Rural development and empowerment of civil society
Brazil Country Programme
In Brazil, HEKS/EPER is active in the Cerrado (savanna) region and in Mato Grosso do Sul, where it supports rural communities in improving food security and incomes and in building a strong civil society. It is especially mindful of young people and women in so doing.
Brazil is a country of continental proportions with unique ecosystems like the Amazon and the shrub-lands and wooded savanna of the Cerrado. The country's biodiversity and cultural diversity face an ever greater threat from the growing number of large-scale soybean, sugarcane and eucalyptus plantations, as well as extensive cattle farming. Over and above the environmental problems caused by extensive forest clearance, social problems too have been considerably compounded by evictions from and conflicts over land: families who have lived on their land for generations, for the most part without land titles, are being systematically evicted by large landowners and national and multinational corporations.
There are extreme social and economic disparities in Brazil. According to government data, one third of the country's 199 million inhabitants live below the poverty line. The gap between rich and poor is also bound up with regional differences and discrimination against huge swathes of the population. Sixty per cent of rural dwellers are poor. Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people in general have less educational opportunities, lower quality housing and living standards, as well as smaller incomes. One of the main reasons for hunger and poverty is the unfair distribution of land. Concentration of land in a few hands has become even more pronounced in recent years: 4.8 million Brazilian families are landless, whereas about 4,000 large landowners own over 85 million hectares. Over the past 10 years, more than one million agricultural small businesses have had to close down.
The Brazilian Government's social policies under Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff did indeed raise the living standards of the poorest, but the structural causes of poverty have remained largely unchanged. Implementation of the agrarian reform has all but stalled.
Objectives and priorities
HEKS/EPER has been engaged in Brazil since the 1980s. Following the demise of the dictatorship, the relief agency heeded the call of the ecumenical churches to implement the «Option for the Poor», which bore the hallmark of liberation theology. From the outset, HEKS/EPER concentrated on the thematic priorities of rural development, which means access to land and water, food security and the creation of rural grassroots organizations as well as the prevention of violence through informal education while working with children and young people.
Geographically, the HEKS/EPER Country Programme focuses on the Cerrado savanna region in central Brazil and on Mato Grosso do Sul. Thematic priorities are support for rural communities and the strengthening of civil society. The programme's cross-cutting aims are to improve the food situation and incomes of rural communities as well as to strengthen rural organizations, with special emphasis on young people and women.
The Country Programme encompasses the following activities: Access to resources: Supporting the peaceful struggle for fairer land distribution, access to water and means of production, as well as realizing the cultural and territorial rights of traditional ethnic groups. Organic farming: Training small farmers in sustainable agriculture (soil and water conservation, production of traditional seeds, cultivation of organic vegetables and grains, agro-forestry). Cooperation with agricultural research institutes and universities. Promoting value chains: Production, processing and marketing of foodstuffs (such as native fruits, medicinal plants and honey) and crafts, setting up production and marketing units and fair trade structures. Strengthening civil society: Continuing education for young women and men in social leadership, institutional consulting and the strengthening of social organizations such as the landless movement, regional and international networking. Lobbying and advocacy: Claiming economic, social, cultural and civil rights. Endeavouring to influence policy with a view to changing ownership and power structures.
If you have further questions
Swiss Church Aid (HEKS/EPER)
Phone: +41 44 360 88 10