NDF - Financing for climate change and development projects

Empowering small communities with climate-smart farming

Photo: Adapta Group & VR14
Photo: Adapta Group & VR14
Photo: Adapta Group & VR14
Photo: Adapta Group & VR14
Photo: Adapta Group & VR14
Photo: Adapta Group & VR14

Proadapta Sertao in Brazil is a grass roots community agricultural project helping small livestock and dairy farmers tackle food insecurity and land degradation, in the face of increasing temperatures and recurrent droughts

In the heavily populated semi-arid region of Sertão in Brazil, climate change can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity for vulnerable farming communities. With average annual temperatures up by two degrees over the past six years and rainfall levels down by more than 30%, local conditions have been characterised by prolonged periods of harsh drought.
Daniele Cesano, who was the General Project Coordinator for Proadapta Sertao, has spent the last ten years at the front lines of resilience building in the region’s Jacuipe province in Bahia, helping families learn to manage their farms more sustainably. 
“Even though it is these small family farms that supply the majority of food into Brazil’s main supply chains,” Cesano explains, “these farmers are also the most vulnerable to climate change. Clearly, this poses a serious risk to food security in the region.” This is because the majority of food eaten by Brazilians comes from small farms, while larger agribusiness focuses on export markets and grain production, used mostly for animal feed.
On top of this, continuous droughts bring an increase in supply oscillations, threatening the viability of entire supply chains and in some cases driving deforestation, when no other sustainable and resilient production means can be mainstreamed.
Promoting green growth
Proadapta Sertao developed MAIS, a community-based climate change adaptation and mitigation program.
“The thinking behind our approach was to bundle different solutions and technologies into what we call climate resilient and regenerative toolkits,” Cesano explains. “These can help farmers bring in income during dry spells as well in the most severe drought years.” 
Smart practices include switching to a climate-resilient cactus plant (opuntia-ficus) for animal feed. Not only is it a good nutritional substitute for corn but the cactus has its own naturally built in water and food storage system. Other solutions focus on restoring pastureland through the planting of drought-resistant trees and indigenous fruit as well as adopting various animal management routines that are better suited for an increasingly dry climate.
The program was rolled out to more than 650 farmers in the Jacuípe Basin, where production in the dairy farming sector alone rose by 63% with farmers’ income on average more than doubling. 
“And none of this success has been at the expense of the environment,” Cesano affirms, noting that pastureland in the area has improved by 30% through the introduction of rotational grazing, with an accompanying 50% decrease in farm water use and an estimated 3 tonnes of CO2 offset for each hectare of restored land.  
Getting nature back on side
As testament to these positive impacts, dairy farmer Jose Antonio and others like him admit to having previously lost sight of the idea of a balanced partnership with nature. “Working with Proadapta Sertao made me come to understand again how nature works and how we can begin again to work with nature on our side.”
Jose Antonio describes years of engaging with destructive agricultural practices and falling into the unsustainable cycle of buying too many inputs to boost profitability while ultimately contributing to the gradual deterioration of his land. But thanks to the program, he was able to boost his farm’s milk production from 100 to 650 litres per day and has been profiting sustainably from his land in ways that he describes as life-changing. 
On the project delivery side, young professionals brought into the Proadapta team also underwent life-changing personal and professional development. One field technician, Jocivaldo, describes the experience of working with Proadapta Sertao as converting him into a real and self-confident professional. “Previously I had had very little training or knowledge of the kinds of climate resilience tools and solutions needed to help farmers become successful rural entrepreneurs. But now I feel much better equipped to cope with the rapidly changing climatic conditions,” Jocivaldo said.
Award-winning success
As one of the first ever agricultural programs to mainstream climate disruptive technologies among farmers in Brazil, in 2018, the program received the UNFCC Momentum for Change award. This is an award recognising innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges. 
Following on from this success, Cesano has now co-founded Adapta group, a private sector company that grew naturally from Proadapta Sertao, with a mission to convert climate resilience into a local business opportunity. 
When Proadapta Sertao completed in 2018, Adapta Group started offering a revised version of the MAIS program to large corporations to help them achieve their sustainability targets, including climate resilience and regeneration of degraded farmland. This is with the goal of improving farmers’ livelihoods and reverting the deterioration cycle that characterises Brazil’s current agriculture system.
Cesano strongly believes that farming communities will play a key role in Brazil’s transition towards a more sustainable world.
“We need to look at farmers as a powerful asset class for the socio-economic development of the country and our supply chains, Cesano asserts, “all of which are now at risk.”
By Laurel Colless
This article is the third in a series introducing Proadapt, a regional initiative funded by IDB, in partnership with NDF, to build climate resilience in micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean. 
If you found this article useful, you might like our Private Markets for Climate Resilience Global Report, a study pointing the way forward to a new research agenda on private innovation in climate resilient technologies, products and services in developing and emerging markets.
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