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Updated On: Thursday, 22 February 2018
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Drought Resistant Crops in Brazil

Content by: South-South News

31 January 2018, New York, USA | South-South News — After seven years of erratic rainfall, farmers in the semi-arid region of Bahia in the north-east of Brazil are turning to indigenous crops that were recently verging on extinction.

Umbu, a wild tree, and Licuri, a species of palm, are both native to eastern Brazil. Both thrive in arid conditions. Although always eaten locally, neither crop was valued by farmers. They faced extinction in 2003 as the land on which they grew was cleared for the cultivation of cash crops like beans, maize and cassava - crops that have since been decimated by the prolonged drought.

Maria Helena Barbosa dos Santos, a local farmer, said, “When it rained we planted corn and cassava and we'd harvest it. We had an income, but today we do not have one anymore because it does not rain, we do not plant and we do not harvest.”

Now, a state government project supported by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in partnership with Slow Food Brazil and others, are reintroducing these local crops and are helping local farmers see the commercial value in them.

Hardi Michael Wulf Vieira, the IFAD Country Program Officer, said, “Due to the drought we looked for ways to value local production so that we could maintain the native trees and better prepare the farmers for this dry season because, apart from the fruits that they can provide for farmers and the resources they can generate, they are also an important element in the maintenance of scarce water resources.”

Umbu holds up to 3,000 liters of water in its root system but the fruit spoils soon after harvest, which is one of the reasons that farmers neglected it. Two years ago, a new processing plant was built with IFAD’s support. Run by a local cooperative, it processes up to 500 kilograms of fruit a day to produce organic juice, jams and candies. The products are sold throughout Brazil and are also exported to France and Austria.

The increased income from umbu production is changing people’s lives. Barbosa dos Santos said, “Before I did not have the possibility to say I'm going to buy a computer. Today I have. I did not have the possibility to renovate my house. Today I have. I can also give clothes to my son and daughter which I couldn’t before.”

The project has just started to work on a system to process licuri, which has enormous economic potential – not only with its fruit, but its oil can also be used for cosmetics.

Farmer Claudete Santos da Silva already feels optimistic that licuri production will provide employment for her three sons, and other young people, who have left the area to look for jobs elsewhere. “Having work within the community means you do not need to leave. I have three (sons) away looking for jobs,” she said, “So I hope that they can come back to work in their own community and those who are here do not leave, but stay here. That's what I hope.”

Claudete is not the only person here feeling hopeful. 400,000 farming families (approximately 1.6 million people) participating in the project are expected to be able to earn a living from these local fruits that they once thought were worthless.

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