Lucas Miyahara followed their hearts. Still very young, they left the city in the early 2000s in search of a simple and happy rural life.

“We longed for the quality of life, freedom, and security of a simpler life in a rural area. We moved to Minas Gerais seeking this dream, to a place with no electricity, abundance of clean water, where we could build our straw and mud house as the old folks used to do. We wanted a place where our subsistence would come from the strength of our own hands, where we could raise our children with freedom and values, forming their character.”

Casa de feitio e sede da AMA LAPINHA. Foto: AMA LAPINHA.

Amalapinha workshop and headquarters. Photo: Amalapinha

Simone tells her story with emotion. With lots of love and willpower, she and Lucas built this new way of life, were moved by the first harvests, by nature’s generosity and abundance, and by the wisdom and knowledge of rural people about land cultivation and other mysteries.

 

Rural migration – wanted or needed?

 

But, soon they began to notice the difficulties of rural life, the lack of infrastructure and opportunity, and the lack of doctors, dentists, tools, and materials. People in the region were leaving. The young people left in search of jobs because there was nothing to generate income locally. There was a clear contrast between the abundance of the land and the lack of access to basic goods and rights. With their knowledge about legislation, public policies, and basic rights, they started to question local reality.

Jovens trançadeiras em busca de sua identidade. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

Young weavers in search of their identity. Photo: Amalapinha

As Simone stated, people do not leave their land because they want to. They love the land and value their way of life. It’s out of necessity.

 

Creating solutions

 

“We began to think in ways to change this. The Terra Viva Network (Land Alive Network) that already had CASA’s support was the first attempt to gather the region’s surplus production and take it to the city to generate some income for the community.

Grupo Trama na AGRIMINAS. Foto: AMA LAPINHA.

“Trama” weavers group at AGRIMINAS. Photo: Amalapinha

“City folks liked our products quite a lot. They noted that the banana was sweeter, tastier, the coffee better, the flour more savory. Of course! Everything was organic, produced with loving care. This began to generate some income, families got involved, were excited… Thus, we had the idea of creating the Lapinha Residents, Farmers and Beekeepers Association.

“In the beginning, we were only five families of younger people who wanted to stay on the land. We didn’t want to move to the city. We got together and wrote the proposal for the first project to build the Community Workshop House, where flour and rapadura (hard unrefined cane sugar bar) were prepared. Everybody had a space in the backyard for those preparations, but this was very precarious. The Community House made it possible to have more equipment and to speed up production.

Feitio de Melado. Foto: AMA LAPINHA.

Homemade sugar cane syrup production. Photo: Amalapinha

 

Trust and flexibility guarantee the first step

 

“We sent our proposal to an institution, but they turned it down. Then, Carolina Moura, who we had met at the Terra Viva Network and already worked with the CASA Fund, suggested we send them the project. And they approved it! Such a happy day! It was very important to get this first support, even if we did not yet have a legal, official status. CASA trusted us. This was the difference I try to explain to everybody: CASA had no bureaucracy to accept our proposal; it was flexible.”

Festa da Lapinha. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

Papaya candy production group. Photo: Amalapinha

Supported by CASA Socio-Environmental Fund, Amalapinha’s women built the Community Workshop House, equipped with a gasoline-powered motor to grind the sugarcane and grate the cassava. They invested in education and training – especially in planning, financial management, and marketing – and sought out alternatives to increase family income, and to improve the quality of life of their families and themselves.

“We created the Amalapinha Association,” continues Simone. “This was like a hurricane in our lives! After the Association, we met a lot of people, we got to know other associations, and we began to participate in councils, meetings…. The community was empowered and, at the same time, our responsibility increased. For those people who wanted to stay in the countryside, it was a dream come true.”

Festa da Lapinha. Foto: AMA LAPINHA.

Papaya candy production group. Photo: Amalapinha

 

“Without the first support, our work would have gone nowhere”

 

Lapinha women reached deep into their memories to recall the ability to weave the Indaiá palm tree straw, a knowledge handed down from generation to generation. With the techniques and management and production practices learned at training workshops supported by the CASA Fund, that tradition became a good business with the Indaiá straw hat greatly appreciated in the region. Afterwards came the baking paper molds for the city’s bakeries. With the Arteforma project, the women discovered new abilities and a new source of income that has since been on the rise.

Chapéu de palha Indaiá. Foto: AMA LAPINHA

“Indaiá” straw hat. Photo: Amalapinha

“Since then, we have implemented several projects; we have identified work areas, ways of keeping the community united, with resources and rights ensured. Amalapinha was like a child we conceived, and saw being born and then growing. We learned from it, we got educated and even if one day we’re no longer around, or if the Association is closed down, what we created will always be within us, in our hearts. It started as a dream, but now is a reality. Over the years, in addition to ongoing CASA support, we also received other supports, we found more partners. However, without that first support, our work would have gone nowhere.”

 

The collective ensuring success

 

Festa da Lapinha. Foto: AMA LAPINHA.

Amalapinha food production tasting. Photo: Amalapinha

Simone is passionate about this work, and thinks that the great achievements of Amalapinha were building a collective, appreciating people and their efforts to make their dreams come true, and the way people related to each other.

“We learned to spot people’s inner gifts, and to appreciate that in the collective. This is the way forward, to establish good relations. In its ten years, CASA’ work has also been based on relationships, on individual talents, thus helping to form strong collectives everywhere. We’ve gone quite a bit past our starting point; the truth we’ve learned to cultivate will go a long way. This might not be clear now, but it’s inside, at the root, it’s our collective strength. You’ve got to want the best for the place and the people around you; whatever you desire for yourself, you have also to wish for the collective. That’s the secret and the treasure.”

Simone Fontes Pasko.

Simone Fontes Pasko.

This is also the great good and the treasure that has accompanied the CASA Socio-Environmental Fund during its ten years of existence. We want to thank Simone and her community for their effort to improve this world, starting with their own lives. The Fund exists to support these initiatives.

e-147x147 Text by: Angela Pappiani – Journalist, cultural producer at Ikore and CASA’s advisor since its foundation.

 English translation by Jones de Freitas.