Foto principal - Agricultura Urbana.jfif

Family production model becomes an alternative for sustainable development in the Amazon region

City farming is growing as a solution to the challenges of climate, food insecurity and economic deficits

Camila Azevedo

Translated by Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Banco and Thalia Vieira (UFPA/ET-Multi)


Putting a sustainable production model into practice, with the potential to feed the more than 1.3 million inhabitants of Belém, one of the main metropolises in the Amazon, has become a reality. Urban and peri-urban agriculture, carried out on the outskirts of cities, correspond to a set of techniques involving the cultivation of vegetables and fruits, and animal husbandry in large centers.

The practice has been developed around the world for several years. However, in the capital of Pará, researchers claim that the activity, which began to gain prominence from the 1970s onwards, has become a great ally in reducing the effects of climate change - in addition to contributing as an effective solution to combating food insecurity and the economic deficits found in the region.

Perceptions about the practice of families farming in the city were compiled in the study “Os desafios e o potencial da Agricultura Urbana e Periurbana em Belém” [The challenges and potential of Urban and Periurban Agriculture in Belém], developed by Instituto Escolhas. The research pointed out two scenarios for different productions that, together, could generate 3,267 jobs for the local population. In the first, 344 hectares (including idle and used areas) have the potential to supply 1.7 million people with 19,405 tons of vegetables. The second model projects that 5,348 hectares (idle and active lands) can be used to supply more than 951 thousand residents of the capital with açaí drink, considering that 30,431 tons of the grain would be produced.

The importance of family farming is also translated into food security for Belém. The research developed by the Institute identified that in the Tenoné neighborhood - with a history of economic vulnerability, there are 48 hectares of potential spaces that could be used for cultivation. If occupied, these areas could produce 2,683 tons of food per year, supplying 230 thousand people - the region has almost 6 thousand families registered in “Cadastro Único para Programas Sociais” (CadÚnico) [Single Registry for Social Programs], a system that allows access to assistance policies, including aid to handle food costs. In addition, the generation of employment and income would reach 191 people who live in the area.

Between bottlenecks and challenges

The main challenge for family farming full exploitation in Belém is the lack of government incentives to support production within the city.

Juliana Luiz, project manager at Instituto Escolhas, explains that actions to promote this practice must start from understanding of what is produced in the territory and what difficulties exist in this process, such as the high costs of transporting goods. “It is an economically viable production. There is area to produce and expand. Where this expansion will be located is the responsibility of the public authorities, which will look at which areas are at climate, environmental and socially vulnerable risk, and invest”, she ponders.

“In addition to promoting expansion, it is also up to municipalities to resolve the obstacles and bottlenecks faced by farmers who already produce in the urban environment, so that they can optimize the production, processing, distribution or commercialization of this production within the municipality”, says the manager. “The conduction now involves structuring federal and municipal actions, with the implementation of policies and programs, in addition, of course, to the work of constant mobilization of the private, non-governmental sector and civil society. It is worth mentioning that the focus on food production is very much in line with Brazil's current purpose of getting off the hunger map by 2030”, adds Juliana.

Agriculture helps to mitigate hot spots in urban centers

The latest Agricultural Census done by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics], carried out in 2017, indicates the existence of 601 establishments with agricultural production in Belém. Around 89% of them are family business. The data was gathered in the Escolhas research and shows that the efforts are valid beyond food production and the income generation provided: another important aspect is climate change in evidence and the extent to which the practice of planting in urban centers can help reduce and combat these effects.

Cotijuba and Mosqueiro concentrate specific types of production, ranging from extractivism and agricultural cultivation, to even a relationship with forest remnants in the backyards of small farms (Image: Igor Mota)

According to Juliana, the issues are not distinct, due to a series of factors, including the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. “Solid waste management, conservation and expansion of urban green areas, improvement of soil permeability. Urban agriculture has the potential to address both climate change mitigation and adaptation challenges. The discussion about climate change mitigation and adaptation plans has increasingly included discussion about food systems, responsible for 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the intense fight against illegal deforestation, the capital of Pará can and should embrace local food production as a success story for a new model of sustainable, healthy and fair socioeconomic development”, highlights Juliana.

In addition to the benefits for the climate as a whole, urban agriculture is capable of mitigating very specific problems that exist in large cities like Belém: the increase in heat, resulting from the crowding of buildings and the decrease in urban green areas.
Environmental engineer Nathália Obando, a master's student in family farming, highlights that the environmental comfort felt with the practice is a great distinguishing feature to be taken into consideration. “When we place it [agriculture] within urban centers, which are clusters of heat and mobility, we managed to reduce these hotspots, increasing comfort and enhancing these green spaces with thermal factors”, she states.

Juliana Luiz.jfif
“In addition to promoting expansion, it is also up to municipalities to resolve the obstacles and bottlenecks faced by farmers who already produce in the urban environment" - Juliana (Image: Instituto Escolhas)

Around the islands of Belém

The focus of Nathália's research is agriculture on the islands that are part of the capital of Pará. The Escolhas study monitored that regions such as Combu, Caratateua (Outeiro district), Cotijuba and Mosqueiro concentrate specific types of production, ranging from extractivism and agricultural cultivation, to even a relationship with forest remnants in the backyards of small farms. Concerning the differences, the engineer also points out the difficulties that are part of each farmer's routine. “We see a large lack of studies. It’s a big problem, because, when it occurs, there is a lack of public policies, there is no appreciation”, she laments.

“When we start visiting farmers, we notice that they don’t identify themselves like that, they don’t know who they are, they don’t know about it. When we talk, they understand”, says Nathália. “In Mosqueiro, Cotijuba and Outeiro they had no knowledge about urban agriculture, nor any benefit to the city or to themselves. Agriculture is an economic and social survival strategy, and we need to figure out how to bring this culture from rural areas. We are not just a city with buildings, we are a city that can see a bit of rural, mixed culture and not just food, but animals and ornamental plants that can be sold”, adds the engineer.

Farmer emphasizes the lack of appreciation for local production. 

Originally from Tomé-Açu in northeastern Pará, farmer Francisco Silva has been residing on Cotijuba Island for 33 years. He shares that the challenges faced in maintaining production in the region have never been obstacles to persevering, but he points out the need for greater recognition to increase income and valuing of the practice. 'Cotijuba has always been an area of agricultural production, including vegetables, lettuce, pepper, and passion fruit. In the past, we produced with more difficulties in terms of sales. Sales were quite weak; only middlemen sold our products. Today, we have a market on the island itself, as well as in Icoaraci, for example. We have this demand for work,' he states."

José Francisco - Agricultor.jfif
“We still haven’t found an alternative to improve the crossing issue. It remains expensive" (Image: Igor Mota)

In addition to the high costs of transportation, which reach R$300 per month, Francisco says that investing in raw materials for production, without any financial assistance, decreases profits, since he spends around R$20 per bag of fertilizer - the estimate is that each producer needs 100 of these bags to maintain planting. “In other places, they order the materials and they are delivered. But here, the logistics are difficult and expensive. We buy the bag of material and we also need to pay for transport, loading and unloading at the port. If we don't have fertilizer, we won't have high production. It’s not easy, we work based on courage, dedication and bravery.”

Francisco also remembers that, during a former municipal administration in Cotijuba, there was help for transportation. Thus, delays in delivery were avoided, allowing farmers to compete with other sellers at the fairs. “We still haven’t found an alternative to improve the crossing issue. It remains expensive. Before, we had a boat to take everyone's production, but the association was discontinued, the projects were canceled, so today we take a private ship or boat to transport the production. However, it is not always at the time we want, we are committed to selling at the right time. The preference is to arrive at 5am,” he says.

Agriculture provides monthly income for families on an island in the capital 

Rosilene de Souza and Eli de Souza have been working with the cultivation of fruits and vegetables since 2015. 
The couple has been living on Caratateua Island in Outeiro for 24 years, and they derive almost 100% of their monthly income from the agriculture they develop on a land allotment measuring 120m x 50m.

They also experience in their work routine all the mentioned challenges, such as a lack of valuing and support to maintain their production. “I notice that the island needs better infrastructure, a port similar to the one in Icoaraci. A commercial space for people who make a living on the harvest, such as açai berry farmers who sell their production here, ensuring benefits for this region and guaranteeing that money circulates here in the community”, says Eli.

Rosilene e Eli de Sousa - Agricultoreds.jfif
Rosilene de Souza and Eli de Souza have been working with the cultivation of fruits and vegetables since 2015 (Image: Igor Mota)

“Before the pandemic, we used to have around 200 chickens here. Almost 100% of our monthly income comes from our house, our backyard. We grow various plants including cupuaçu, taperebá, jaca, açaí, bacuri, cocoa. We have many different kinds of fruits here and we survive from our own agriculture. Everything we produce is sold on the island, due to transportation challenges. Taking the production to Icoaraci and Belém is more expensive, so that is why we only sell locally. Some items are sold in our house, while others my husband sells around the island”, says Rosilene. 

Beyond fruits and ornamental plants, the couple also sells crabs. In the future, they have plans to add honey - they are already investing in beekeeping - and fish to their production, in addition to engaging in rural tourism to explore the island’s area. The total financial return is about R$ 2,000 per month in harvest period. In other seasons, it reduces to R$ 1,500. However, the same concern that haunts Francisco’s daily life in Cotijuba reaches the routine of Rosilene and Eli. “Our soil is rocky, and there are many rocks in the backyard. We would produce much more with prepared land. That is why we do not have vegetable production. The fertilizer would be bought”, says Eli.