The New Idea
Maria Jose, an expert agronomist from Brazil's southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, is creating the first demonstration/training farm that incorporates and combines all aspects of alternative farming -- from the raising of free-ranging pigs to non-hybrid seeds, to the use of safer fertilizers in agriculture and natural medicines for livestock. Both the farm and her outreach and training strategy are sharply focused on the small farmer.
A graduate of one of Brazil's best agricultural facilities, Maria Jose pursued her studies further in France. She has also learned how public decision-making works by serving as a staff member in her state's legislature and by working closely with one of Brazil's established women's and environmental leaders. She has supported herself by providing agricultural consultancy services, another demonstration of her technical expertise.
Maria Jose has just finished translating into Portuguese a book by one of Europe's leading scholars, laying out the fundamental challenge to conventional agronomy. It suggests, for example, that chemical interventions such as water soluble nitrogen fertilizers weaken plants -- especially those that are most vulnerable to bugs. A cycle of increasing weakness, attack, chemical cure, and more weakness ensues. (In naturally occurring monocultures, generally only sick plants are attacked.)
Maria Jose is successfully proving on a 25-hectare demonstration farm that these alternative technologies can be profitable for small farmers. Furthermore, her approach substitutes local inputs of capital and expensive outside materials with more labor (especially unskilled labor). This substitution reduces the farmers' financial risk.
Backed by this small-scale demonstration of the full interconnected range of alternative techniques, Maria Jose plans to reach out to large numbers of small farmers. She will train educators in rural high schools. Furthermore, she already has the promise of support from the Catholic Church's influential pastoral commission on the rural poor. Maria Jose has also targeted the university agronomy faculties and is already involving some of their students. She is already well regarded by and connected with the environmental and alternative agriculture communities.