Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Rio de Janeiro

September 19, 2013


588 farmers organized in 87 groups implemented small-scale agro-industrial ventures producing environmentally-friendly goods and services.

Kellen Leal/Handout.

Drawing on financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and additional co-financing, beginning in 2006, Rio de Janeiro State has laid the organizational, technical, and institutional foundation for the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources by family farmers in environmentally vulnerable Atlantic Forest region. More than 2,000 organized family farmers adopted agro-ecologically sound practices on 32,000 hectares, and a Payment for Environmental Services (PES) mechanism was enacted by decree of the state Government.


By 2005, the main threats facing the 15,000 square kilometer north/northwestern Atlantic Forest region of Rio de Janeiro State were deforestation and soil erosion, caused by centuries of land conversion and poor agricultural practices. Between 1990 and 2000 Rio de Janeiro had the highest rate of deforestation of all Brazilian states.

Pasture degradation, soil loss, and decreasing water availability were affecting the region’s 30,000 family farms, as rural poverty and out-migration increased. There was an urgent need to introduce sustainable land management practices to reduce poverty and conserve globally important biodiversity in the remaining Atlantic Forest areas.

Convincing farmers to adopt better practices was challenging: human and institutional capacity was weak; communities were poorly organized and lacked the capital to finance investments in improved farming techniques; and research was needed to adapt and demonstrate improved natural resource practices suitable to local farming conditions.


The Rio de Janeiro Sustainable Integrated Ecosystem Management in Productive Landscapes of the North-Northwestern Fluminese (GEF) Project promoted an integrated ecosystem management approach to help family farmers adopt sustainable land management practices, which would conserve and protect fragile agro-ecosystems while demonstrating that improved land management could be economically and socially beneficial.

Farmers living within selected micro-watersheds were organized and participated in developing farm diagnostic plans. They received financial incentives, training, and technical assistance to adopt innovative technical practices designed to conserve their agro-ecological assets, reduce land degradation, and improve farm productivity. 

This experimental approach demonstrated how the state’s existing rural development programs could be more agro-ecologically friendly, better-organized, and sustainable at the farm, institutional, and policy levels. Based on experiences and lessons from similar Bank-supported projects in Southern Brazil, the project stressed the micro-catchment as the best unit for conservation planning and management, local participation, dissemination and replication, and inter-institutional collaboration.


The project resulted in the following outcomes:

  • By the end of 2011, 2,254 family farmers organized in 48 participatory micro-catchment councils had invested in 2,728 subprojects, representing the adoption of over 4,000 separate conservation practices on 31,360 hectares of farmland.
  • Of these farmers, 588 organized in 87 groups implemented small-scale agro-industrial ventures producing environmentally-friendly goods and services.
  • Women took on leadership responsibility for 245 subprojects.
  • Farmer livelihoods improved: pasture rotation, poultry and honey production investments showed average rates of return from 26.2 percent to 59 percent. The cost-effectiveness of environmental impacts was positive across a range of investments.
  • Soil structural stability improved in 48 micro-catchments, from investments in pasture rotation, soil conservation equipment, agro-forestry systems and riparian forest restoration.
  • Carbon storage exceeded 19,000 tons by end-2011 as a result of 224 pasture rotation investments.
  • Environmental education events in 24 municipalities benefitted 5,700 individuals. The events stressed the importance of integrating environmental, economic, and social concerns. This was reflected in the many farmers who subsequently made conservationist investments at their own expense.
  • A Payment for Environmental Services (PES) mechanism was enacted by State Decree, and its operational, institutional, and financial arrangements were defined.

Bank Contribution

Total project cost was US$15.08 million. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) grant was US$6.75 million, and represented about 36 percent of total resources expended. This was less than the expected 45 percent of the project intervention, mainly due to the larger than expected co-financing contribution from the Federal Government through its National Family Agriculture Program (PRONAF), and from many state and regional programs.

The project’s co-investment strategy enabled state development institutions to reach the local level, overcoming time and distance challenges facing micro-catchment residents while fostering self-managed development. The contribution from the state Government, NGOs and beneficiaries was lower than anticipated.

The project supported the analytical foundation for a new Bank loan of US$39.5 million to the state for the Sustainable Rural Development Project, approved by the Bank in 2009 and currently under implementation.


The Bank’s primary partner was the Rio de Janeiro State Government through its Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock, in close collaboration with the State Rural Extension Agency (EMATER-Rio), the State Agricultural Research Enterprise (PESAGRO).

Other key agencies included the State Environmental Management Foundation, the Public Defender’s Office, and two prominent non-government organizations: SOS-Mata Atlantica and Conservation International-Brazil. The multi-institutional framework of partnerships supporting the project represented a difficult coordination challenge from which important lessons were learned for similar, future projects. Co-financing partnerships leveraged US$3.04 million in complementary resources.

Moving Forward

The new, scaled up Sustainable Rural Development Project utilizes the same institutional arrangements, and community organization and investment targeting mechanisms, and geographically overlaps much of the territory of the original operation.

Institutional capacity to collaborate technically and operationally in environmentally vulnerable areas has continued to grow as a direct result of the new project but remains challenging. Post-completion sustainability of the project is being boosted by extensive, independent farmer replication of project-promoted agro-ecological practices designed to conserve their green assets and enhance productivity.

Critical to project sustainability is the newly-created PES mechanism which is already paying farmers for environmental services in several State water catchment areas. Important, unanticipated outcomes include the State’s use of organizational and social elements of the project’s approach in its “pacification units” designed to restore social order and empowerment in areas re-taken from drug cartels; and, the State’s creation of a new Fund for Socio-Environmental Best Practice to remunerate farmers who contribute to the conservation of regional environments.


“We are preserving so we can see nature re-appear. We intend to increase the spring and use the water to also irrigate our fields. We also want to implement a riparian forest project to guarantee conservation of the water.” - Evaldo Monzato, Italva.

“Protecting the spring is a dream being realized. The volume of water has increased and since last year I have no more problems with drought. This spring water we are protecting is supplying three families and there is still enough for the cattle.” - Joelcy Silva Alves, Cardoso Moreira.

“I learned how to diversify my production and work in an ecologically correct way, and I can say it’s worth it... We have to thank the project, our lives have improved completely. We had no knowledge of all this but today we have various crops, our own space to sell our products and we have already adopted different ways.” - Luciana Andrade, beneficiary of an agro-ecological cropping systems subproject (São José de Ubá).

“The locality is cleaner and the trees are starting to spring up in surrounding areas. The benefit is huge because this water supplies the entire farm.” - Pollyana Almeida, beneficiary of the spring protection subproject in São José de Ubá. 

“For me, the result has been excellent. Work with dedication produces more income. We succeeded in buying a freezer by combining the money we made from selling eggs.” - Elias Verdan, beneficiary of a project-financed rustic poultry production “kit”, Santo Antônio de Pádua.

subprojects were under the direct responsibility of women.