Skip to Main Navigation
Results Briefs October 26, 2020

Improving Sustainable Agricultural Production and Rural Water and Sanitation Access in Northeast Brazil


Rural producer showing a carrot produced with irrigation practices promoted by the Project. Photo: Janaina Viana and Tailandia Araújo, Projeto São José III.

Janaina Viana and Tailandia Araújo, Projeto São José III.

Between 2012 and 2019, the State of Ceará in Brazil enhanced smallholder agricultural production and climate resilience and improved access to potable water and basic sanitation in poor rural communities by supporting 267 agricultural and nonagricultural productive subprojects, 25 % led by women, and by financing 26,000 new piped household water connections. These interventions directly supported 15 value chains, including cassava, honey, fruits, vegetables, and cattle and goat production, with more than 7,000 beneficiaries. Additional producers and producer organizations benefited from project-sponsored technical assistance and training in business management and environmentally sustainable practices. Pilot projects demonstrated that the use of greywater for home-based productive activities was both relevant to the livelihoods of the rural poor and a climate-smart approach to water conservation.


The State of Ceará, located in northeastern Brazil, experiences a semiarid climate over 91 % of its territory, with high levels of water scarcity and areas subject to desertification or environmental degradation. The rural areas of Ceará are characterized by high poverty rates, low agricultural productivity, and poor access to potable water and basic sanitation services. Among the challenges faced by poor small landholders in the area are limited knowledge about and access to capital and technological innovation to support production, processing, and organization, limiting their ability to meet market demands, access the formal credit market, and reduce climate vulnerability. In addition, in 2009, potable water supply access in Ceará reached only 17 % of the rural population, and basic sanitation services reached only 0.20 % of rural communities, posing a major human development challenge and constraining agricultural activities.


The Ceará Rural Sustainable Development and Competitiveness Project aimed to improve of small-scale farmers’ agricultural production sustainability and competitiveness and to contribute to efforts to universalize access to water and sanitation services in poor rural communities. To this end, the project financed activities to increase farmers’ access to innovative, climate-smart agricultural production practices, technical assistance, and investments in agro-processing facilities and to extend potable water systems and basic sanitation infrastructure to selected poor rural communities. The project´s approach reinforced the importance of making up-front investments and empowering local management capacity to ensure community ownership and fair water user fees to cover operation and maintenance expenditures. The project also piloted practices for collecting greywater for reuse in small agricultural irrigation systems. Furthermore, the project´s training program set out to reverse the current scenario of exclusion by addressing historical weaknesses that hindered access to public policies and financial services by social minority groups, including land reform settlers, afro-descendant communities (quilombolas), Indigenous peoples, fishermen, and other groups at varying stages of achieving effective social and economic development.


real revenue increase for the beneficiary rural producers’ organizations.


Between 2012 and 2019, the project improved the sustainability of rural production and rural income generation and contributed to state efforts to universalize access to water services. Project financing and support led to the following key results in these areas:  

  • Financing 267 agricultural and nonagricultural productive subprojects, directly benefiting close to 7,398 people (around 28 people per productive subproject).
  • A 33 % real revenue increase for the beneficiary rural producers’ organizations.
  • Participation of 71 beneficiary organizations in environment-recovery activities and conservation.
  • More than three-quarters (78.2 %) of all project-supported producer organizations financed a sustainable business initiative via subproject investments.
  • Products sold to institutional and private markets by 68 % of the rural producers supported by the project.
  • Environmentally sustainable technologies (e.g., solar panels and drip irrigation systems) adopted by 32 rural producer organizations supported by the project.
  • Training in business management and environmentally sustainable practices received by 15,460 beneficiaries.
  • The implementation and operationalization of 197 productive investments, of which 25 % led by women.
  • Family production units received 92,970 hours of technical assistance.
  • Producer organizations received 49,448 hours of technical assistance.
  • New piped water connections financed by the project were installed in 26,198 households.
  • Access to improved sanitation was extended to 39,662 people in rural areas.
  • Two hundred and eleven basic sanitation investments were implemented and are being sustainably operated.
  • Fifteen water reuse pilot projects were implemented with project support.
  • Water services systems management training was supplied to 424 beneficiaries.
  • Governmental staff and strategic partners participated in 114 training sessions under the Project Capacity Building Plan.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank, through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, provided a loan in the amount of US$100 million to help finance the project.  


Beneficiary during a technical assistance session. Photo: Janaina Viana, Projeto São José III


The State of Ceará provided US$50 million in cofinancing toward the project, and the State Secretariat of Agrarian Development, was responsible for overall management, planning, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of all project activities at both the central and the regional level, as well as project financial management, procurement, disbursements, and accounting. The project’s success also relied on the collaboration with and efforts by the following institutions:

  • The Ceará Water and Sanitation Company, which was responsible for the technical, economic, social, and environmental viability analysis of proposed water investments.
  • The State Superintendence for Water Works, which implemented water sector public works in Ceará.
  • The Integrated Rural Water and Sanitation System, a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization formed by community associations, contributed to social development and environmental preservation by ensuring reliable maintenance services for the water supply through self-managed, self-sustaining customized tariff payments.
  • The Ceará Rural Extension and Technical Assistance Company) undertook technical, economic, social, and environmental viability analyses of proposed rural production investments and monitored their implementation.


Direct beneficiaries of the project include (i) nearly 7,400 beneficiaries of project-financed subprojects; (ii) 15,460 individuals who received  training in business management and environmentally sustainable practices; (iii) family production units and rural producer organizations that received technical assistance; and (iv) more than 39,000 people living in rural areas of the state who received new piped household water connections and guaranteed access to improved sanitation services.

Iury Penha Oliveira, a resident of Piquet Carneiro, celebrated his participation in the technical assistance course and highlighted the 35 varieties of plants now being produced with support of project financing: “It was very positive for our community. To understand the food properties is spectacular. This knowledge changes our perception of consumption. We are producing everything with the same water that we use to wash dishes, and, with reuse of water, we have varieties that we didn't have in the yard, like carrots, beet, lettuce, tomato, and parsley. These were products that we could only [previously] bring to the table if they were bought. We have yet another big advantage, which is eating vegetables without any type of pesticide.”


Moving Forward

Lessons learned and best practices from the project informed the design of a follow-on project, Ceará Rural Sustainable Development and Competitiveness Phase II, that aims to bring further rural regional development to the state of Ceará. The project was approved by the Board of Directors on July 18, 2019 and is currently being implemented.