INREF Forefront workshop

INREF Forefront workshop

Suriname - 28 April, 2020

Tropenbos Suriname Director Rudi van Kanten and Assistant Researcher Bindia-Roy Jaddoe attended the INREF Forefront Workshop in Viçosa and Zona da Mata, Minas Gerais, Brazil, from 09-13 March 2020.

Tropenbos Suriname Director Rudi van Kanten and Assistant Researcher Bindia-Roy Jaddoe attended the INREF Forefront Workshop in Viçosa and Zona da Mata, Minas Gerais, Brazil, from 09-13 March 2020.

The workshop was strongly linked with agro-ecology and with a few exceptions, the consumption during the event was locally produced agro-ecological food. Agro-ecology is a form of agriculture without the use of agro-chemicals and a strong connection to the earth, traditions and the culture of the people. The culture in the Zona da Mata has strong Afro-Brazilian roots.

The first day of the workshop was held at the Centre for Education and Extension (CEE) - Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) with an introduction of 33 participants and presentations held by INREF partners from Wageningen University (WUR), UFV, Universidad Autónomo de Mexico (UNAM), ECOSUR (Mexico), Tropenbos International (TBI) and Tropenbos Suriname (TBS).

The official opening of the workshop included a cultural event and several presentations amongst the attendees, including one from TBI. A special tribute was made to International Women’s day March 8th and to remember the protests in Mexico on March 9th where each year since 2015, more than 1000 women have been killed in domestic violence.The workshop used Graphic reporting, an expensive but interesting method where artists with an academic background synthesize the main findings of the discussions and present this graphically.

Within the research sites in Brazil (Zona da Mata – Minas Gerais) and Mexico (La Sepultura and Marques de Comilla) 10 PhD students and their supervisors conducted action research in close collaboration with farmers’ groups. That is the reason why the sessions on the 2nd and 4th day were held at the Centre for Agro-ecological Technologies (CTA), an agro-ecological group which was founded in 1987 by students from the UFV.

An interesting fish bowl method (Fig 1) was used where six chairs are placed in a circle, of which five are occupied. The discussion starts and as soon as someone occupies the 6th chair, one of the other five chairs has to be disoccupied. Hence, there is a continuous rotation of people participating in the dialogue.



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     Fig 1: Graphic representation of the ‘fish bowl’ method

On the 3rd day the participants were divided into three groups, each visiting a different site, respectively, Araponga, Divino and Espera Feliz. During the visit the groups collected items for the ‘Artistical pedagogic installations’ to be built the next day. This method was used to enrich the views of the group and help them remember the on-site situation and their impressions of the visit. Consequently (the two) other groups visit the installations and comment on how they interpret the installations.

Divino fieldtrip
The group of Rudi van Kanten visited a 6 hectares agro-ecological farm of Adriano and Renata, both in their thirties. It is located in a hilly environment where coffee is the main culture. Previously the land was degraded and low producing. Several tree species are dispersed over the area, and other crops such as maize, beans and bananas. The farm also maintains cows, pigs and poultry which are mainly fed by on-site produced fodder. The group also visited the small Agro-ecological ‘Farmers Market’ where farmers were selling their products in four stands at the main square of the village. Afterwards there was a meeting with four representatives of the Syndicate of land-less labourers: farmers who were previously working as share-croppers (60% for the landlord and 40% for the labourer) and are now working on their own lots of on average 48 hectares. One of the threats in the area is that the government is tempting to interest a company in Bauxite mining.

Espera Feliz fieldtrip
The group of Bindia Jaddoe visited an agriculture production cooperative COOFELIZ. The cooperative was founded on 27 March 2006, and based in the municipalities of Espera Feliz, Caiana, Caparaó, and Alto Caparaó, in the mountains of Minas Gerais. The cooperative serves around 110 families involved in associative processes. COOFELIZ has been working with the aim of valuing the diversification of production, agro-ecology and solidarity in the economy. It seeks better living conditions and sustainability for family farmers, promoting the production, productivity and commercialization of their products. The cooperative has a marketing strategy and their products such as coffee, fruits, vegetables and poultry are sold at the Solidarity market and in the National school meals programme. The group also visited a farmer who has set up an agro forestry system on a 6 hectares coffee plantation 10 years ago. The last visit was to a farmer who maintains pigs and poultry which are mainly fed by on-site produced fodder. He demonstrated how to make ‘panela’, unrefined whole cane sugar whereby the sugar foam is removed and used to produce biogas for cooking purposes.

The community has no traditional authority. They are Catholic and nature is also mentioned in their religious movement. Every day is Women’s day for them. The local municipality also checks the participation of the women in their area.

Overall the project was less strong in influencing policy makers, an area where the TBI network can contribute in possible future collaboration. Given its nature, the project strongly focused on action research. It is advisable to think more on how the research results can be translated to the reality of the farmers. Methods such as the Artistic Pedagogical Installation, Graphic Information and the Fish Bowl method are powerful tools. Agro-ecological principles are good solutions to the current reality where it is necessary to support local consumption and local economies, but this requires strong dedication from farmers, technicians and consumers.

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