How the Light for All Programme has impacted the living conditions in the Brazilian countryside?

The MNEmerge research team at the INESC P&D Brasil has interviewed rural families in Brazil to analyse the impact of the Light for All Programme to their living conditions. Interviews were carried out in two rural communities, Linha Betânia in the South of Brazil and PA Nova Amazônia in the North of Brazil.

Linha Betânia

Linha Betânia is a rural community, composed of 18 families, settled outside the city of Sananduva, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Before electricity, most of the families lighted their homes with candles and used wood to provide warmth in the winter. Due to the lack of any viable method to stock food, the families relied on small-scale seasonal farming and fishing. The main productive activity developed in the region was subsistence agriculture, in which all the steps of the cultivation were made by hand by the family members or with the help of animal traction. Since the fieldwork demanded fulltime work from the family, no extra-remunerated activity was performed. Most of the food was consumed by the families themselves, leaving not enough volume of products to be sold, damaging the household income. Most of the young adults were leaving the community in order to try a better life in the nearby cities, such as Erechim and Vacaria. In addition, there is no primary school in the rural region, forcing the children to cover 30 km in a precarious road with no street lightning to get to the closest school.

Access road to Linha Betania

In 2007 the Light for All and the CRERAL (Regional Cooperative of Rural Electrification of the Alto Uruguai) started to install electricity – through the extension of the existing network – and a small manufactory to help the community to develop. After the analysis of the main products that were cultivated in the region, CRERAL decided to install an alcohol distillery to benefit the sugar cane growth by the families. Most of the machinery was donated by Eletrobrás and a technical team from CRERAL took care of the maintenance of the structure and the equipment. Even with all the investment made by the government, no extra infrastructure was build: the roads that lead to Linha Betânia were still unpaved and had no lightning, none of the schools were reactivated, no commerce were installed in the region or health center created for the population. Given a problem with the machines, the first two attempts in making alcohol failed. This lead to an evasion of the families from the distillery and eventually the inactivation of the factory.

Distillery in Linha Betania

In 2009, a family decided to use the infrastructure of the distillery to benefit other products, like brown sugar, molasses and rapadura. With the support of others governmental programs, such as Mais Alimentos of the Ministry of Agrarian Development and loans with low interest rates, they started to benefit other products. They established a partnership with Coopvida (Cooperative of Organic Food Producers in a Solidarity-based Economy), which would buy and distribute their products, and the family members did some courses on management, food safety and others with the help of Emater (Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Company). In the years that followed, several families that had given up on the distillery returned and founded the agro industry of Linha Betânia. Many of the family members searched for professionalizing courses in order to help improving the agro industry and now have the perspective of growth in the cultivation and diversification of their products. With the profit of the agro industry, the families were able to mechanize their cultivation systems and buy appliances that helped in the household activities but also gave the families a more comfortable life. Nowadays, between 10 and 12 families of the regions work together in the agro industry and the production volumes grew from 300kg of sugar per year to 10 600 kg.

PA Nova Amazônia

The rural settlement of Nova Amazônia was created from an old farm donated to the federal government as debt payment by the owner of the land. It is located 40 km outside the city of Boa Vista, capital of Roraima and reaches 77 688 hectare, with a capacity for 800 families to live and farm. The settling of the families began in 2004 and, to this day, there is still land left without owners. By the time, the area had no electricity. The agriculture was restricted to subsistence and, given the difficult of irrigating the area, mostly bananas and rice was grown there. Given the lack of electricity, the meat had to be salted in order to store and water was picked directly from the nearby rivers. No school or health center was located in the region and the roads where recurrently flooded, preventing the families from the settlement to reach the closest city.

During the division of the land for the families, no aide or instructions were given, and the families only received the land and bricks, in order to build a house. The electrification of the area was made by extension of the electric grid from Boa Vista. In order to supply for the new consumers, Eletrobras Distribuidora, the concessionaire responsible for the area, had to construct a new thermoelectric plant, fuelled by diesel. No study was conducted in order to determine the viability of alternative sources of energy for the region and as the families were often unable to pay their energy bills, the government implemented a reduced fee and the allowance of R$ 30,00 per family – if the family consumed less than R$ 30,00 (approximately 9 USD), there would be no energy bill. Given the many different origins and culture of the resettled (many families came from the south of the country, others from the north-east and some are indigenous), grouping these families in order to form cooperatives was not possible. Even after the electrification of the area, many families preferred to keep the subsistence agriculture and others invested in turning the land into touristic attractions, such as Lago do Robertinho.

Rural settlement of Nova Amazonia

The families who chose to cultivate the area received financial aid in the form of loan taxes reduction. Most of the families decided to grow soybean and rice – cultures well established in the region but requiring high investment. One well known farmer of the region is Mr Cavalieri who, with the help of his wife, son and daughter-in-law, cultivates 100 hectares of land. The Cavalieri family produces bananas, papaya, and pumpkins and sells the products through middlemen in the markets of Boa Vista and Manaus (state of Amazonas). During four years of cultivating the land, the family has established a considerable income that allowed them to buy house appliances, such as a refrigerator and air conditioners. They were also able to mechanize the farming – instead of manual water pumping, electrical pump systems are now used – and purchased various machines, such as a tractor and an excavator to ease the farming.

House in Nova Amazonia

Despite the increase in the quality of life of the settled families, the infrastructure of the region has not been developed: roads have not been paved, shops have not been established in the nearby area and neither have health centers or schools been constructed. Given the high number of families with school age children, the municipal government decided to provide a school bus to take the students to the city. The lack of street lightning increses insecurity and many families use dogs to protect their properties.