Katie von der Lieth Travels to Brazil

Posted February 26, 2018

Rates of deforestation in the Amazon increased in 2016 for the first time in almost a decade. The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world but human activity like cattle ranching, illegal logging, and large-scale monoculture soy and corn production have been driving deforestation. Agroforestry production (which is the use of trees in agricultural production systems) has been identified as a potential win-win solution for the environment and farmers, as these systems can deliver some of the same ecosystem services as primary forests while providing concomitant economic benefits to improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Currently agricultural land use in the southern Amazon is characterized by mostly non-agroforestry production systems, such as monoculture coffee and cattle ranching, while agroforestry systems comprise a very small percentage of total land use.

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Thanks to funding through the RIFA and JASTRO programs, I traveled to Brazil to research what barriers might exist that prevent a higher prevalence of agroforestry systems, with a specific emphasis on access to financial services.To answer this question, I collaborated with the Institute for the Sustainable Development and Conservation of the Amazon, IDESAM, a non-profit organization that has been working on issues related to deforestation, climate change, and sustainable agricultural systems in the Brazilian Amazon since 2004.

 

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I worked with IDESAM staff members to develop a survey to gather information about farmers’ decision-making processes, their access to financial resources, their financial planning strategies, access to markets, utilization of extension services, and perceptions of different agricultural systems.

We focused our research in Apuí, a small frontier town located on what has been dubbed “the arc of deforestation” in the southern Brazilian Amazon. I interviewed 19 farmers and two prominent actors in the agricultural supply chain. The farmers interviewed produced a variety of products, including agroforestry and monoculture coffee, cacao, cassava, milk, beef, and honey.

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From a preliminary analysis of the survey results, I discovered a few important takeaways:

  1. The majority of famers acknowledge the environmental and commercial value of forests and trees2
  2. 4/5 of farmers interviewed had at some point considered implementing an agroforestry system but did not. Some of the reasons cited included: a lack of technical training, insufficient access to financial services, and a preference for cattle production.
  3. More than half of farmers interviewed experienced some form of credit constraint. Of the 15 farmers who had previously received a loan, 54% would have liked to have taken out loans for larger amounts of money and 38% would have preferred to take out a loan from a different organization.
  4. 60% of farmers said that existing financial institutions provided unsatisfactory service and did not understand the needs of farmers. Half of respondents reported that financial institutions are untrustworthy.

 

The results from this project will contribute to a deeper understanding of the barriers that preclude farmers from implementing coffee and other agroforestry systems. Additionally, this data will be used to inform the business plan for a for a microfinance organization that will provide loans to smallholder farmers to implement coffee agroforestry systems.

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