An interesting mission in the Eastern Minas Gerais countryside

Leste de Minas region (Brazil). Landscape. Photo by: RETE-REDE team
Leste de Minas region (Brazil). Landscape. Photo by: RETE-REDE team

During the second semester of 2010 I had the opportunity to know some places within the Leste de Minas region (Brazil). This region is very different to others where I worked. The countryside is characterised by a dominant crop, the coffee – as banana in the Ribeira Valley – however, the settlement pattern is more scattered. The petty producer families appear to be better off than those in the Ribeira Valley – and surprised me that the human development index of the municipalities I visited is lower (0,73) than the Ribeira valley HDI (0,75) – both of them are lower than the national average, of 0,766 (source: PNUD 2000).

It is interesting that the families better off produce, besides the coffee, many other goods: so, when you visit them, they could kindly give you some cheese, or rapadura (dried sugarcane juice). In this region there are some peasants with strong knowledge of organic farming; they are true researchers, who, with great creativity, carry on trial-and-error experiments. For that reason, here could be implemented with success the “campesino a campesino” (farmer to farmer) methodology, what is very different from, for example the Lower Amazon region.

Zé Antonio, a peasant-researcher, looking at a jiló (Solanum gilo) leaf. Photo by: Luca Fanelli
Zé Antonio, a peasant-researcher, looking at a jiló (Solanum gilo) leaf

Within a beautiful landscape, of dark green hills, it is a pity that the towns haven’t any beauty, any remnant of the past, and… even a bar where drink a very good local coffee.

In this region I monitored a project, developed by the Brazilian NGO REDE, and the Italian one, RETE, with the co-financing of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project takes place in the municipalities of Caratinga, Simonesia, Manhuaçu, São João de Manhuaçu e Conceição de Ipanema.

A meeting of the group of organic farmers. Photo by: Luca Fanelli
A meeting of the group of organic farmers

I was impressed by the achievement of the project, even if it started only one and an half year ago. One project result is, for example, the participation of organic farmers to a local fair; and, visiting some farmer – most of the people likes to spend a good time talking (prosando) – we can see some improvements, aimed at a sounder management of the production system.