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Photo by Ana Mendes

Terra de Vidas (Land of Lives) – reusing greywater to establish agroforestry systems


Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

In Brazil, the semi-arid region suffers from the poorest resource availability (and therefore the greatest poverty and social inequality) in the country. Historically, it was the area with the highest incidence of hunger and thirst, political oppression, poverty and population displacement. There were serious injustices, high levels of land concentration, a lack of drinking water or sanitation infrastructure, and poor access to basic services such as health and education. Today, improvements achieved in the last decade by family farming are at risk due to the shift in economic priorities to commodity production and agribusiness support. Brazil’s semi-arid region will be one of the areas worst affected by climate change. Future scenarios indicate a change in the climatic characteristics of the semi-arid region, with a trend towards drought throughout the year, which suggests that the region’s aridity will intensify until the end of the 21st century. The focus of the project is to increase access to water, promoting greater food security and adaptation to climate change for farming families. The reuse of wastewater (greywater) in family agroecosystems will allow for increased food production, thus improving food security. Production in agroforestry systems will allow for the recovery of forests, which will contribute to climate change adaptation and the tackling of desertification, as seen in the reduction of biodiversity and the scarcity of drinking water.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Development of the project involved the following: a political and methodological approach, which included the farmers in all decision-making relating to their agroecosystems; voluntary support of families for technical assistance of the Sabiá and Caatinga Centre; respect for farmers’ knowledge and local cultures; the understanding that agroecological knowledge is built through farming families; the use of agroforestry as a method and strategy for developing agriculture based on agroecology that produces food and generates income in a sustainable manner, ensuring family autonomy. One strategic aspect is the generation of knowledge based on research into social technologies for sanitation and production. The project carries out scientific monitoring in collaboration with the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco and the Brazilian agricultural research corporation Embrapa Semiárido, which has already provided information on the effectiveness of the technology as a strategy to increase water supply for production in family agroecosystems. The project is involved in discussions with local, regional and international networks on strategies for climate change adaptation solutions. In trying to achieve this result, events have been held to exchange experiences between members of the Articulación Semiárida Brasileña [Brazilian Semi-Arid Organisation – ASA] that work with RAC’s social technology, seeking to strengthen its effectiveness as a strategy for climate change adaptation, support from farmers, and conditions for replicability and of ASA for its incorporation as social technology for the network.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

The results so far show the proposal as another way to sustainably support the lifestyle of family farmers in the semi-arid region. The dissemination of the system could make it the object of public development policies over time. The project has had the following impacts: increased water availability; irrigation of small agroforestry systems; increased food and nutritional security; and income generation. The results of the study show that 5,200 litres of water were filtered per family per month. With this water, families established an average of 1,250 m² of agroforestry systems, producing animal feed and fruit trees. More than 60 percent of the beneficiaries were women who participated in the various activities. This is relevant considering that women are the group most affected by the impacts of climate change.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

Research and knowledge-building activities that have been carried out with partner organisations are essential, since they ensure that project-recommended technologies are consolidated, while strengthening legitimacy and establishing the proposal’s potential to address the effects of climate change. This is a strategic dimension for dialogue with public managers and replication of the initiative. Activities include participation and advocacy in networks such as ASA Brazil and the Articulación Nacional de Agroecología [National Agroecology Organisation – ANA], social representation in municipal and state councils, meetings with public-sector managers in territories where the project is carried out and participation in climate change adaptation-themed international events, within the context of the project proposal. So far, there has been media communication on social networks and weekly radio programmes to share the project’s actions and information on adaptation to climate change and tackling of desertification. This is a relevant strategy to achieve civic responsibility and a greater capacity for political participation in mainstreaming social inclusion.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

Changing habits of the target audience is a challenge because it requires rethinking cultural behaviour. Without this transformative internalisation, the reuse of greywater cannot become a permanent practice in family life. Discussing the issue with public administrators in order to turn action into public policy remains a challenge, especially at a time when Brazil is experiencing political struggle and is focused on big capital. This is a disadvantage and threat to the most vulnerable populations, including rural villages in the semi-arid region. The limit of financial and human resources available to organisations is also challenging. If more of these resources were available, actions could be more comprehensive and effective, especially in terms of ongoing monitoring of project implementation, allowing for a more remarkable and formative process through more competent planning, monitoring, and evaluation. In this context, change in institutional support has become an ongoing challenge, requiring organisations to make enormous efforts on the path towards achieving sustainability.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

The proposal for reusing greywater with this agreement has already been tested in other semi-arid regions in Brazil. Through Terra de Vidas [Land of Lives], 100 of these devices have already been implemented, with the farming families involved considering them a guaranteed way to improve quality of life. The technology produces wastewater with fewer impurities, contributing to food and nutritional sovereignty and security and strengthening the organisation of farmers in rural communities connected to the project. The intention is to make this initiative public policy, though the threat to family farming policies, given Brazil’s current political situation, puts this at risk.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

In an innovative process, it is important to work without judgement, listen to others and value scientific knowledge and popular knowledge. Learning is richer when it is built and experienced collectively. We make mistakes and must learn from these to improve our action. Training practices, such as workshops and exchanges, are a strategic way to implement innovative action. We have learned that more time needs to be dedicated to these activities, as well as closer monitoring of families through mobilisation, planning, testing, systems management, and joint evaluation in order to have a greater impact. More time is also needed to study variables so that greater use can be made of scientific and popular knowledge. Theoretical references in water management, implementation, and management of agroforestry systems must be constantly observed and considered throughout the project.