South America: Solidaridad focus first livestock programme on poverty-stricken Amazon families

Cash strapped families on the Amazon frontier struggle to overcome the cycle of rural poverty so common throughout the developing world. Poorly educated, isolated and subject to the extortion of middlemen, frontier families face an uncertain future. In spite of this, they continue to eke out a living from the land.

In spite of their challenges more families relentlessly stream into the Amazon frontier. They face a difficult future. The work of homesteading is back-breaking and each family is desperately looking for a handhold to pull itself out of poverty. Isolated and bereft of government support, these families struggle to overcome the punishing demands of frontier life.

Many families, have established de facto tenure and sell their plots after seven to ten years to move deeper into the forest, and to continue their cycle of subsistence living. But, can this cycle be broken with support from the market place? Solidaridad believes that it can be done.

In the settlement of Santo Antonio da Mata Azul – a community of more than 300 families in one of the poorest municipalities of the Eastern Xingu in Mato Grosso, in Brazil, the Farmer Support Programme (FSP) – is using the beef market to inch these families towards a better future. Once famous for its deforestation, but now better known for soybean and cattle production, Mato Grosso is the epitome of the moving economic frontier.

Massive land grabs with increased rural migration placed huge farms next to homesteaders in a dangerous landscape, where cattle remain an important source of wealth creation and financial liquidity options. However, even with herds ranging from 10 to 300 cattle and the challenge to control more than 160,000 ha of land, the families of Mata Azul suffer the traditional exploitation of price-giving middlemen who maintain a near monopoly over sales.

Due to poor access to formal capital, limited disposable income, lack of access to input markets; and lack of infrastructure the families face insurmountable market hurdles to improve their meager production returns. But with a little help, these problems can be turned into opportunities.

Support from Solidaridad

Solidaridad, through the FSP, supported Alianca da Terra and the families of Mata Azul, as well as local businesses and cattlemen’s associations, who set on a path to change the current problems into opportunities. Together with the help from the Brazilian Association of Zebu Breeders, the FSP brought the “Pro-Genetica” programme, which adds high quality Zebu and Nelore bulls to the herd, to the families.

As a result 500 head of cattle have been artificially inseminated with high quality semen, and a further 25 000 cows will be during the project.

Furthermore, the improvement of the available infrastructure will be done by adding strategic corrals and weigh points. Negotiates are also underway for differentiated sales – by weight not per animal – and at larger volume with neighboring fattening operations to generate a higher price for the animals and secure better returns for the families.

To date the success rate is due to the persistence of the settlement families and the engagement of the participating stakeholders in the cattle industry. Solidaridad believes sustainability will come as a result of linkages to the market where buyers get better calves and are willing to pay more.