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Protecting fragile resources through traditional management in Naw, Islamic Republic of Iran


The village of Naw is situated in the Houraman Valley of Kurdistan, part of an isolated mountain region some 1 100 metres above sea level. The main access road to Naw is of earth and gravel, the nearest town being 35 km away. The village has about 160 households and just over 800 people.

The western region of Iran, including Kurdistan, is especially suited in good years for rainfed (dry) farming as rainfall is adequate for this purpose. The Houraman valley has a complex and integrated agricultural system, consisting of dry farming, fruit orchards, transhumant pastoralism, and agroforestry and the gathering of forest products. It receives relatively little rainfall. Rangelands are important factors in the household economy as they provide animal feed and access to woodland products. There are some 900 ha of agricultural land, approximately 700 ha of which are farm land, the remaining 200 ha are rangelands. The traditional system of natural resource exploitation is reasonably sustainable.

In addition to agriculture and livestock, Naw's production system includes handicrafts. It is noticeable that women participate in most economic activities, the fruits of this work being used equitably. Government institutions have little or no impact on economic and social activities of this region.

Characteristics of the region


Being in a mountain valley, Naw has its own microclimate. In the upper reaches, rainfall may reach some 700 mm with reasonable regularity, mostly distributed over the autumn, winter and spring seasons. In the lower region, there is considerably less rain. This distribution pattern has allowed the expansion of dry farming and the growth of woodland trees. The monthly average highs are around 20.5oC and average lows around 7oC. The overall mean temperature is around 13.8oC.

Soil resources

The steep slopes of the area, the hilly and mountainous terrain, and occasional hard rains have caused soil erosion, especially in the higher reaches. This has resulted in shallow top soils with a prevalence of gravel and rocks in the surface and depths of the soil and has caused many exposed rocky areas with poor soil nutrition. The soils are usually clayey to sandy with low organic matter content, but are well-drained with no problems of salinity.

The peasants of Naw classify their soils into three categories: clay, white (clay of Marne origin) and black (volcanic), and consider that most of the soil used for orchards or dry farming need to receive animal fertilizers. There is no known use of chemical fertilizers or compost in the region.

Village of Naw

Local peasants create orchards by establishing stone-walled terracing using a system known as "Talan". Top soil is often transported usually by mules to cover these terraces. Trees are then planted and water is absorbed and stored in the terraces.

In the rangeland areas a system of micro catchment basins in the form of semicircular stone retainers around oak trees is used. These help in catching and storing water and humidity around the trees.

Water resources

Water resources include surface and ground water. Farmers construct traditional stone bunds and earth or stone ditches and canals which take these seasonal rains and snowmelt into the vine, pomegranate and fig orchards. These stone canals are sometimes over two metres high. Rainfed vineyards have usually been constructed along these channels or in snow catching highlands. Ground water manifests itself in the form of springs inside the village with a yield of 5 to 40 litres per second. The water needed by the orchards comes from two sets of springs. Some six springs in the higher terrain provide water for animals. These seasonal and ground water flows provide good quality water, which is taken by goat skins from springs located in the northern highs of the village. Small water-retention dams near the springs help provide the water needed by livestock. In this region, total groundwater yield from the springs is some 2.6 million m3 per year.

Biodiversity and natural resource management

The Zagros Mountain Range has its own climatic system with many mountain and piedmont habitats that have given rise to considerable biological diversity in ecosystems, species and genetic resources. Steep slopes, woodlands and forests, which are part of the natural Zagros biome, are found here. Plant communities of oak, wild pistachio and almond provide suitable niches and habitats for wild fauna including many species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. Dominant species of wildlife include squirrels, snakes and lizards, mountain sheep and goats, foxes, wolves, jackals, rabbits, boars, bears, leopards and birds such as quails, water birds and raptors including eagles, and insects such as grasshoppers, lepidopterans, beetles, Sunn insects, lady birds, and others. There is some agroforestry on a scattered basis in these woodlands.

There is a variety of natural biological control agents including the seven-spotted lady bird, the aphid lion or lacewing (Chrysopa spp.), spiders and others in the region - which is why insecticides are not used. Various other fauna including quails and local species of sparrows also control the pests of various crops. Local communities generally protect these species.

There is a variety of natural biological control agents including the seven-spotted lady bird, the aphid lion or lacewing, spiders and others in the region - which is why insecticides are not used.

Among the plant biodiversity of interest in the area are the tree and bush species Quercus persica (Persian oak), Pistacia mutica (wild pistachio), Acer persicum (Persian maple), Crataegus sp. (thornapple tree), Amygdalus orientatus (wild almonds), Amygdalus scoparia (mountain almonds), the Rhus sp. (sumac), Pyrus glabra (wild pears) and a plant with the Kurdish name "homr". There are also a number of annual wild plants with medicinal value including Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice), Fumaria parviflora (leaved fumitory) and Althaea officinais (anis), amongst others.

The leaves and acorns of the oak are used for animal feed, and the wood, as well as the tannin extracted from the acorns, has industrial and medicinal uses. Acorns, after the extraction of tannin by osmosis in water, are also ground into a meal from which a local type of bread is made for human consumption, especially at times of food shortage. The wild pistachio yields a gum which is used locally as well as processed and exported. The gum extraction provides a further source of income for the inhabitants. The woodlands, trees and shrubs are owned by clans and sometimes households, the rights for which are inherited. Sometimes up to ten households may have user rights for just one or two trees.

Rangeland species include many annual and perennial plants in the graminidae, leguminosae and other families. Astralagus spp. (including A. acutus and A. dolius) are common. The latter serve both as animal feed and as a source of a precious gum with pharmaceutical and industrial uses. Some annual feed species of plant are also found in the dry-farmed areas.

Unlike many parts of the Zagros mountain range, the Houraman Valley in general, and the Naw area in particular, is in reasonably good ecological condition. The variability in soil moisture, structure and water-retention capacity, as well as the distribution of rainfall, altitude and slope are among the many factors that have made the high diversity of genetic resources possible. Among the practices that contribute to this biodiversity, the following factors can be mentioned.

Agrobiodiversity in seed resources

The agrobiodiversity of Naw is proving itself to be resilient. Until now, little pressure has come from the outside to replace local varieties. These include eight varieties of wheat, five varieties of barley and eight of maize; nine varieties of mulberry, five varieties of pomegranate, four varieties of fig, and nine of pear and grape respectively3.

Environmental management

Environmental management in this region is dependent on the lifestyle of the rural communities. Most villages in the Houraman valley have a vertical migratory pattern, where they spend about a third of the year in higher lands called "hawar". Each hawar has a name of its own, and acts like a second village with its own production, habitat and farming system.

The water needs for people, agriculture and livestock are met by springs. Waste water is stored in tanks around 6x4x1 metre and is used for irrigation of walnuts and vegetable gardens, mostly at the household level.

In hawar each household has a given piece of land, and the rangeland is kept and managed as common property. Part of the rangeland is protected and cannot be used until sometime in May. During the remaining months of spring and summer, in addition to extensive grazing, the grass in the gia-jar ranges is harvested three times. The harvested grass is then dried to hay and, if necessary, trampled by oxen or mules and then stored away as winter feed for the animals of the village.

In hawar, the villagers have their traditional ways of protecting and enhancing the species most appreciated in rangelands. Seeds of such plants are collected while grazing the animals during their steady climb (similar to alpage in Europe). At the time of migration back to the base village, at the end of summer, the seeds collected are spread on the rangelands. The livestock are kept on these lands, fertilizing them and their movement plough the soil, burying the seeds. At the coming of the next rainy season, the rangelands are renewed with these plants.

In hawar, the villagers have their traditional ways of protecting and enhancing the species most appreciated in rangelands.

The energy for cooking and for processing dairy products is traditionally obtained in the hawar by pruning the head branches of the oak trees. Until the recent past, the villagers sometimes had to cut down whole trees in order to provide firewood for the winter. This was one of the contributing factors to the loss of the plant cover and the occurrence of flooding and damage to the fields. In recent years, Government agencies have managed to provide fossil fuel products like paraffin (kerosene) resulting in a reduction in tree felling and an increased willingness on the part of the local population to protect the woodlands and forests. As a result, local people have noted a definite improvement in the vegetation around the community as well as a greater abundance of wildlife, and the frequent floods of the past have not been a problem for the last decade. This is especially noticeable in the flood paths and gulleys, now rich in shrubs and trees, helping to slow any down running water and prevent floods.

On the crop lands, once the wheat and barley are harvested, the remaining straw provides a major source of feed for animals, while in the higher ranges, pasture plants are harvested and used as winter feed together. Oak leaves from the forest are also used sparingly as animal feed, the partial cutting of some of the bows having a pruning effect on the trees. The period of time that livestock spend in the hawar is not so long as to cause damage to the trees or the rangelands, since they are regularly taken for pasturing higher up, the steep slopes are also not used for pasturing.

Farming systems in Naw

The farming system in Naw is an interactive set of relationships between farming and horticulture, range and forestry (mostly harvesting) activities. Agriculture takes up about 700 ha of which some 40 are partly irrigated orchards. Dry farming consists of vineyards, grains and pulses. Fig and pomegranate make up most of the orchard horticulture, and grains are planted in autumn and harvested around June.

The agricultural rotation system depends on soil quality, rainfall prognostics, the perception of the situation in the marketplace and the availability of labour and agricultural tools.

The most prevalent rotations are as follows:

The rotation system in agriculture is driven partly by the demand in the market place but also partly by the needs of the subsistence economy. A major factor determining the dominant role of wheat and barley in the rotation system is the need of the livestock. In summer, animals feed on the stubble from grains in addition to the pastures, and in winter, straw, hay and barley are fed to them in addition to the stored range cuttings.

Summer horticultural crops are planted on a limited scale, mostly to meet household needs, amounting to some 0.4 ha per household hawar.

A major factor determining the dominant role of wheat and barley in the rotation system is the need of the livestock.

Most of the animal dung in the village is used for the orchards, around 6-7 kg per tree, in September. Seeds used for agriculture are local indigenous varieties and the trees used in orchards are also from local genetic stock. There is no felt need in the region for inputs such as seeds and seedlings, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or agricultural machinery.

The main grain pest is the Sunn pest, although in this area there have been no major outbreaks and the farmers often deal with it by smoking them out. Farmers also say locusts are hunted by birds and so do not cause much damage.

Natural and cultural factors such as the topography, rainfall, land tenure and self-sufficiency play major roles in the production of rainfed crops like grains and pulses. Following the nationalization of the rangelands under the Shah, communities have begun to become alienated from them, with some farmers in the last two decades trying to practise dry farming on the rangelands with a view to repossessing them. However, on the realization that this approach was causing soil erosion and flooding, they started once again to take more care of the rangelands.

Economic structure

The average annual income of each household from dry-farming and orchards is 824 000 rials (US$470) and 830 000 rials (US$475), respectively. The contribution of animal husbandry is not known, and needs further research.

Income from agriculture, given the general level of the cost of living, is not very considerable. The highest income among the dry-farmed crops is from wheat and among orchard products from pomegranate. The main market for pomegranate products, especially sauce and seeds, is in nearby villages. Some 80 percent of the agricultural products are estimated to be used for subsistence needs and the remainder is purchased by middlemen at local markets. There is currently no investment in agricultural improvement by Government departments. The low level of commercial production and the poor access roads discourage transport out of the region. The high quality of the pomegranate produced in Naw, the use of organic methods and the high level of the peasants' technical know-how give grounds for believing that if supported, there would be good market potential for this product outside the region.

The high quality of the pomegranate produced in Naw, the use of organic methods and the high level of the peasants' technical know-how give grounds for believing that if supported, there would be good market potential for this product outside the region.

The labour for agriculture and animal husbandry is provided by the whole family, with households helping each other in harvesting and other agricultural work. Decisions regarding public works such as closing and opening traditional irrigation ditches, cleaning and dredging waterways and regulating water use in the orchards are taken by the community and in a consultative manner. These works are carried out collectively by the users under the supervision of the community elders. Women are mainly involved in harvesting and processing activities, such as gathering lentils and chickpeas, preparing pomegranate sauce, picking grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes. They also have other duties such as carrying stones for construction, grazing and milking animals, dairy processing, collecting and carrying firewood and dung for energy needs, collecting wild plants, processing grapes into raisins and syrup, drying figs and pomegranate seeds.

Trade, when it occurs, is primarily for meeting household needs and not for profit. Although money is often used for trade, barter still characterizes tribal societies in the region.

The average time in person-days (p-d), spent per hectare of manual work on different crops is 60 p-d, which can reach up to 72 p-d for irrigated lands but only 20 p-d for dry-farmed products. Given the age pyramid in the village and the limited opportunities for agriculture in the area, the excess time available for most people, men or women, in all seasons, is spent on the major non-farm activity of Naw, the making of giwah (giveh in Persian), a sort of all-tissue based shoe, made of knitted cotton on the top and pressed cotton tissue on the bottom. This handicraft activity is typical of this Kurdish region and has a good local and national market. In fact this activity provides some 70 percent of the income of the population. The second activity of economic importance is migrant seasonal labour in nearby and distant cities in the country.

Handicraft activity provides some 70 percent of the income of the population.

Some social characteristics

In periods of need, people from different households aid each other with labour or agropastoral products without expecting immediate payback. Clan and kinship relations are important in the area and social cooperation is a strong tradition, with individual and group cooperation having a high social value. An example of this cooperation is called "gol kardan" used for agricultural work including planting, weeding, and harvesting. The village men divide up in different teams, each under the leadership of a "berawan." Each team takes charge of a field in turn until everyone's work is done. Collection of gum from wild pistachio trees is another economic activity undertaken collectively.

No formal cooperatives have been created in this region. The peasants of the community have little, if any relation and play no role in any Government institutions, other than a couple of teachers at the local school. While the Government has many research and development institutions in the province for issues such as dry farming, soil and water conservation, seed and seedling improvement and plant pests and diseases, in reality the farmers in this area have no relation with them and do not benefit from their work. The main source of technical knowledge is their indigenous and traditional knowledge acquired over the centuries and passed on from one generation to the next.

Agricultural, ecological and economic systems

Despite the lack of access by the community to modern "technical" advice and agricultural inputs, and despite the relatively adverse environment given the steep slopes, lack of water for extended irrigated agriculture and relatively poor soils, the community has managed to keep a reasonably productive system, mainly for subsistence purposes. This has been done through the application of traditional knowledge and wisdom, extensive dry farming, and the integration of various types of agriculture with forestry, gathering of non-timber forest products, and rangeland management for livestock production. The mutual benefits of agriculture and animal husbandry help maintain higher productivity for both livestock and crops, and the maintenance of rangelands and soils in reasonable condition.

The average area of dry-farmed land for each household is about 6 ha, some ten times the land under annual irrigated crops. The overall low productivity of the agro-ecosystems, and the essentially subsistence character of agriculture, do not allow for savings-based investment, many households are therefore in a state of relative poverty. The subdivision of land rights due to inheritance may become a problem in the future.

The Naw society has evolved its particular system of agriculture based on its agrobiodiversity, topographic and climatic conditions, the predominance of the tribal traditions, and reliance on seasonal transhuman animal husbandry and agriculture. It has done so while making sustainable use of its environment and natural resources.

Lessons learnt

The keys to the success of the livelihood systems of the Naw area include:


Organic and fair trade rice project: back to school in the farmers' fields Surin and Yasothorn Provinces, Thailand


The project and organizations

Jasmine rice is one of the most famous rices in the world for its fragrance and tenderness, and the North-eastern region of Thailand homes the best quality jasmine rice. Some ten years ago, a fair trade project was initiated through cooperation between local Thai NGOs in Surin and Yasothorn and a Swiss fair trade organization, Claro. Around 1996, the Project expanded its scope to include organic agriculture as a central objective. The present targeted groups are small-scale farmers with average land holdings of 4.1 ha per family. All producers are members of local farmer organizations. Those in Surin province are members of Natural Agricultural Group (NAG) supported by local NGOs, (e.g. Surin Farmer Support (SFS) and those in Yasothorn province are members of an independent farmer organization called Yasothorn Farmer Group Network (FGN-Yasothorn). The rice is marketed through Green Net Cooperative. The Organic and Fair Trade Rice Project is carried out through cooperation between local farmer organizations, local NGOs, Earth Net Foundation, and Green Net Cooperative.

Producer organizations in Surin and Yasothorn


Producers in Surin

Producers in Yasothorn

Farmer organization

Natural Agricultural Group

Yasothorn Farmer Group Network


11 June 1992

8 March 1996

Areas of operation

10 sub-districts of 6 districts in Surin

43 sub-districts of 8 districts in Yasothorn

Total members

456 farming families

7 087 farming families

Members applying for organic certification in 2001

113 families

192 families

Total farmers in the Province

167 362 families

70 514 families

Total rice land in the Province

467 000 hectares

174 000 hectares

Local NGOs supporting producer organization

Surin Farmer Support


The project coordinator

Earth Net Foundation: a national NGO with a main aim of promoting organic agriculture


Green Net Cooperative: a Thai fair trade organization

The North-eastern region of Thailand homes the best quality jasmine rice.

Farming and the socio-economic situation

Topographically, the North-eastern region, locally known as Isan, is dominated by the Khorat Plateau with the northern and eastern borders being marked by the Mekong River. The northern part has some high mountains and various plateaux ranging from 300 to 1 200 meters above sea level. The soil is poor, and in various parts of the region, salt deposits can be found in the subsoil. An estimate of 2 848 million hectares of land (16.9 percent) are estimated to be affected by soil salinity.

An estimated 68.6 percent of agricultural lands in the north-east are cultivated with rice. Rice is predominantly grown in the lowlands during the rainy season, where local rice varieties are cultivated for family consumption while high-yield or high-value varieties are taken to market. On upland areas, various cash crops are grown, including tapioca, sugar cane, maize, bean, jute.

The North-eastern region is also the poorest region in the country. The average annual income is around one third of the national income, i.e. 19 331 Baht (approximately US$450). Almost three-quarters of the population in the Northeast are involved in the agricultural sector.

Conventional farming

All farms are rainfed. The average rainfall in Surin is around 1 440 mm while Yasothorn has a slightly higher rainfall of 1 800 mm. Most of the farms have clay sandy soil with low organic matter content. Soil erosion however is limited because the land is quite flat, farmers build small dikes to regulate water, thus slowing down the flow of surface water, and farmers also keep perennial trees in their rice fields, serving as good wind shields.

The cropping pattern begins in May after the first rains. Farmers plough the land to get rid of weeds. The weed residues are incorporated into the soil and the fields are left for the residues to decompose. After decomposition, a second ploughing is done to loosen the topsoil and flatten the field in order to regulate the water level. Traditionally, water buffaloes are used for land preparation; however, small mechanical tillers are now increasingly used. The rice seedlings are prepared during land preparation and transplanted into the fields from around June to August. Rice is an annual crop and takes around 90 to 120 days to mature. The grain is left to dry in the field before harvesting, which begins around the end of November and lasts until December. Very few farming activities occur after the rice harvest as there is insufficient water during the dry season. In irrigated areas, farmers may plant leguminous crops (e.g. peanut or sward bean) or cash crops (e.g. melon) in the rice fields, and some may also cultivate vegetables during the winter season (around December to January) as there are few pest problems during this period.

Rice is only cultivated once a year and therefore suffers few pest infestation problems. The main pest reported by farmers is fresh-water crab. Conventionally this is controlled by mixing pesticides with boiled rice and to carry out spot applications. Conventional farmers also apply synthetic fertilizer to seedlings after the transplant and just before the flowering stage. An average application of chemical fertilizer ranges from 15 to 29 kg/rai (94-180 kg/hectare).


Since the early 1970s, many community development programmes have been initiated in the north-eastern region by local NGOs. These programmes have focused on self-help activities, such as rice banks, village shops, savings groups, herbal medicine and subsistence farming. Some NGOs have also supported farmer organizations in establishing rice mills as a means of improving the economic well-being of the farmer members. With the rise in environmental awareness in mid 1980s, many organizations began to embark on ecological farming activities. For farmers, these provide an opportunity to restore ecological balance, to cut down the use of agrochemicals, reduce dependence on expensive external inputs, improve soil fertility, and obtain a premium price (if the farm is certified organic).

Project aims and objectives

The aim of the organic and fair trade rice project is human development through ecological production. It is the promoters' conviction that ecological production, especially organic agriculture, is a solution for Thai farming families. Production of food and fibre in Thailand is currently unsustainable because the farming practices rely on agrochemicals and the exploitation of the natural resource base. Organic agriculture which emphasizes conservation and rehabilitation is a solution to environmental unsustainability and to the sustainable use of the natural resource base. Also, as more and more consumers worldwide are demanding safer food and environmentally-responsible farming, organic products have better market access opportunities. This in turn assures a fairer income for small-scale organic farming families.

The aim of the organic and fair trade rice project is human development through ecological production.

The project's aim of placing "the farmer at the centre of development" looks at three inter-woven aspects:

Awareness is not sufficient to convince producers to change their production methods to a more sustainable path. This is why consciousness-raising must be linked with ethical responsibility. A dynamic of action-reflection where the producer reflects on his/her practice can better ensure a raised conscience while a fairer return on farm produce offers the producer an incentive to make an ethical commitment and responsibility. The Project is convinced that an organic agriculture development project must also incorporate practical learning activities where the producer has the opportunity to practice and reflect on his/her actions and the project must link to fair trade opportunities, offering fairer prices for organic produce. In order to achieve fair returns, the organic project must include post-harvest processing and management (e.g. quality assurance and product development) as a key component.

Practical skills and appropriate technology are the keys to ecological production. One of the main constraints to organic agriculture is the lack of appropriate practical skills and technology that the producer can employ on his/her farm. While indigenous knowledge, often rapidly eroded, is frequently praised, few concrete efforts are made to revitalize it and especially to enhance it so that it can offer practical solutions to the present problems facing local farming communities. The Project is committed to participatory technological development and learning, and has been using two methodologies known as "Farmer-Field-School" and "Participatory Technological Development" as the main tools for developing appropriate organic farming skills and technology while also incorporating local indigenous knowledge. The Project also believes that producer organizations have a key role to play in organic agriculture and must be strengthened in order to become more effective in delivering technological services to their members, reinforcing consciousness and ethical responsibility, and handling organic produce.

"The Farmer-Field-School" and "Participatory Technological Development" are the main tools for developing appropriate organic farming skills and technology while also incorporating local indigenous knowledge.

Project approach and activities

The Project works with local organizations committed to organic agriculture and sustainable development in order to establish an organic conversion programme, comprising three main components, namely farmer-field-school technical development, market access, and organic certification.

Before the conversion programme begins, a field survey is conducted to collect background information on producer organizations, current farming practices, agrochemical use, and cropping patterns. This information serves as a basis for project feasibility evaluation and market potential assessment. If the project is viable, then a series of training workshops and extension activities are organized. The first two training workshops are designed to inform prospective producers, and discuss with them, the requirements of organic agriculture (e.g. principles, standards and certification, product quality), and the role of the producer organization as well as the main components and processes of the Project. At this stage, the roles and responsibilities of each actor (individual producer, producer organization, processor, local non-government organization, Green Net Cooperative) under the Project are discussed and agreed upon. Also the guaranteed premium for the produce as well as acceptable product quality are discussed and concluded. The premium is jointly determined by organizing a production costing workshop in which participating producers collectively calculate farm production costs and estimate an appropriate level of organic premium prices.

An organic agriculture technological development workshop is organized with the Farmer-Field- School (FFS). The FFS is a participatory adult learning approach where during the cropping season, participating farmers come together on a regular basis (e.g. every 7, 10 or 14 days) to learn about agro-ecosystem management of a selected organic field, known as "field school". In the field school, the plot is divided in half, with one half cultivated with conventional rice and the other with organic rice. The conventional rice field is managed in the same manner as typical local farmers would tend their own conventional fields while the organic field is managed according to organic standards with farmers taking joint decisions on fertilization and pest control strategies. Participating farmers are encouraged to observe both conventional and organic fields under local conditions similar to their own fields, and compare the crop growth and yield. This exercise is done in small groups to facilitate active participation and group development. The small group discusses and analyses crop conditions and then makes organic management recommendations for the field school. At the plenary, each group presents its findings and suggestions and a facilitator synthesizes the recommendations. These management recommendations are tested in the school field and the farmers can come to observe the test results in the next school session. Through this process, farmers have an opportunity to share their indigenous knowledge and learn about the different organic management alternatives applicable to their local situations. Some farmers adopt the management recommendations on their farms after observing the results of the school fields.

Participating farmers are encouraged to observe both conventional and organic fields under local conditions similar to their own fields, and compare the crop growth and yield.

Apart from field activity, the FFS facilitator also organizes group-building activities to strengthen the producer organization. In addition, farmers can acquire new knowledge on various issues during a "special topic" session. Here, issues of interest to farmers, such as compost production, or issues critical to the project, such as organic standards and certification requirements, are incorporated.

As each FFS session is organized for half-days at regular intervals during the crop season, participating farmers can accumulate basic technological knowledge on organic agriculture after completing the season-long FFS. This methodology is far more effective as a learning process for farmers than conventional training methods where farmers sit in full-day or several-day training lectures. The FFS can be extended to the dry season when a rotation crop is grown, and it may even be repeated for a second year.

Key components and activities of the organic conversion programme




Field survey

1-2 days

Collection of background information from producer groups about current farming practices, and the farming situation

Training workshop # 1:

2-3 days

Principles of organic farming

Organic conversion


Components and activities in the organic conversion project programme


Farmers' participation and responsibility

Training workshop # 2:

2-3 days

Training on organic standards and certification requirements

Organic standards and


Organic price setting through a participatory cost-price certification exercise


Preparation for Farmer-Field-Schools


Every 7-14 days

Agro-ecology analysis


during the season

Group dynamics


(half-day session)

Special topics on issues of interest to farmers

Organic technology



Additional technical development employing a Participatory Technical Development model

Field monitoring

2-3 times per year

Field monitoring through an Internal Control System as part of organic project certification


Once a year

Overall discussion with all participating farmers to evaluate the programme's activities and plan for future activities

In some producer groups where participating farmers are interested in testing additional techniques that cannot be incorporated into the FFS, a participatory technical development (PTD) activity is organized. Here a specific technique is first discussed and evaluated by farmers. Then the group sets up a field trial in the participants' own fields. The results of field trials are later presented to the group for collective learning. After the FFS, the farmers are encouraged to continue to work together to further develop ecological farming technologies through the PTD methodology. This empowers the farmers to design and control the technology development process appropriate to local and changing agro-economic conditions.

As the project requires organic certification, a local private organic certifier, Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT), has been contracted. In November 2001, ACT was awarded IFOAM Accreditation by the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS). As the project works with smallscale farmers, organic certification is organized through grower group certification where farmers' organizations are the licensees for ACT. The farmer organizations are assisted to develop Internal Control Systems (ICS) to monitor the compliance of participating farmers with organic standards. Farmer leaders and their staff (they can sometimes also be NGO staff) are trained to run the ICSs and conduct internal farm monitoring and inspection. This helps to further strengthen producer organizations and ensure that organic standards and certification requirements are adhered to.

During the cropping season, participating farmers may require organic farm inputs, such as animal manure, some of which may not be available locally in sufficient quantities. The Project will normally help producer organizations to identify the sources of such farm inputs and may also search for sources of credit where necessary.

Farmer organizations are assisted to develop Internal Control Systems (ICS) to monitor the compliance of participating farmers with organic standards.

After harvesting, the organic product must be packed and labelled in specific bags supplied by the Project. The bag has distinct identification for various kinds of rice, (e.g. organic and in-conversion). The rice can then be delivered to the rice mill warehouse. The project also assists the rice mill (operated by the farmer organizations) to develop quality assurance for its milling and packing operations.

Organic rice farming

Organic rice farming is similar to conventional farming described above. The differences are:

There is no intercropping at all as rice farming is semi-aquatic. Crop rotation exists on a very limited scale as no irrigation water is available during the dry season. Perennial trees that can withstand drought and water-logging are found scattered throughout the fields (an estimate of 5-10 percent of land is covered by trees) thus maintaining some biodiversity in the farm. Some farmers attempt to plant bushes or trees along the field boundaries but many of them do not survive the dry season. However, this practice is nevertheless being encouraged by the Project, the farmers being requested to pay more attention to tree planting than previously.

Located in a sandy soil area, with a few exceptions where sandy clay soil exists, soil fertility is quite poor. In both cases, organic matter content is low. Soil erosion is not a serious problem because the setting of earth dikes in all fields reducing soil erosion caused by surface water run-off. The most challenging issue for organic agriculture in this project is soil fertility management.

The most challenging issue for organic agriculture in this project is soil fertility management.

Some conventional farms practise straw burning and each year there are a few cases on organic farms due to uncontrolled bush fires.

Crop rotation is practised only in limited areas and this is usually due to non-availability of water. In such cases, legume crops such as sward bean or peanut are planted after the rice harvest. For farmers having access to a pond or well, vegetables like Chinese cabbage are grown for family consumption and the local market (mainly in the village) after the rice has been harvested. Such vegetable farming is also in compliance with ACT organic standards but they are not sold as certified organic as local markets do not need a certification seal. Some vegetables are sold by local NGOs to provincial consumers and these vegetables carry a small premium price but other vegetables are sold to local conventional traders without any premium.

Organic rice post-harvest handling and processing

Harvesting and threshing are done by hand. However, as combine harvesters are increasingly used, if the harvester is not properly cleaned before switching to organic crops there is a risk of contamination with conventional products. Organic farmers are instructed in appropriate cleaning techniques before threshing the organic paddy.

Before harvesting, the producer organizations conduct a survey of each organic field and estimate the likely yield. Then polyethylene bags are distributed to all organic farmers (both applicants and existing members). The bags are printed with an "organic"or "in-conversion" label and have space where the farmer's name and identification number can be recorded.

After threshing, some farmers store the rice at home while others transport it to the producer organization rice mill. The stored rice is kept in a special rice grange adjacent to the farmers' house. During storage, the organic paddy is kept in 40 kg polyethylene bags. No prohibited substance is used during post-harvest operations and storage.

When there is an order, the rice mill will organize the milling and sell the organic milled rice to Green Net Cooperative (GNC). The milled rice is then delivered to the Rice Fund (in Surin) for packing according to the customer's requirements.

Expansion of organic rice acreage organized by the Project

(1 hectare = 6.25 rai)


In terms of ecological production, the project has been quite successful in supporting farmer conversion to organic agriculture. The growth rate in the last two years has been remarkable with over 2.5 times increase in certified farmlands. The Figure below shows the expansion of organic rice acreage organized by the Project. It is interesting to note that during 1999, the number of organic rice farms decreased. The reason behind this phenomenon is that the ACT changed to stricter organic standards, e.g. partial conversion of a farm was no longer allowed. As standards became stricter, some farmers felt that they could not continue the certification and dropped out. In the following year, the Project stepped up its technical support to both drop-outs and new farmers for whole-farm conversion. Conversion requires a minimum of 12 months for annual crops and starts from the date that the farmer applies to the Project's internal control system. The conversion can be extended if the field has a heavy history of agrochemical use. This support was accompanied by the provision of organic fertilizer credits provided by the Project so that participating farmers can assure that the rice yields of converting fields can be maintained during the conversion period. This allowed more farmers to successfully convert their entire rice field to organic farming.

There are several agro-ecological and social benefits derived from the Organic Fair Trade Rice Project. These include:

Soil structure improvement

The most frequently self-acclaimed benefit expressed by organic farmers is that "soil is darker and softer". This could be attributed to the incorporation of organic matter back into the soil. Rice straw and stalks, often burnt in the past, are now being ploughed back into the soil. Animal manure and green manure that farmers apply also add organic matter to the soil. All these contribute to the improvement of the soil's physical structure as decomposing organic matter will add humus to soil.

Natural resource conservation

As mentioned earlier, farmers have conserved perennial trees in the rice fields in the Isan region. The project further contributes to this conservation through its requirement of maintaining existing trees. The cessation of agrochemical application, both synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, also means that fewer harmful substances are added to local ecosystem, contributing to the maintenance of a balanced ecology.

Improved biodiversity

The cessation of agrochemical applications has contributed to an increase in the animal population in the rice ecosystem. Farmers notice an increase in natural enemies, e.g. spiders, birds and fish.

The rice fields have become an important source of safer and healthier food, including vegetables and animals (mainly naturally occurring fish) for family consumption.


Organic rice farmers now have lower risk of exposure to pesticides, especially considering that they work long days in the rice fields standing in water formerly contaminated with pesticides. Moreover, the rice fields have become an important source of safer and healthier food, including vegetables and animals (mainly naturally occurring fish) for family consumption.


The Organic and Fair Trade Rice Project is based on fair trade principles. The organic rice produced is guaranteed a fair premium price. The price is set at a fixed level taking production costs into account. At present, the certified organic paddy is purchased from farmers locally at 10TBT/kg (US$0.24), 8 TBT/kg (US$0.19) for in-conversion paddy, and 7 TBT/kg (US$0.167) for non-certified organic paddy. This is quite a significant premium as conventional paddy is currently sells at only 4.7 TBT/kg (US$0.11). These farm-gate prices include both organic and fair trade premiums. The premium price system has enabled the organic rice producers to double their incomes in the last two years.

The main market for the organic-fair trade rice is in Europe through the European Fair Trade Association and consumer cooperatives. Annually, an estimate of 250 tonnes of rice is sold through this channel. But not all the in-conversion and non-certified organic rice can be absorbed by the fair trade system, even though the project is committed to buying the product (with premium price) from farmers. The excess supply is sold locally to the conventional market at local prices (without any premium), the loss being absorbed by the Project.

Another important economic benefit is the farmer's control over the production process. This means that farmers not only manage and take control at the farm level, but also of the processing (i.e. rice mill) and to a lesser extent of the market, through Green Net Cooperative. By controlling the production processes, farmers can directly ensure maximum benefits are retained and determine how these benefits are distributed.

These farm-gate prices include both organic and fair trade premiums. The premium price system has enabled the organic rice producers to double their incomes in the last two years.


The Project has so far been quite successful. Each year, increasing numbers of farmers express interest in joining as knowledge of the benefits of the Project spreads. However, there are also some constraints to expansion:


The organic conversion period is normally from 1-3 years; however ATC sets this at a minimum of 12 months for rice. During this period, producers must fully comply with organic standards including non-application of prohibited substances and "positive management", e.g. soil fertility improvement and pollution prevention. They must also submit to inspection by the certification body.

There are two major issues encountered during organic conversion: technological and financial. During organic conversion, farmers must carefully plan and manage their farms according to organic standards and certification requirements. This entails appropriate technological knowledge of crops, local ecological conditions, and market demand so that production can be maintained without significant yield loss. Extension support is very critical during this period; otherwise there is a high risk of the farmer dropping out from the conversion.

Another problem with organic conversion is that products grown or harvested during this period cannot be labelled with the organic seal. In the European Union, Japanese and United States markets, in-conversion organic products cannot claim to be organic and hence cannot command a premium price. As the project is linked to the Green Net Cooperative (GNC) which has adopted a fair trade policy, the in-conversion rice is sold both domestically and for export as fair trade rice. However, as mentioned above, not all in-conversion and non-certified organic rice can be sold with an extra premium to cover all extra costs, especially on the domestic market where the rice trade is very competitive. This means that GNC must bear the burden of higher costs for in-conversion rice. In situations where a local fair trade organization like GNC does not exist or producers do not have access to fairtrade markets, it is economically difficult for small-scale farmers to launch into organic conversion. A subsidy is therefore needed during initial organic conversion so that farmers can be rewarded for their efforts from the beginning.

In-conversion organic products cannot claim to be organic and hence cannot command a premium price... in-conversion rice is sold both domestically and for export as fair trade rice.


Despite this success, the majority of farmers are still not converting. The slow conversion can be attributed to socio-economic factors. Almost all farmers are under financial pressure to maintain farm productivity in order to be able to pay back previous loans. At the same time, farmers have been indoctrinated to believe that the use of agrochemicals is a guarantee of good yields and it represents "modern" farming practice. Farmers that "return" to non-use of agrochemicals are backward. The "wait-and-see" attitude and the mental bottleneck of "modern farming" indicate that most farmers are not yet convinced that organic agriculture and fair trade can provide a solution for agricultural development.

The "wait-and-see" attitude and the mental bottleneck of "modern farming" indicate that most farmers are not yet convinced that organic agriculture and fair trade can provide a solution for agricultural development.

Project management

The Project set-up involves a few non-governmental organizations as local counterparts. The local NGOs often have their own agenda and interests and are not necessarily ready to commit their full support to the Project. Also, these NGOs rely on external funding sources which can only be assured for 2-3 years after which a new project proposal must be submitted and approved. The Project is trying to tackle this problem by building up an organic extension reserve fund by setting aside a fixed proportion of sales income for this purpose. However, total sales are still too small to support a viable extension service. To achieve the critical mass of project sustainability, initial investment is required, either through a development fund or from private sources.

Contribution to sustainable development

From the Project internal evaluation, it is clear that participating producers have earned higher incomes but they also incur more debt during the initial period. Most of the debt is related not to organic agriculture but rather to increased personal consumption, including motorcycles (for youngsters), refrigerators, TV sets and farm machinery. Although it is understandable that farmers should wish to use their higher incomes to enjoy goods that make their lives more comfortable and convenient, it is not sure where the line of "appropriateness" should be drawn. The rise in farmers' income but corresponding rise in farmer debt is not justifiable in terms of sustainable development. The project therefore decided in 2001 to start addressing consumerism issues in rural communities through a "self-reliance and self-sufficiency" scheme. The scheme aims to encourage farmers to produce what they "need" and to cut down on what they "want". This will include analysis of family income and expenditure, collective production of organic fertilizers (e.g. compost), developing local markets, and direct community-to-community trade.

Another important constraint is related to food security. At present, almost every farmer sets aside part of her/his land to grow local rice varieties for family consumption. The rice supply is therefore secured at family level. The Project will focus on production of other foodstuffs such as vegetables and fish, so that food security can be enhanced at family and community levels.


The key factor in the success of the Organic and Fair Trade Rice Project is the comprehensive project management programme that encompasses technical support, extension service, post-harvest handling, processing and fair trade marketing. The critical components of the programme are:

The overall supply-chain planning and management ensures that the operation at each stage is properly planned and the linkages between each phase (from production to marketing) are synchronized.


Organic agriculture and rural livelihoods in the Iganga District, Uganda


Project location and coverage

The Poverty Eradication through Environmentally Sustainable Technologies (PEEST) project has been implemented in the Iganga District since June 1997 by Africa 2000 Network4. The aim of the project is to combat environmental degradation by promoting ecologically sustainable development for improved livelihoods among the smallholder farmers in the District. The Iganga5 District is located in eastern Uganda at latitudes 1o 00' S-1o 06' N and longitudes 33o 57' E-33o 12' E. Mean annual rainfall is approximately 1 250 mm occurring on 100-130 days per annum and is mainly associated with the equatorial troughs in April-May and September-November. The soils are predominantly ferralitic with reddish brown sandy loams. The parent rocks of the soils are gneisses, granites and quartzites. The soils of the District are shallow and represent almost the final stages of weathering and, due to prolonged leaching, are of low to medium productivity6. The District is characterized by gently undulating flat topped hills with gradients ranging from two degrees on the lower slopes, five degrees in the middle to twelve degrees at the top. The undulating hills are separated by wide valleys which are either occupied by wetlands of impeded drainage or drained by sluggish streams7.

The District had a population of 944 000 at the last population census in 1991 and was growing at a rate of 3.5 percent per year which, well above the national average of 2.5 per year8. It is one of the most densely populated districts of Uganda with about 200 people km2. The population situation is aggravated by the polygamous nature of many of the families leading to family sizes above the national average of seven, 95.4 percent of the population of the District is considered rural and 85.3 percent of all households depend on subsistence farming as a source of livelihood, only 6.5 percent being involved in other trades9. Small-scale subsistence agriculture occupies 3 949 km2 while large-scale farming occupies only 19.4 km2 10. The farm holdings average two hectares supporting an average family of eight people11. A wide variety of crops are grown under traditional farming systems to provide food and income, the most important of which are sweet potatoes, cassava, maize, bananas, rice, yams, arrowroot, millet, sorghum, beans, pea nuts, soya beans, simsim, tomatoes, cabbages, pineapples, and the traditional cash crops coffee and cotton12. A typical farm of a peasant in the District comprises of some perennial crops like coffee and bananas with fruit trees (orange, mangoes, avocados, jack fruit and papaya) and shade trees like Ficus natalensis and Albizia sp. grown adjoining the homestead in an area constituting approximately 25 percent of the total land holding. The rest of the land is usually under annual crops and fallow. Families keep small numbers of livestock ranging from 1-10 heads of cattle, 2-10 goats, 2-4 sheep, 1-5 pigs and over 10 chickens13. Cattle and chickens are mostly kept under free-range while goats pigs and sheep are usually tethered, receiving supplementary feed from household crop remains. Chickens are the most widespread in the District with almost every homestead owning some. Livestock is valued for meat, milk, social functions and as a store of wealth.

Labalab and dry matter as mulch in Ms. Ssebuliba banana field

The traditional farming systems employed by the farmers are rainfed and integrate trees with crops and livestock production on the same piece of land under many combinations and rotations. The major source of agriculture labour is the family comprising of husband, wife, children and any other dependants from the extended family that may be living in the homestead. Only about 6 percent of the peasant farmers use hired labour while 7 percent use oxen. Simple agriculture tools such as the hand hoe, machete, axe, slashers and spade are used. Almost all farmers use their own seed saved from the previous season except for cotton, which is bought or supplied by the Cotton Development Organization.

Based on years spent at school, literacy rates for males is 60.5 percent while only 40.7 percent of the females are literate14. However, field experience indicates that many of those considered literate by the census have actually lost that literacy with time. The project reached 23 465 farm families between 1997 and 1999 but the intensive activities like training, extension and credit (in kind) reached 10 000 farm families.


The most predominant vegetation is forest/savannah mosaic consisting of a mixture of tropical rain forest remnants and incoming savannah trees with a layer of grasses and shrubs. This combination is the result of clearing original forests for farming, grazing, timber and fuel. The wildlife in the District is found in two protected areas "Busoga forest reserve" and "Bukaleba forest reserve" and on private lands with natural vegetation. It includes bush bucks, red bucks, buffaloes, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, monkeys, baboons, antelopes, wild pigs and many birds.

The District is low lying with an extensive network of permanent swamps and wetlands under papyrus reeds and other aquatic plant species. Covering 1 215 Km2, these wetlands drain into Lake Victoria in the south and Lake Kioga in the north and are habitants for important plant and animal species such as the sitatuga, Clarias sp., Protopterus aethiopicus, Mormyrids sp., crested crane, ambatch, fish eagles, yellow-billed stocks. The wetlands are also responsible for the modification climatic conditions, fixation of carbon dioxide, regulation of water flows from precipitation and run-off, act as sediment and nutrient traps and the retention of toxic materials from affluent wastes. A variety of human activities are carried out in these wetlands including fishing and the collection of fuel, building and handcraft materials from Cyperus papyrus, Cyperus latifolius, Cladium jamaicense, Phoenis reclinata and Raphia farnifera. Flood plain wetlands are also used for communal grazing during the dry season.

The Iganga District is one of the catchment areas of the River Nile system, which includes Lakes Victoria and Kioga. Deforestation and swamp drainage in the area has affected the local microclimate and the regulated flow of water into the river Nile system. Soil erosion in the area contributes to the siltation of river Nile and the associated lakes. The river Nile and Lakes Victoria and Kioga support millions of people in Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and Egypt.

Smallholder farmers rely mostly on production of indigenous crop varieties (sweet potatoes, Dioscorea sp., millet, pigeon pea, cow pea, Capsicum frutescens, arrow root, egg plant, etc,) and their own seed propagation. This has resulted in the agro-ecosystems of the Iganga District being globally important in situ agrobiodiversity conservation areas.

Smallholder farmers rely mostly on production of indigenous crop varieties and their own seed propagation.

Situational analysis

Since the 1970s the natural and agro-ecosystems have been suffering degradation following rapid population growth and deterioration in the economic situation. As the population grew, natural forest and woodlands were cleared for agriculture use, fuel wood, timber and human settlements. Wetlands were massively converted to agriculture lands for the cultivation of rice, sugar cane, yam, millet, sweet potato and vegetable production. By 1997, 591 km2 of wetlands had been converted representing approximately a third of the previous size of the wetlands. Clearing forests and woodlands and reclaiming swamps changed natural ecosystems, destroying biodiversity, reducing the water table and altering water flow dynamics. Over time, wildlife species have been declining and swamp soils have been drying up, shrinking and becoming sterile due to oxidation, and acid or salt precipitation15.

The mass clearing of forests, woodlands and wetlands has resulted in an increasing scarcity of fuel wood, timber, and drinking water from natural wells and springs which are increasingly drying up at a much faster rate during the dry season. The increasing soil erosion that is deposited into Lake Victoria is destroying the fish breading grounds at the lakeshores.

By 1997, many farmers in the Iganga District were faced with a problem of increasing vulnerability characterized by high poverty levels (above the national average of 45 percent living below the poverty level of one dollar per day) and food insecurity. The causes are many:

Agricultural biomass, which would have been used to replenish soil fertility, is also being used for fuel.

This situation was prevailing in the area yet it has a relatively good road infrastructure being located on the Kampala-Mombasa highway and is therefore in easy access of the major market outlets for agriculture commodities in Kampala and Kenya. Likewise, agricultural inputs like inorganic fertilizers and synthetic agrochemicals are available in the area and are vigorously promoted by the Government extension services with support from Sasakawa Global 2000, an international NGO. However, this vigorous promotion is not effective as it is based on the usual top-down command approach and ignores the serious constraint to inorganic fertilizer use by the farmers. This state of affairs has greatly undermined the livelihoods of the people and demanded a new approach to address the deteriorating situation.

In the early 1990s, the Africa 2000 Network (A2N) supported one farmers group, Community Association for Rural Development (CARD), to improve the productivity of their farming systems using organic agriculture (referred to as "sustainable agriculture" by the project) technologies and practices as alternatives to conventional methods. This pilot project was a tremendous success for the smallholder farmers who achieved increased food security, income, social capital and productivity of their natural resource base. This attracted the attention and interest of many farmers, local leaders, researchers and development workers and by 1997, the A2N, with the support of the District authorities and the farmers, was in a position to launch a district-wide project to benefit many more farmers groups.

Project aims and objectives

The three-year Poverty Eradication through Environmentally Sustainable Technologies project was initiated in 1997 with the aim of improving the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers through increased agriculture productivity and sustainable natural resource management. The specific objectives of the project were:

Mixed system with coffee, banana, arrowroot, passion fruits and Calliandra

The A2N sought to facilitate farmers to improve the sustainability of the farming systems by promoting technologies that were based on improving the efficient use of available farm agriculture resources, reducing unnecessary losses from the system, improving natural resource productivity through the maximization of natural inputs into the system, facilitating access to organic inputs, and promoting the cultivation of indigenous food crops and disease resistant varieties. To achieve this, considerable technical inputs were invested in the project in the form of training and extension services. Cordaid (formally Bilance), a Dutch donor, has been financing the project since 1997 and external technical cooperation has been obtained from the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Programme (TSBF), the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) of the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), Makerere University Soil Science Department and SIDA's Regional Land Management Unit who worked together in a partnership for sustainable agriculture development. The direct beneficiaries of phase one were those farmers who were already organized in farmers' groups. These were mostly small community based farmers' organizations of 15 to 50 members in 21 farmers' community groups. In phase two, the project widened its reach to cover farmers who were not members of groups by basing its mobilization and service delivery at village level. This enabled the project to benefit the poorest of the poor farmers, who normally would not belong to farmers' community organizations.

The A2N sought to promote technologies that were based on improving the efficient use of available farm agriculture resources.

Project activities and management

Awareness raising

This was aimed at raising the awareness of the communities to the linkage between natural resources and livelihoods and hence, energize them into taking actions to rejuvenate their natural resources for improved livelihoods. The awareness campaign involved the use of video shows, meetings and workshops.


The project used the "Methods for Active Participation" methodology in facilitating farmers' planning. In this method, farmers were facilitated in setting and describing a vision of what they want to be in 5 to 10 years time, identified and analysed the obstacles and constraints to achieving that vision and identified practical solutions to overcome them. The solutions were further developed into small projects to implement at family and community levels. The farmers, with the assistance of the project, then set forth to implement these identified small projects.

Farmers were facilitated in setting and describing a vision of what they want to be in 5 to 10 years time.

Training and provision of extension service

This covered aspects of sustainable agriculture and natural resources management to broaden the knowledge and the technical skills of the farmers so that they are better prepared to meet the challenges posed by changing natural and socio-economic conditions. The training was divided into two parts:

Workshops, demonstrations, exchange visits to other organic practising farmers in other districts were conducted. All the training was carried out in the community, often in farmers' fields and in the local language. During the training, facilitators invited farmers to make contributions about technologies and practices they were utilizing and considered successful. These were then discussed and suggestions for improvement made where necessary. In this way, the project was able to build on existing farmers'knowledge. On-farm extension was provided by the project staff and selected "farmer-trainers" from the community who had been trained and provided with bicycles for easy movement in their respective villages. A practical sustainable agriculture manual for smallholder farmers was prepared by A2N and provided to all farmers groups for reference.

Documentation, information exchange and networking

This aimed to empower communities to make informed choices in their agriculture and development endeavours and was vigorously promoted. Farmers' experiences and knowledge from the project and from elsewhere were documented and published in a quarterly newsletter "Uganda Environews" which was distributed to the farmers. Exchange visits were organized between farmers in the project and those in other districts were A2N was implementing similar projects. The sharing of experiences and knowledge enabled farmers to learn about other farmers' experiences in sustainable agriculture and how they were coping with farming constraints. The exchange visits had the effect of galvanizing farmers into action. Farmers returning from exchange visits were always more motivated and enthusiastic than before.

Exchange visits had the effect of galvanizing farmers into action.

Credit revolving scheme

This was used to facilitate resource poor farmers acquire productive assets. Under this scheme, farmers were provided with legume seeds (Calliandra, lablab, Sesbania sesban, Mucuna, Carnavalia, Tephrosia, Styloanthes, Siratro) for soil fertility management and fodder; planting materials of improved crop varieties (e.g. beans, maize, pea nuts, cassava, bananas and elephant grass); livestock (e.g. rabbits, goats, and heifers), and local indigenous crop varieties (e.g. yams and arrowroot) which had become scarce in the area.

Organizational development

The farmers' groups were trained in organizational management with the aim to strengthen them in achieving their objectives and as effective agents for soliciting services and forging alliances with development agencies and institutions.

Energy conservation

Farmers were trained in construction and use of improved energy cooking stoves like the "Lorrena cook stove". These stoves reduce the amount of fuel wood used by 50 to 75 percent and also improve the cooking environment hence reducing the risk posed to health by smoky kitchen environments. The agroforestry technologies promoted were also aimed at generating biomass for fuel.

Gender sensitization

This was aimed at improving gender relations and reducing inequity at home and in the community in terms of resource access and management. This would then enable effective participation and contribution of both genders in the management of their natural resources for improved livelihoods. The area is characterized by serious gender inequity where women do most of the work in the agriculture fields but in many cases have none or very little say on how the returns from their labour are utilized.

Four agriculture development workers permanently located in the area facilitated the activities, together with 26 "farmer-trainers" recruited from the community who worked as farmer mobilizers and provided some extension services to farmers in their immediate neighbourhood. Three A2N secretariat staff17 based in the Kampala office provided technical and administrative backstopping. Additional technical backstopping was obtained from ICRAF, CIAT, TSBF, KARI/NARO and Makerere University scientists who join in at different times during the project implementation.

In July 2000, after three years of project implementation, an evaluation was carried out18. The project was considered successful but with the following recommendations for Phase 2:

The project should continue availing credit to the farmers.

Building on the lessons learnt, the project embarked on Phase 2 with the following objectives:

The three-year Phase 2, has allowed the strengthening of partnerships with the technical institutions and has seen the inclusion of a new partner, the Institute of Organic Farming of the University of Agricultural Sciences of Austria. Government extension workers have also joined in and have been trained on-the-job in organic agriculture technologies and practices. The project is now implemented jointly with the local governments in the District. Farmer mobilization, awareness raising and training is conducted at village level, which has enabled poor farmers who do not belong to groups to participate. These changes have given the project access to more technical expertise, more political support and material resources and hence a greater technical and population out-reach in the District. In turn this has had greater impact on the ecosystem as sustainable natural resource management practices and technologies are replicated over a wider area of the District.

Farmer mobilization, awareness raising and training is conducted at village level, which has enabled poor farmers who do not belong to groups to participate.

Analysis and lessons

During implementation, the project was continuously monitored and changes in approaches revised where necessary. This ensured that the project remained on track and addressed the key constraints. After three years of implementation an evaluation led by an external facilitator19 of the project was carried out. The results showed that the project had made significant contributions to addressing the environmental problems of the community and had made significant contributions to farmers' efforts at improving their livelihoods through improved food security, incomes and an improved quality of their natural resource base. The first phase of the project raised environmental awareness in the community, equipped farmers with knowledge and analytical skills about their environment and skills to manage their natural and agricultural resources sustainably. These had translated into improved natural resources productivity. The project evaluation recommended that the project be extended into another phase (starting in July 2000) to reach out to many more farmers in the District, tackle the illiteracy problem and strengthen farmers' organizations.

The project continues to facilitate farmers to rejuvenate the productivity of their degrading farmlands. The technologies and practices, which were adapted and adopted, reduced soil erosion, conserved soil water, helped prevent soil nutrient loss, improved soil fertility resulting in improved agriculture productivity. By improving soil fertility the demand for more land from forests and wetlands has been eliminated for those participating farmers. They are now able to produce adequate agricultural products from their present landholdings. The new agroforestry technologies increased the supply of fuel wood and fodder and contributed to increasing the fertility of the soils, while the improved cook stove reduced the demand for fuel wood. The promotion of indigenous crop varieties contributed to improving the food security of the community and to the conservation of the local agrobiodiversity. Of the 10 000 farmers reached in the first phase of the project, 99 percent reported increased food supplies and while percent reported increased income, 44 percent of the farmers with increased income attributed the increase solely to the facilitation of the project20. Savings in effort and money spent on accessing fuel wood as a result of the improved cook stoves and agroforestry technologies was noted by 61 percent of farmers. More significantly, but often ignored, was the empowerment of the farmers with knowledge and practical skills which increased their self esteem and confidence as agents of their own development.

By improving soil fertility the demand for more land from forests and wetlands has been eliminated for those participating farmers.

The overall effect of the project on the ecosystem has been a reduction in pressure on the forest; woodland and wetland resources of the area as an increasing number of farmers are able to obtain adequate resources like fuelwood and food to sustain their livelihood from their farm holdings due to increased productivity. The project is now in its second phase of implementation with the aim of reaching a total of 50 000 households in the District. With many farmers replicating organic farming practices and technologies, positive contributions of organic agriculture to the ecosystem of the District are being multiplied.

Constraints and difficulties

The major constraint faced during the project was the low literacy levels among the majority of the female farmers. This limited participation in training and keeping of records for future reference and analysis. However, every effort was made to make the training practical with the assistance of visual aids. In the second phase of the project, an adult literacy component was incorporated. Farmers also indicated that organic agriculture practices and technologies, while very appropriate for their circumstances required initial heavy investments in labour and they lacked appropriate tools (e.g. spades, wheelbarrows and forked hoes). This problem of farm tools is a clear indicator of the poverty levels in the area, the tools referred to being only basic farm tools. The project provided some tools on credit but the message was for farmers to work towards increased income to be able to buy farm tools from their own savings.

Unlike in other areas where farmers' groups are common and working in groups is a well established practice enabling the pooling of group labour to work on challenging tasks like establishing soil erosion control structure, in Iganga the social organization is still strongly individualistic with each household working on its own. From experiences elsewhere in Uganda, the project implementers were aware of this problem and sought to sensitize the community on gender. The project also encouraged the participation of all household members in project activities such as training and exchange visits in order to eliminate the differential access to knowledge and information that partly contributes to inequality. The aim was to improve the participation of all household members in agricultural activities other than leaving the burden on women and the young children. But gender sensitization is about changing attitudes and often takes a long time to bear results. In families that took up the message, there have been no reported problems with labour as all members participate in farm activities and sometimes, some of the farm income is invested and used to pay for labour.

The rate of adoption of technologies and practices varies from farmer to farmer but is strongly correlated with the degree of gender harmony in the family, availability of family labour, size of land holding and incidence of health problems such as malaria and HIV/AIDs, all of which affect labour availability for agriculture activities. Moreover, the heaviest labour investment is usually at the start of implementation of organic technologies. With time, as the farm stabilizes the labour burden on the farmer's reduces. Such homes are very visible in the project areas.

The major constraint to improved gender relations in the District is the problem of polygamy with many men having more than one wife. This limits the effectiveness of the gender messages as they run counter to the practice of polygamy, which is based on control and subjugation.

The project operated at community level requiring a lot of investment in community sensitization and awareness rising on environmental issues. These activities require a lot of time, something not usually available under a project that has time-bound outputs. In the process, those in the community that are slow to respond, for one reason or another, are left out. Secondly, the promotion of organic agriculture at community level requires a lot of time in training and extension for communities that have been demoralized by past experiences with Government extension. Great effort is spent on building trust not only in the project but also in the approach to agriculture.

The heaviest labour investment is usually at the start of implementation of organic technologies. With time, as the farm stabilizes the labour burden on the farmer's reduces.

Lessons learnt

In most cases, the technologies promoted were not new but only an improvement of farmers' own traditional methods. For example, farmers have always used organic matter and agroforestry technologies to improve the fertility of their soils. The project only trained farmers in improving organic matter management and reducing nutrient system losses through composting, improved fallows using nitrogen fixing legumes, green manuring and the use of quick maturing agroforestry nitrogen fixing shrubs to reduce on fallow periods. The resources required for the improved technologies were within the abilities of the farmers and mostly required additional effort (labour) and skills.

The resources required for the improved technologies were within the abilities of the farmers and mostly required additional effort (labour) and skills.

The sandy soils, which dominate the District, are of generally low fertility and have high percolation rates. They readily responded to improved organic matter management through improved soil nutrient availability and water holding capacity. Consequently the results of the farmers' efforts were realised within a short time and are very distinct. Farmers were able to attain food security within a short period and started embarking on increasing their household incomes.

The national policy on agriculture advocates for the attainment of food security through the commercialization of subsistence agriculture21. This invariably means producing a monocrop for the market. In a situation of volatile agriculture prices with no guarantees of minimum agriculture crop prices, that may be a very dangerous path. In this project, the farmers were able to attain food security through the rejuvenation of the natural resource base and increased production of a variety of food crops. With a guaranteed food security, the farmers then began marketing some of their produce. The most common complaint of farmers during the second phase of the project has been the problem of marketing. Farmers were obtaining low prices as each went to the market as an individual and hence with limiting bargaining power. Local markets within the area were used and exploitation by middle men/women was common.

The training was participatory and practical and based on farmers' indigenous knowledge where farmers also made contributions about their present practices. The exchange visits and sharing of experiences enabled farmers to learn what their fellow farmers were doing and draw inspiration. The project had committed, knowledgeable and experienced staff at all levels both in the field and at the A2N secretariat. The project staff ensured that farmers were facilitated in solving their constraints using local means and where necessary, facilitating acquisition of resources like short fallow legume seeds, improved crop varieties and livestock breeds that were not available within the community. The implementation design of the project involved recruitment of farmer-trainers from the community who were trained and facilitated to mobilize their fellow farmers and provide some extension services. These have played an important role in community mobilization, providing knowledge and inspiration to others.

Mucuna bean and compost heap in the banana field of the Magumba family

Finally, since 1997 the project has been supported financially Cordaid of the Netherlands. This financial support has enabled the project to employ a technically competent staff committed, motivated and facilitated to work under rural conditions. The donor has always released project funds on a timely basis, enabling the project staff to concentrate their efforts on the organizational and technical aspects of project implementation.

On the other hand, the project has faced major constraints emanating from the serious gender inequalities in the community due to the common practice of polygamy. Gender messages, such as increased control of income by women, undermine the power that is necessary for effective polygamous practices. Consequently, families already in polygamy are not receptive to the gender messages. Fortunately, the project gender activities are within the context of the national gender policy and the project is therefore not considered as advocating foreign concepts but recognized national inspirations.

There were very few farmers' groups/ organizations to work with and even these were very weak. These farmers' organizations had been formed after the famine of 1995-1996 but had not really developed beyond their formative stages. This meant that the project had to provide most of the resources required for activities with little contribution from the farmers. Activities, especially awareness raising and training, were costly and time consuming.

As the project progressed and started having an impact on productivity, the problem of marketing surplus produce arose. With numerous smallholder farmers producing small quantities but with no effective farmers' organizations to conduct the marketing, this becomes a serious problem. The important lesson here is that the strengthening of farmers' organizations is key to promoting organic agriculture at community level.

Strong farmers' organizations can also play an important role in lobbying for local government contributions to the project. In this case, the project did not involve local government structures at the start of the project for a number of reasons; most importantly because the local government did not have a good understanding of organic agriculture, the District was also in political turmoil with many disputes among the local political leadership. In the second phase, the local government structures were involved in the implementation of the project and some contributions were obtained. With the increasing deepening of decentralization in Uganda, resources for agriculture extension services will be disbursed at subcounty level as determined by the farmers. This requires strong farmers' organization to be able to determine how to use the resources, contract extension service providers, supervise and evaluate them.


Organic approaches to agriculture production have greatly contributed to the rejuvenation of the productivity of a degraded agriculture resource base in the District and hence to improving the livelihoods of rural farm households. They are particularly suitable to small and resource poor farmers and scaling-up should be facilitated to benefit many more farmers more quickly. However the rapidly growing population of a predominately rural population remains a serious challenge. The project recognized this problem and added family planning (called "Family Life Education" in the project) and HIV/AIDS" in its interventions but much more effort is needed at international, national and household levels to control birth rates and to provide outlets from agriculture to other trades. Gender inequity remains a serious limitation to organic agriculture development as it affects labour deployment and allocation of resources. The project has mainstreamed gender and instituted incentives like support to families that show a higher degree of gender equity to promote change. Gender equity is a social phenomenon and takes time to take effect in many of the families.

The project initially focused on reviving production and this has been successful on the whole. However, by 2000, the farmers were complaining about of lack of marketing channels for their produce resulting from the increased production. In Phase 2, the project started working on the promotion of marketing by strengthening farmers' organizations. Much more effort is needed to link up with organic agriculture produce dealers at national and international levels in order to bring the full benefits of organic agriculture to the farmers. This is the remaining stimulus required for the widespread adoption of organic agriculture in the District and the country.


Sustainable rural life and agro-ecology, Santa Catarina State, Brazil

Summary and introduction

This case study analyses and summarizes a sustainable development experience based on agro-ecology developed by the Ecological Farmers Association of the Hillsides of Santa Catarina State (Agreco), an NGO in southern Brazil. One of the main characteristics of this ecological system is that it considers not only the organization, management and control of the bio-physical systems (called "production systems" or "hard-systems") but also aims to understand and develop the interactions which characterize more abstract and complex systems (called "soft-systems"), particularly the human relations and the sustainable development of the territory in which the ecosystem operates.

Agro-ecology and organic agriculture could be the basis for a philosophical and methodological development strategy for the small family farmers.

This experience was initiated by people who were born in the territory but, like most Brazilians, migrated to cities. Many of these "new urban people" stayed in contact with relatives and friends who remained behind and began to take advantage of a development opportunity that started with the sale of organic products produced in the territory. They realised that agro-ecology and organic agriculture could be the basis for a philosophical and methodological development strategy for the small family farmers living at the hillsides of Santa Catarina State.

Consequently, Agreco was formed, initially involving an organized network of several small agro-industries which were created to process and add value to the primary organic products and to assist with marketing. Other development actions and projects soon complemented the initiative:

In addition, two important Forums were organized: the Solidarity Economy Forum, bringing together urban consumers and rural producers, and the Hillsides Development Forum, involving stakeholders interested in collective action for sustainable development in the region.

History and characteristics of the territory

The hillside region of Santa Catarina State in southern Brazil is a very beautiful territory (approximately 2 000 square kilometres) in which many strategic rivers have their sources and develop for Santa Catarina. They form one of the largest catchments of the State, which include some of the most populated cities of Santa Catarina, such as Florianópolis (State Capital), São José, Palhoça and Biguaçu. Mineral and thermal waters emerge from the subsoil. The region is characterized by hilly topography with altitudes varying from 400 to 1 800 meters above sea level, offering a variety of climatic conditions and vegetation types. From a sustainable development perspective, these characteristics offer opportunities for the creation of natural parks, intensification of agro-ecotourism and other environmental management projects.

Most villages share similar problems and characteristics: a small population, a traditional rural economy and a location far away from the main roads, tourist and urban consumer centres. Today, agriculture is the main economic activity of approximately 80 percent of the families, particularly small family farmers.

During the first colonization period at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, a "traditional" type of agriculture was practised characterized by a diversification of crops and livestock used mainly for subsistence. From the early sixties, agriculture experienced its first transformation process with the partial modernization of the tobacco crop. Tobacco became the main cash crop for most small family farmers in the region, who began to buy modern inputs (chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) and sell the harvest to the tobacco companies. By the early 1990s, as in most regions of Brazil and other developing countries, this partial modernization process (which occurred particularly in crops like tobacco, soybeans, irrigated rice and apples) was resulting in negative social and environmental impacts: rural exodus, poverty, urban violence, environmental degradation, health problems and other socio-environmental effects reaching levels never before observed in the region.

In attempt to obtain another source of income and as a result of the tobacco crisis (mainly due to negative social and environmental impacts, together with low prices and low farmers' incomes), many farmers launched into intensive pig and poultry production systems designed and controlled by large agro-industries. Others increased native wood extraction, charcoal production and animal hunting for survival. These activities increased environmental degradation such as water pollution, soil erosion and devastation of native vegetation.

Ecological Farmers Association of the Hillsides of Santa Catarina State

As a consequence, many people born in the region migrated to the cities; however, they maintained connections with the territory and with relatives and friends who had remained behind. Members of the Florentino Schmidt family, for example, decided to market produce from the region. In 1982, motivated by negative effects in both environmental and human health (e.g. water course pollution, soil contamination, intoxication and diseases due to agrochemicals), the Schmidt family decided to stop tobacco production and return to diversified production of vegetables, eggs, cheese and other products. They sold their products directly to consumers in urban centres, providing deliveries to households, universities and other places. Later, other neighbouring families joined this process, increasing the job and income opportunities in the area.

The Gemüse Fest has since become an annual event that mobilizes many other families in the region, facilitating meetings between farmers and urban-based friends or relatives.

The foundation of Agreco and the ecological development option

Since May 1991, with the first Gemüse Fest (Vegetable Festival), the relationship between rural people who went to study and work in the cities and families who stayed behind has been strengthened. The Gemüse Fest has since become an annual event that mobilizes many other families in the region, facilitating meetings between farmers and urban-based friends or relatives. From these meetings partnerships have evolved with the aim of reinforcing economic opportunities and alternatives, and in 1996 the Ecological Farmers Association in the Hillsides of Santa Catarina State (Agreco) was founded.

Agreco is a civil non-profit organization (an NGO which includes mainly local people but also some "foreigners") based in Santa Rosa de Lima. The organization aims, through agro-ecology and organic agriculture, cooperation, solidarity and team work, to contribute to the transformation of the production systems of its associated family farmers (from chemical to organic systems), to add value to production through processing and marketing, to consolidate relations between rural and urban people and to create new income opportunities through rural ecological tourism, technical and administrative assistance, farm management advice, and access to financial resources as well as facilitating and motivating the organization of family farmers groups and small agro-industrial units.

Following the formation of Agreco, and in response to the negative environmental impacts, Agreco defined in its Association Internal Norms and Policies document (Regimento Interno da Associação, 1997) that all associates must develop agro-ecological systems and promote sustainable management on their farms. As a result, agro-ecological systems and agritourism, among other activities promoted by Agreco, have contributed to the decrease in intensive tobacco, pig and poultry systems as well as wood extraction, charcoal production and animal hunting while Agrecos' associates have increased their activities towards the protection of native animals and vegetation.

In addition to these objectives, two important Forums were organized: the Solidarity Economy Forum, approximating urban consumers and rural producers, and the Hillsides Development Forum, which involves both urban and rural stakeholders interested in collective action for sustainable development in the region.

Sustainable development based on agro-ecology

Agreco's ideology for sustainable development, based on agro-ecological systems and solidarity, is placed in the context of the social-environmental crisis experienced by modern agriculture. Agreco's approach aims to develop agricultural policies and systems moved by cooperation and solidarity instead of competition and individualism. It also seeks to associate traditional agricultural practices still applied by family farmers in the region with sustainable development principles and ecological knowledge accumulated by science over recent decades. To this end, Agreco has established partnerships with the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), with the Scientific and Technological Council of Brazil, with the Ministry of Rural Development, with the Government of Santa Catarina and with other stakeholders and several Municipal Governments in the region.

In 1997, the first organic production system of legumes, honey, grains and fruits involved 20 families and about 50 people associated with Agreco. Later, other organic production systems were organized, expanding Agreco's operational territory, including more families and diversification of production. By 1998, Agreco included about 200 associates and involved 50 families. Today there are now about 500 associates, involving over 200 families.

This increase in associates was stimulated by the organization of a network of 53 small agro-industries financed by the National Programme to Empower Small Family Farmers (Pronaf), through loans particularly designed to meet the requirements and capacities of small family farmers. The network was constructed with a view to processing and adding value to the various primary organic products, as well as to facilitating marketing and creating jobs for family farmers. There are now 27 agro-industries processing horticultural products, jam, tinned food, sugar cane brandy, honey, milk, eggs, free-range chicken and bread providing 206 jobs to 120 families. A further 299 jobs from another 120 families have been provided in the primary organic production. Most primary production units are in the transformation process from conventional to organic systems while all agro-industries have been operating in the organic system since the beginning. In August 2001, the First Organic Products Festival of the region was held.

The network of agro-industries is coordinated and assisted by a central support unit providing management and technical advice to the individual agro-industries, particularly in the planning of the marketing and production process. It is a kind of virtual network (a "soft-system") which functions in a very limited physical space consisting of four rooms: secretary, computers, technicians and library, very different from the large traditional cooperatives. All marketing activities are carried out directly by the central support unit. After the production plan for each agro-industry is established, the agro-industries interact with each other in order to exchange some primary products and family labour. They also "talk" to each other about the organization and participate in Agrecos' meetings and events.

The network of agro-industries has been very important in reversing the economic stagnation of the area and in the consequent provision of new job alternatives for family farmers. It has stimulated associates to work in groups, to add value and improve the quality of their products, processing them according to market demand and to facilitate the approximation between producers and consumers.

Organic products from the region are now being sold in more than ten supermarket chains all over Santa Catarina State, the volume of sales increasing every year. Products are marketed at local fairs as well as through direct delivery of small baskets to urban consumers in Florianopolis, the State Capital. Schools in Santa Catarina have also begun to serve organic products form Agreco.

The Sustainable Rural Life Project

Drawing on Agreco's experience, in January 2001, the Sustainable Rural Life Project was implemented with technical and financial support from the National Service for Support of Small and Medium Business (Sebrae Nacional, group of private enterprises with informal links to the Government). This project aims to consolidate the new sustainable development process in the hillsides of Santa Catarina offering theoretical and methodological references by which similar initiatives in other regions of Santa Catarina and Brazil can be orientated. The focus is the development of a learning support process aiding the training of Agrecos associates as well as other interested people.

Agreco's ideology for sustainable development is based on agro-ecological systems and solidarity.

This project is subdivided into six subprojects (or thematic topics):

The towns of Santa Rosa de Lima and Anitápolis are the main participants, but 15 others are also included. The first year of activities was based on awareness raising; consolidating the Agreco label (through self-certification) as a synonym of quality and ecological production; and in diversification and expansion of the marketing process through the definition of a policy stating the basic principles and rules for the conversion from conventional to organic systems.

The overall aim is to increase the Agreco system through cooperation with other farmers organizations and to create a network for marketing organic products throughout Brazil. In the areas of farm management, control quality and certification, the characteristics and cost of each product have been established and are monitored in order to support the price policy. The price policy establishes the final price of each product and the income of each person involved in the production chain according to the respective costs at each phase. Two parameters are used for setting the price range, firstly production costs and secondly the market price. The aim for 2002 is to sell half of Agreco's production in the institutional market (mainly schools) and through consumer organizations but also to consolidate the price policy based on production costs. One of the main characteristics of Agreco's system is that its planning process starts at the end of the "multiple production chains". In other words, it starts at the market. The institutional market offers not only a possibility to expand production but also a way to bring producers and consumers closer and contribute to increasing the number of informed consumers and producers. In this process, schools offer not only a potential market but also a learning opportunity for children and their parents, who will hopefully become well-informed consumers.

The price policy establishes the final price of each product and the income of each person involved in the production chain according to the respective costs at each phase.

Agritourism as a means to create new income opportunities and bridge the rural-urban gap

Since1997, Agreco has been encouraging family farmers to start agritourism activities on their farms following the framework of a programme included in its operational work plan and motivated by the increasing number of visitors to the area. Besides the natural beauty of the area, the organic production, processing and marketing system developed by Agreco has attracted the interest of many, not only but including technicians and other farmers.

In 1999, an agritourism association Acolhida na Colônia was created, involving 50 organic farming members of Agreco. The Association follows the principles and name of the French association "Accueil Paysan22" which has supported this activity. Financial support for Agreco's agritourism activities has been provided by Pronaf and by the Brazilian tourism enterprise, Embratur (a governmental organization).

One of the chief benefits of the agritourism association, Acolhida na Colônia, is the creation of new income and employment opportunities for many family farmers in the region, particularly for woman and young farmers, who are usually the first to migrate to cities. Another important benefit is the consolidation of relations between rural and urban people, with the latter are increasingly visiting the region to know the producers and where and how they live, but also to ensure that the products they are buying and eating are effectively organic.

One of the chief benefits of the agritourism association, Acolhida na Colônia, is the creation of new income and employment opportunities for many family farmers in the region.

The credit cooperative: access to finance for family farmers

The transition from conventional to organic agriculture as well as the processing and marketing of products require substantial financial means. Yet, small family farmers in the region are suffering the negative consequences of the economic processes that have occurred in Brazil and most developing countries over the last few decades, such as increasing poverty and rural exodus, rising urban violence and the concentration of incomes in ever fewer hands.

One of the greatest difficulties for small farmers is gaining access to the official financial system, as they cannot offer the minimum guarantees or the usual bank requirements. Many family farmers do not even own the land they farm. To overcome this problem, Agreco joined up with other local organizations to create a credit cooperative called CrediColônia (or Credi, as it is known), in order to finance the production, processing and marketing of organic products. Presently, all Agreco's financial resources go through the credit cooperative as do most of its associates. The credit cooperative operates like any traditional bank except that it does not require collateral or other financial guarantees from small family farmers. It focuses its investments on developing agro-ecological activities and systems in the region.

The credit cooperative operates like any traditional bank except that it does not require collateral or other financial guarantees from small family farmers.

In addition to facilitating family farmers' access to credit, the CrediColônia cooperative is being developed as a strategic institution in the mobilization of local savings as well as financial support from other regions or countries, while managing and applying financial resources for the promotion of regional sustainable development. Credi hopes soon to expand its activities to the whole of Agreco's territory.

The Hillsides Development Forum: from individualism and competition to collective action and solidarity

As in most other regions of Brazil, the majority of infra-structure problems (such as energy supply, roads construction and maintenance, communication, education and health services) are common to all small villages in the hillsides of Santa Catarina. As in most other Brazilian regions, these problems remain without solution for years due to their physical scale and isolation. Solving these types of problem usually requires collective action planned at a regional level.

This situation motivated Agreco to join forces with stakeholders interested in collective action for the sustainable development of the region. As a result, the Hillsides Development Forum was created with the aim of escaping from individualism and competition and promoting collective action and solidarity among the diverse institutions and stakeholders in the region for the solution of common problems. Based on the principles of participation, solidarity and agro-ecology, the Forum engages partnerships at local, regional and national levels.

The Hillsides Development Forum involves participants from 15 cities, all characterized by essentially agricultural economies practised by small family farmers and suffering a severe rural exodus. The Forum had its first open meeting in May 2001 at Santa Rosa de Lima and since then has alternated its monthly meetings among the cities of the territory with the organizational support from important institutions like the Federal University of Santa Catarina.

In these monthly meetings (open to all interested people) diverse stakeholders are invited to discuss actions and policies (manly infrastructure problems such as energy supply, road construction and maintenance, communication, education and health services). At each meeting a different stakeholder organizes and facilitates the discussion. The meetings have occurred in a very relaxed and friendly environment, facilitating the solidarity among the participants and definition of collective actions. The main priority actions established in 2001 involved improvements in the communication and energy systems together with improvements in roads, health and education services (particularly student lunch meals and transportation). These activities have been financed by diverse stakeholders, according to the theme, for example, road construction and maintenance and educational activities have been financed by both the state and/or municipal governments through their specific departments while other activities have been financed by governmental, non-governmental and private organizations.

The network of agro-industries has been very important in reversing the economic stagnation of the area and in the consequent provision of new job alternatives for family farmers.

The Solidarity Economy Forum: expanding the system's boundaries and approximating urban consumers and rural producers

Agreco's experience has interested several similar organizations located in both rural and urban regions. As a result a Solidarity Economy Forum was created in 2001 involving 22 farmer's and urban consumer's organizations from the most populated coastal cities of Santa Catarina.

The Solidarity Economy Forum expands the limits of Agreco's sustainable rural development project and links urban consumers and rural producers. The main actions involve the organization of organic lunches for schools and twice weekly deliveries of organic baskets in urban centres, about 150-200 baskets each time. This process facilitates participants' understanding towards issues of food security, water contamination with agrochemicals, increasing poverty, environmental degradation and rural exodus and helps demonstrate that increasing urban violence and revenue concentration are interrelated phenomena which are caused by both urban and rural human activities.

The main actions involve the organization of organic lunches for schools and twice weekly deliveries of organic baskets in urban centres, about 150-200 baskets each time.

These are viewed as common problems which interest and impact upon both urban and rural citizens. As a consequence, the Solidarity Economy Forum's activities generate potential for increased collaboration and solidarity between urban and rural people for the promotion of sustainable life in both rural and urban regions.

Lessons learnt, results and outlook

During its five years of existence, Agreco has promoted positive impacts in both environmental conservation and in job and income generation as well as in improving the socio-economic outlook and the enthusiasm of the family farmers who live in or have commitments in the territory. Other positive impacts have been observed in terms of the methodologies related to the joint management of the network of small agro-industries (each run by a group of families). However, the project has faced some difficulties. Only about half of the 53 initially planned small agro-industries have been set up. The main reason behind this is that the principle source of financial support for these agro-industries is Pronaf, which uses the traditional official banking system, the requirements for which many small family farmers cannot fulfil.

The 27 agro-industries involve 120 families (out of 211 originally expected in the 53 agro-industries) and generate 505 new part-time and full-time jobs. These are important results for a territory characterized by small villages but represent just a small indication of success given the employment and income requirements of the whole country. A very positive aspect which can be observed is the change of attitude of most farmer families and local and regional leaders towards the regional development. From accommodation and resignation to economic stagnation and rural exodus, these actors started observing new economic alternatives as well as new jobs, revenue and development opportunities and income generated from these activities has usually been sufficient to cover family needs, with other non-farm activities only being occasionally necessary.

In this context, the option for collective action and organic agriculture systems as the main sustainable development strategies deserve to be highlighted and Agreco is presently expanding its operational activities over the whole region. Despite some initial inertia to change, and thanks to the example of the original success of the project, the willingness and enthusiasm of associates to work in groups, and trust amongst associates and other interested actors and stakeholders has increased.

The expansion of activities over the hillside region generated operational difficulties but also helped to promote collective action, particularly in cultural exchange and agritourism activities as well as in primary organic production, processing and marketing. New markets are now being investigated and created, including the expansion of the student organic meals and delivery of organic baskets in urban centres, together with sales through local fairs and regional supermarket chains. The potential for commercialization on the international market is also being investigated and discussed together with the possibilities for certifying products for the overseas market with internationally accepted certification bodies which operate in Brazil (such as Ecocert).

However, Agreco's policy is not to expand throughout Santa Catarina State or other Brazilian regions. The idea is to serve as an example and interact with other farmer and consumer associations, each one with its own particular characteristics but operating as part of a larger organized network linked by the same interest in agro-ecological principles and sustainable development.

Agreco is an ecological farmers' association that has attracted the attention of institutions and people from all over the country and from overseas. It has become a reference of success for similar initiatives aimed at constructing sustainable development based on agro-ecological systems and collective action. During its five years of operation, the project has received support from many governmental and non-governmental organizations, but a key to its success is doubtless the enthusiastic participation of local and regional leaders who have promoted the interaction among institutions and stakeholders. The methodologies and principles used to develop Agrecos' system have been systematized in order to serve as a reference for the implementation of similar experiences in other regions or countries. Methodologies have been based on the principles of agro-ecology, sustainability and solidarity as well as on the concept that human beings must be the main actors of their own history.

In synthesis, Agreco's experience has validated organic production and ecological principles, together with an organized net of small businesses as a basis for a sustainable development project. It has also empowered both the family farmer and the urban consumer who together constructed the sustainable life project.

The option for collective action and organic agriculture systems as the main sustainable development strategies deserve to be highlighted.

4 In 1989 the United nations General Assembly Special Session on the critical economic situation in Africa initiated the "Africa 2000 Network Programme" (A2N) to provide financial and technical support to community based projects that protect the environment and promote ecologically sustainable development. Since its launching in Uganda in 1990, the A2N has supported projects that link environment and natural resources management with improved livelihoods. In 1997, with financial support from BILANCE (Dutch Donor), A2N started implementing the "Poverty Eradication through Environmentally Sustainable Technologies" (PEEST) project with the smallholder subsistence agriculture communities in Iganga District.

5 Iganga District was in 2001 divided into two districts: Iganga District and Mayuge District. The project continues to run in the two new Districts of Iganga and Mayuge. For purposes of this paper we refer to the old Iganga District.

6 Harrop and Ollier, 1959.

7 NEMA, 1999b.

8 MFEP, 1991.

9 NEMA, 1999a.

10 NEMA, 1999a.

11 NEMA, 1999b.

12 MAAIF, 1992.

13 MAAIF, 1993.

14 NEMA, 1999.

15 NEMA, 1999a.

16 MFEP, 1991.

17 These three secretariat staff were also managing and backstopping projects of similar nature and scale in seven other districts of Uganda.

18 Egulu, 1999.

19 Egulu, 1999.

20 Egulu 1999; A2N, 1999.

21 MAAIF and MFPED, 2000.

22 The main principles of the Accueil Paysan association are: tourism must complement (and not substitute) the usual farm activities and farmers' families should keep living in their farms. Accommodation must use existing farm buildings after improvement if necessary. Farmers' families must wish to receive visitors and exchange life experiences with them. Farmers' families must also be enthusiastic about improving the quality of their products and services while taking proper care of the environment and offering reasonable prices to visitors.

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