In Ceará, Brazil, a water project lifts farmers out of poverty drop by drop

January 4, 2013


Deusimar Cândido picks up guava at Forquilha Valley, Ceará: around a decade ago, this community relied solely on rainfall for agriculture.

Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

  • Since 2001, a partnership between the World Bank and the government of Ceará provides rural families with access to water and sanitation.
  • Their produce, grown with sustainable farming techniques, can be found in local supermarkets and in public school meals.
  • The project just started its third phase, which will benefit 60,000 families.

Forquilha Valley, Quixeramobim, Ceará – here, in the heart of one of Brazil’s driest states, green, healthy fruit crops contrast with the nearby desolate landscapes.

While papaya flowers blossom, nearly ripe guavas hang from the trees, spreading a light scent. “Get some, there’s plenty,” says 47-year-old Deusimar Cândido, manager of the local small farmers association, as he picks up the best ones.

Around a decade ago, such abundance was something he – and the 180 families that live in the region – could hardly imagine. “We planted corn and beans, and relied solely on rainfall for agriculture,” he recalls.

With the support of a three-phased partnership between the World Bank and the government of Ceará, they got the technology that enables them to pull water from the soil year-round.

They also installed a drip irrigation system – which uses hoses and nozzles to distill water only where plants need it. “We can plant fruit and vegetables without pesticides, and sell them to local markets. Each family makes at least BRL 1,500 a month,” he adds.

Now Cândido dreams of the day when he and other farmers will have access to more modern, computer-controlled sprinklers.

“Drip irrigation works well for semi-arid lands because it allows farmers to diversify crops and enhance yields while minimizing water consumption,” says Fatima Amazonas, a rural development specialist at the World Bank.

From 2001, when the project started its first phase (the second one began five years later), to 2010 approximately 185,500 families all over the northeastern state reaped similar benefits.

" Our story proves to the youth that they can stay in the countryside and have their own business. "

Deusimar Cândido

Small farmer

Last November, the initiative started a new phase, which will run to the end of 2016. It will support another 60,000 families by increasing access to water and sanitation, promoting sustainable agricultural techniques, and improving market access for rural producers.

In addition, the project aims at strengthening the technical assistance given to farmers in the first two stages.

A piece of land of their own

“Technical assistance” is an expression that Socorro Fernandes repeats often while showing the crops she and her four colleagues work on.

The five women supply schools and supermarkets with a bouquet garni made up of scallion and cilantro – which Brazilians call cheiro verde. “We learned to make green manure, for example,” she says. “I want to be able to grow these herbs organically.”

Twelve years ago, Fernandes quit teaching in a municipal school to work on the land in Forquilha Valley. “People used to make fun of me because of this decision. Now these same people want to cultivate a piece of land of their own,” comments the 47-year-old farmer.

Deusimar Cândido, too, knows several people who returned to their rural roots, starting with himself. “Our story proves to the youth that they can stay in the countryside and have their own business,” he says. World Bank’s Fatima Amazonas agrees: “They wouldn’t have the same opportunities in the city.”