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Creating Abundance through Socially Interconnected Agro-ecological Knowledge

Our vision is for socially interconnected family farmers to co-create, share and build agro-ecological knowledge for ethical abundance.

Photo of Sarina Kilham
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Permaculture Institute of Bahia (Portuguese: Instituto da Permacultura da Bahia- IPB)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

We collaborate with community, agri-food cooperatives, private enterprises and local government in the three regions where IPB carries out its mission, and more broadly with Universities, public Ministeries and international researchers. In preparing this application, we collaborated with Dr Sarina Kilham, Lecturer in Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology (Charles Sturt University, Australia). A complete list of collaborators is provided in our Portfolio in the Annex. Importantly, this vision is based on work with: Association of Polyculturants of Umburanas; Association of Community Development of Polyculturers of Catarina and Region; Association of the Quilombola Community of Rio de Contas ; Association of the Quilombola Community of Cordoaria - Camaçari; Semi-arid Association of Livramento Microregion; Epicentro Marizá; Espaço Mangará; Ipeterras - Dry Land Permaculture Institute

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Federative Republic of Brazil.

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Northeast Brazil: Rural communities in the Atlantic Forest, Desert and Tropical Savanna transition bio-zones in with an area of 73,000km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Federative Republic of Brazil.

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Permaculture Institute of Bahia has worked in the inland regions of Bahia since the early-1990s, creating long lasting relationships and collaborations with local communities, government and national institutions. We chose to work in the transition bio-zones of Bahia because we acknowledge the abundance of social and natural wealth and resources present in these landscapes and communities.  Since our inception, we have worked with thousands of smallholder family farmers in the semi-arid region on agro-ecology projects (please see our Portfolio of work in the Annex).

The IPB's core group of staff and volunteers people have been strengthening and maintaining  relationships with these communities because we believe in the Brazilian power to produce an ecologically sustainable and socially fair diet.  

We challenge the 'deficit' and 'scarcity' mindset applied to the places and people of inland Bahia, showing that it is possible to have an abundant, beautiful and productive agri-food systems in these semi-arid zones. We strongly believe in co-existing with available resources of the semi-arid, understanding natural semi-arid systems functioning and utilising local capitals (human, social, natural). We specifically focus on the idea of empowerment and sowing knowledge with local communities for transformational practice change and growth.

We hold agricultural fairs with exposition and sale of family farming products;  we participate in the 'Bahian Agroecology Network ’ that promotes discussion spaces for the strengthening of agroecology; we've facilitated multiple programs and projects focused on permaculture, agroecology and establishing agri-food cooperatives;  and our institution agri-technicians are part of rural associations - creating a strong and powerful network across this region.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Populations, Culture & Social Dynamics

There are 15 million people in the state of Bahia & more than 50% identify as multi-racial, & 15% specifically identity as Afro-Brazilian. 30% of people live in rural areas with several ‘Quilombos’ (Black Slave descendant settlements) in the semi-arid regions. Agriculture and household gardens play a fundamental role in the economy of the communities where we operate.

The population’s education is low, community organization is poor, public policies and services are scarce, and there are few jobs and opportunities for income generation.  The local inhabitants are kind, strong and hardworking people. The scarcity of resource means that resilience and ingenuity are a daily part of people's lives. Until recently, large families were the norm, and there is a strong history of rural-urban migration due to wave of drought and poverty often driving men to seek employment in the south of Brazil.  This affects families, social cohesion and physical health of communities.

On one hand, agricultural labour and family farmers are linked with strong national stereotypes of poverty, hunger and racial inferiority. In the semi-arid regions, agricultural landscapes and local food traditions do not align with European-based idealised ideas of productive landscapes or agri-food systems - they are perceived as wastelands rather than abundant lands. On the other hand, popular culture and the state has glorified family farmers as exemplary citizens, the base of Brazils booming agro-economy and the key to ending Brazilian hunger and poverty (Paulson, 2013). The family farms contribute a huge percentage to the state’s agri-food production

Food and Diet

The food culture of Bahia is a mix of African, Indigenous & European flavours and foods.  Indigenous spices, fish, fruits & vegetables are cooked in 'Afro-style' curries, soups & mixed-plate meals. Dendê oil (a thick red palm oil) is used in many dishes such as bean cakes fried in Dendê oil and topped with okra, prawns and chilli paste. Mandioca (cassava) flour and black beans form the base diet and are complimented with local vegetables, eggs and meat.

Regional foods include sheep and goats, pequi, green banana, cassava leaf, fruits (umbu, cashew, seriguela, pine cone, mangaba). The use of processed food (sugar, flour, hydrogenated fats) is on the rise.

Climate, Topography, Diversity

We work in the Atlantic Forest, Caatinga (scrublands), Rocky Fields and Cerrado (tropical savannah). The Atlantic Forest region is lush, with high humidity all year round. The Semiarid is has long periods of drought and a short period of rain, hot days, old nights and dew is an important source of water for plants. The topography of the Semiarid is essentially flat with small valleys and mountains. The presence of nature reserves near the villages provide a fortress to reconcile production with preservation. In the Chapada Diamantina valleys and rocky mountains mark the landscape. The metropolitan region of Salvador rains 2000 mm per year and the climate is humid.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Socio-Cultural Historical Root Problem underlying the food system

The agri-food system challenges of our region are deeply embedded in socio-cultural issues. Historically divided on race and class lines, with unequal land ownership, high rates of agri-labour exploitation and scarcity of public funds, institutions and rural services (UNDP 2017). 

Prior to land reform policy in the 1990s, family farmers had limited access to their own land, their heirloom seeds and biodiverse agricultural practices were considered as inferior and they often worked off-farm for economic reasons. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and private actors enabled a massive land-grabbing and expansion of highly technicized agriculture without questioning the social and environmental responsibility of agricultural businesses (Bühler & de Oliveira, 2013). 

Current Situation

Changes in agricultural practices are driving changes in regional food systems and eating habits leading to increased chronic diseases (for example, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes) (Mores et al 2017).  The cash crops usually require farmers to take on farm debt, and limited to no agricultural extension advice is provided. There is strong socio-cultural and political push toward family farmers adopting cash crops with external inputs (for example, the federal biodiesel policy) and store bought food (flour, sugar, vegetable oil) - both which create negative economic, diet and health impacts on the household. The semi-arid region of Bahia is already feeling the affects of climate change as it is exacerbating existing problems of environmental degradation (e.g.soil loss, drought, biodiversity loss)(Ventura & Andrade 2013).  

The current trajectory is likely to see by 2050 high rates of de-peasantization, migration to urban slums, and a future marked by access to poor quality food that exacerbates chronic disease, with loss of cultural, agricultural and food traditions and knowledges. 

We have chosen to articulate the challenges of our region in a positive frame, (rather than a deficit-frame) because our core belief is that these challenges are transformable. 

2020 Challenges

Challenge 1:  To strengthen community organization,  self-sufficient agri-productive groups and interconnected relationships between people in our region. 

Challenge 2:  To enable agroecological production in the semi-arid food systems for the increased consumption of regional and local foods in people's diets 

Challenge 3:  To create access to markets for family farmers and their products

2050 Challenges:

Challenge 1: To create strong connections between people and food production - where rural producer health and diet is of equal standing to urban populations. 

Challenge 2: To develop efficient, appropriate & accessible technologies, for food production and value-adding production

Challenge 3: To enable fair trade and marketing channels

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision and work in the semi-arid region is underpinned by the principles, ethics of agro-ecology and permaculture, with a focus on the development of functional and productive agro-ecosystems; autonomy of the farming family; generating social inclusion; improving the quality of life; respect for customs and traditions; the valorization of local knowledge; the co-construction of knowledge attained through ‘learning-by-doing’ and the use of local resources. 

Our vision addresses the 2020 to 2050 semi-arid region food system challenges by applying three pathways.  These pathways represent the ‘deep-values’  on which our vision is based and cut across the challenges.  

Pathway 1: Food - Human Connection: The first pathway is based on the central premise that food systems are human systems.  All social, cultural, economic and health aspects of being a human depend on food in physical and psychological ways.  Humans are  highly interconnected - with each other, with their environment, with us as an NGO.  The capacity for food systems change lies in human relationships and human desire for change. Brazil has a strong recent history of small-scale social movements growing to create significant social, political and policy change across all levels of government (for example, the landless peasants movement, Belo Horizonte City Government Innovative Food Security Plan). IPB’s pathway approach is to ensure that family farmers, and our relationships with family farmers, are centred on mutual dignity, respect and co-creation. For example, we choose local project leaders that live in their communities, we invest time and professional capacity development in local leadership and we empower local people to be agents of change through exchange visits and connections with local institutions and government. We value people first and foremost as the agents of change, rather than a specific technology or tool.   

Pathway 2:  Knowledge: The second pathway is based on valuing knowledges equally - local knowledge, agro-ecological knowledge and new co-created knowledge that emerges from our community collaborations. We consider that knowledges have multi-directional flows that have impact and influence beyond specific projects. For example, we collaborate with researchers to produce scientific knowledge on polyculture projects in the semi-arid regions (for example, Freitas 2009, Ventura et al 2011), and hold trainings, workshops and farm-based knowledge exchange visits to share knowledges across multiple people and places.

 Pathway 3: Ethical Abundance: This pathway embraces the idea that semi-arid regions are abundant, and that by working in harmony with the local environment with a focus on soil conservation, increasing organic matter, use of heirloom and indigenous cultivators, that this region can ethically produce sufficient and healthy food for its population

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our 2050 vision for the semi-arid region is for family farmers to have abundant and stable food production that is grounded in their local regions and communities. People will have direct access to local, regional markets and be able to both purchase and sell locally processed products such as jams, pickles, cassava flour, dried beans, dried fruits, nuts and honey. 

Community life will be rich and the demographic population stable, with more local opportunities for employment, recreation and education due to stable farming livelihoods. The transformation of the semi-arid food system has elevated rural-urban migration issues in Bahia, and rural livelihoods are valued sufficiently to see a shift of city-dwellers choosing to return and live in rural areas due to the high quality of life and access to healthy, abundant and tasty food. 

Young people entering farming in the semi-arid region will feel that is is a dignified and rewarding career and livelihood option - allowing them to apply agricultural and ecological knowledge to a job that allows them to connect daily with the earth and stay living close to family and community. 

Local, regional and federal governments invest in agro-ecological practices, knowledges, trainings and emerging technologies. Agricultural education and experiential on-farm knowledge is highly valued. This is reflected in the ways that government interacts and invests in rural associations and cooperatives practicing agro-ecology, permaculture and polyculture.    

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our Vision: For the empowerment of socially interconnected family farmers to co-create, share and build agroecological knowledge for ethical, site-specific and relevant abundance.

Our vision is to transform the semi-arid food system in the interior of Bahia into a system that values and restores ecological health and socio-cultural diversity through the knowledge and practices of family farmers. Family farmers are primarily interested in food systems, as they are producers and consumers - and are strongly interconnected with rural and urban populations. In Brazil, family farming feeds the nation - 87% of cassava production; 70% of beans; 46% of corn; 38% of coffee; 34% of rice; 58% of milk; 59% of pigs; and 50% of poultry is produced by family farmers (FAO, 2020). Family farmers are powerful source of knowledge and foundation on which to change the food systems of Bahia. 

Below we present the story of Carla, a family farmer from the Umburanas region, in the semiarid region of Bahia, showing the vision of the food system in her community in 2050. In her report, Carla identifies the importance of soil and water management, microbiota and micronutrients for the preservation of the environment and consequently for the production of healthy foods in people's diets, and with their wisdom from years of experience, sees the direct relationship that these themes have in people's health. 

 As a farmer, Carla makes it clear in her account of how public policies can contribute to improving living conditions in the semiarid region, at the same time, presents solutions that simply depend on people, such as the use of social technologies that store water in the soil through the identification of key line in relief. 

Carla's story: 

“When I was little, my parents grew everything on our land - beans, manioc, pumpkin, watermelon, corn, spiked cucumber, cashew, peanuts, we had a lot of food. The state's agronomist tried to get my parents to grow beans only - a single crop is the best, they said. Our new seed is the best, they said. My parents refused - how could we? We had our seed, it connects us to our ancestors, we feel every plant and tree. I worked with them and ignored whispers that the girls shouldn't be in the countryside. 

When the Permaculture Institute of Bahia arrived in our village, I joined the youth movement. I was only 17 and wanted to learn something different and become a better person for my son.  

When I was 24 and I was elected President of our Agricultural Association throughout the village. Some people say that a woman should not be president, that I am too young. But why not?! I cultivate, I know how to organize our community, I love my hometown and I have a voice. I was president for 10 years and they no longer complained about these complaints, since the gender issue was addressed in the research groups and the empowerment of women was gaining space in the community. In addition, during my leadership in the association, we achieved many advances in our community, such as the two fruit processing plants that serve our village and our local market is the best in the region. We have obtained different support from the municipality, the state and NGOs to improve processing and marketing. Our group is strengthened and other partner associations have also joined the movement, such as the group of jewelers from the quilombo community of Cordoaria and the productive group of Rio de Contas.

I remind people of their farming: we are part of the culture. We are strengthening our stock of ancestral and ancient seeds - the seasons are warmer and drier, and we think that the old seed is more resistant and tastier. We talked and shared a lot about our agriculture - that's our culture. Our gardens have more trees and the rainwater is all used, does not turn into a flood and does not create soil erosion. Today, most of my neighbors already know how to preserve the springs and streams, although some of them have dried up, awareness of the use of water, whether for family use or for irrigation, arrived some time ago in the families most involved in the associations. In some places, access to water is still difficult. Public policies have been important although they do not serve all farming families in the region. Non-governmental organizations have helped us a lot with teaching about social technologies for capturing and storing rainwater. 

The food we produce on the farm is more nutritious and healthy because we no longer use fertilizer and synthetic pesticides, we use all organic matter, increasing the soil's fertility every day, with more micronutrients essential for a quality life. We are recognized for the excellent food we produce and for the varied culinary recipes using local products, including some gourmet chefs who purchase our products and are successful in major centers. 

Today in 2050, I am 64 years old and 4 years of the official retirement age for women - but I will not be retired! My life is full of abundance - food, work to do with our community food cooperatives and food processing associations. Our jelly manufacturing plant needs an update until then, but after 40 years of faithful service - it will be our daughters and granddaughters who will use it to process jams and pulps from our fields. I will travel well at this age - I will spend my entire life organizing and teaching the community about how we can connect our well-being with the well-being of the Earth. What changes I saw at that time. 

With the application of participatory methodologies, by the IPB team, I was able to observe how much my work and that of my daughter (of the women in the family) are present in the various activities of the property (domestic, education / care and agriculture) and how important they are. for the family's financial, social and cultural sustainability. In addition, it was easy to see which activities give more work, who does the work, where the inputs come from, how much each activity yields, so we can better plan and improve our actions in the system.

From 2020 until now (2050), with the support of technical assistance and rural extension and, in years of good rain, we managed to expand our sesame production from 3,000 kg / year to 15,000 kg / year. And with more partners participating, we managed to increase production and sales. With the improvement of the technology of the product processing process, such as the acquisition of a fruit pulp filling and sealing machine, the markets were more easily conquered, which improves our income. In addition, the production of sweets, jellies and jams was expanded and today we take advantage of the entire harvest of seasonal fruits such as umbu, for example. We are articulated in a network and we often visit other experiences to strengthen and market to the existing network of producers and consumers.

My children and grandchildren live close by, life here is better - they find it hard to believe how many people were left before. I was one of the first to stay, for example, the economy is better here, life on earth is better here - and now friends and cousins are coming back when they see what we are doing with our fields, markets and agricultural associations. Our backyards produce a diversity of fruits and abundant and nutritious food, we have shadows of the fruit trees that beautify the gardens with their flowers during the spring.

Many rural schools closed in the past but today they are gradually strengthening and reopening, however, it still does not have the value that they should have. Our young leaders continue to demand quality and contextualized education while participating in agroecology movements and networks of political articulation.

We're working with the Federal University data team - young people love their smartphone apps! We are creating a way to monitor and predict different variables - hard data, such as productivity and soil carbon, but also flavor and cooking time and how resistant the plants were to pests. It is still in the early stages, but we hope to see a pattern. I love to combine the permaculture principles of observing and looking for patterns with new technologies. “ 

Transformation Change through positive feedback loops.

Our approach is based on several cyclical actions. As people’s knowledge, experience and confidence with agro-ecological farming and community organisation grows, this creates change, reflection and new movements.

We reflect and refine our Vision and actions through the use of systematic methodologies for evaluation, such as the Economic-Ecological Analysis of Agroecosystems Framework (ANA / AS-PTA, 2017). This allows a mixed-methods qualitative and quantitative analysis to create a complete view of the impacts of our vision (looking back) specifically on the activities, the workforce changes (gender and age group), the marketing networks, with positive and negative points to be improved or built upon (looking forward). 

Systems Thinking and Observation

When we observe the landscape, our property and our actions, in a state of presence and respect, thinking, planning and evaluating our interventions in the environment, we are much more likely to reap abundance, to continue the local culture, to generate income in the family and economy in the municipality. 

Our vision is to be able to continue working with communities and farming families to support agroecological transformations and encourage the dissemination and sharing of agroecological knowledge to strengthen and inspire people and communities. As people's knowledge, experience and confidence in agroecological agriculture and community organization grow, this creates changes, reflections and new movements. 

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Team (6)

Sarina's profile
Catarina's profile
Catarina Camargo

Role added on team:

"Catarina graduated in Forest Engineering in 1999 from ESALQ / USP, Catarina has studied and applied permaculture and agroecology since 2006 at the 'Instituto de Permacultura da Bahia' - IPB. Catarina develops and participates in socio-environmental projects acting in the coordination and technical team of the IPB, in addition to collaborating with the institutional processes with the management team and directors. In 2012 she started to live and develop projects at Chapada Diamantina."

Henrique's profile
Henrique Mascarenhas

Role added on team:

"Henrique graduated in Civil Engineering in 2017 by UNIFACS and is specializing in Environment and Sustainability Management. He has been a member of the Permaculture Institute of Bahia since 2016. He met Permaculture in the same year and fell in love. It works to support projects in the metropolitan region and in 2018 joined the board team."

Maura Maria's profile
Maura Maria Pezzato

Role added on team:

"Maura is an Educator, graduated in Ecology and PhD in Sciences, she has been a member of IPB for more than 10 years contributing to institutional management, project coordination, organization of courses and workshops and production of teaching material. She has been developing activities in the Chapada Diamantina region since 2012. She admires and observes the world, enjoys being with people, plants, animals, in a lively and pulsating interaction!"

Ravi's profile
Ravi Santiago

Role added on team:

"Ravi is a graphic designer and communicator, with a Bachelor of Arts from UFBA (2017). He has been a member of the Permaculture Institute of Bahia since 2007. He works at the institutional headquarters in Salvador / BA in the creation of graphic content and digital media and collaborates with institutional processes with the management team and directors."

Leila's profile
Leila Aquino

Role added on team:

"Leila is a pedagogue, technician in Agriculture and Photographer. Since 2003 she has worked in the administrative-financial coordination of the Instituto de Permacultura Bahia, in Salvador / BA. She is responsible for payments, purchases and administrative support for several projects and also for the institution's photographic records."

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Attachments (6)

PORTFOLIO 2020 - English - 29.01.2020.pdf

A portfolio of the work of the Permaculture Institute of Bahia over the past 20 years.

Data and References_.pdf

Data and references used in the application.

Case Study[English].pdf

Provides examples and case studies of different polyculture food collectives in the inland regions of Bahia, and how agro-ecological processes are connected with household economy, markets and collective organisation.


Photos with additional descriptions and explanations as used in the application.


The previsions say that the semiarid regions in the world are between the most impacted by the global climate change. In Brazil, among the environmental (lost of biodiversity, extreme droughts), social (migrations, diseases exposition) and economics is possible to believe that the many projects that are being developed by the social movement of convivial with the semiarid could play an important act in the climate change mitigation and adaptation, and also in the region.


This study maintains that the promotion of sustainable development in the bahian dryland requires the adoption of an agroecological approach, which focuses on cooperation with nature... it highlights the experience of the Polyculture Project in the dryland, which for ten years looked for changing the relationship of hundreds of family farmers from four municipalities with regard to their environment....The conclusions evidence that the Project may be a reference to combat desertification.


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Biodiversity in agriculture is also a big part of our Scaling readiness to improve health, well-being and ecosystem management: the valorization of vegetables in vulnerable food systems  food vision. We would love to connect and learn more about your program!

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