New Partnership to Regenerate and Develop the Dry Shrubland of Brazil’s Caatinga

This impact story was originally published by IDH here.

More than 40 public, private and civil society signatories have created a new partnership to manage the semi-arid hinterland in the Brazil states of Paraíba, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte. The region will produce more food sustainably, creating living incomes for approximately 5,000 families. Through this initiative, the unique Caatinga biome will be restored and protected, with women playing a central role in decision-making and local business.

The partnership has signed a PPI Compact: a multistakeholder agreement with co-designed targets on production, protection and inclusion. This helps the diverse parties to prioritize and manage their different contributions to rural development, for example producing cotton, goat cheese, and vegetables, and crucially to reduce risks that could jeopardise raising private investment.

The Compacts are part of the Regenerative Production Landscape Collaborative (RPLC), initially funded by Laudes Foundation as part of the wider collaborative of RPLCs in India, Tanzania, Pakistan and Brazil covering over a million hectares. The RPLC in Brazil is led by IDH in partnership with Diaconia and WRI Brazil.

‘The Compacts are a common vision aimed at directing the development of the territories, bringing the public and private sectors and civil society together to discuss the three PPI pillars. This is the great asset of the Compacts, whose mobilisation began more than a year ago’, says Grazielle Cardoso, IDH Brazil.

PPI Compact launch event in Afogados da Ingazeira – Pernambuco. © Photo: IDH/Claudio Gomes

‘Laudes Foundation congratulates the stakeholders on signing these three Compacts, an important milestone that sets a common vision and agenda for the development of the semi-arid Caatinga region of Brazil. IDH successfully brought together and mobilised government, civil society, the private sector and the community to foster the agriculture ecosystem in the region, and we are pleased to have partnered with them to create this collaborative together with key players such as WRI and Diaconia’, said Anita Chester, Head of Materials, Laudes Foundation.

According to Diaconia’s coordinator, Fábio Santiago, the Compact builds on existing initiatives, offering workers further leading roles and developing market value for local products. ‘The Compact rekindles this collective conjuncture of sustainable rural development.’

‘The idea is to qualify this community to work together with us, bringing net deforestation to zero and amplifying actions aimed at restoring the Caatinga’, said Geysa Marques, Territorial Analyst for Caatinga, WRI Brazil.

The Compacts were formalised and Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) were signed in December 2023 during events in the cities of Monteiro, Afogados da Ingazeira and Apodi, attended by around 150 local partners.. Goals have been established for the Compacts of the Sertão do Cariri (PB), Sertão do Pajeú (PE) and Sertão do Apodi (RN).

PPI Compact launch event in Apodi – Rio Grande do Norte. © Photo: IDH

The Caatinga is an exclusively Brazilian biome, often perceived and portrayed nationally as arid and underprivileged. This perception overshadows the region’s true richness and generates an impediment to opportunities. Increasing degradation poses a real threat to the lives of the more than 25 million people who live in the biome, making integrated territorial-development actions essential.

Image built together with local partners to represent the Program in the semi-arid Caatinga-Brazil region

The voice of the partners

According to the mayor of Monteiro, Anna Lorena, the Compact seeks to give priority to existing value chains in the region. She states the municipality boasts the largest dairy basin in Brazil, which already generates additional income for many families and the Compact is the perfect opportunity to bring these products closer to the markets and society.

‘It’s time to launch yet another hope, not just in Monteiro, but throughout the region. We’ve been working for months with meetings and debates among production chains throughout the region. We’ve prioritised the chains that are already part of our daily lives, so that they can be further promoted to bring a development boom. We have cooperatives and in the future, we may have a slaughterhouse. We have the honey-production chain, and also cotton, which used to be very strong, and are now coming back with more emphasis and a strengthened commercial industry. All of this is intertwined with our farmers. We believe this will improve people’s income and lives.’

Alessandro Palmeira, mayor of Afogados da Ingazeira, quotes the Pernambuco poet João Cabral de Melo Neto to indicate one of the pillars of the Compact is to give rural workers increased visibility and dignity. ‘I’m sure that the Caatinga will be better valued and better harnessed. Not only in relation to tourism and agricultural potential, but also human potential. As the words of the poet go, “the saint in the house has calloused hands”. This phrase sums it all up, it’s those who produce, who know the land and know how to produce, so I’m sure that the fruits of these roots will soon come.’

Public prosecutor Lucio Luiz has played an active role in the construction of the Compacts, representing the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the State of Pernambuco. He says the Compact is part of a philosophy of collective construction. ‘The joining of forces and energies in favour of a cause for the development of the territory, which has economic repercussions and sustainable development with the inclusive coexistence of the semi-arid region. Because there are other models that generate wealth, but they fail to distribute it to the people in the area, unlike this proposal, which has the element of inclusion.’

According to the prosecutor, the MPE is in favour of pinpointing the inclusion of people, resulting in better education and health and social policies. ‘Through economic and productive empowerment, we can reduce violence and crime. And it is part of our goal to ensure citizenship and also, quite notably, the fight against hunger, the defence of food sovereignty [and] the defence of guaranteed access to food and water.’

Minidoc about Caatinga-Brazil

The Secretary for Rural Development and Family Farming of Rio Grande do Norte, Alexandre de Oliveira Lima, participated in signing the Compact in Apodi. He says the state government is a partner in this initiative because it believes the project is centred on sustainability and strengthening family farming. Lima believes the success of the initiative could trigger the replication of the programme throughout the state and the rest of the Caatinga. ‘It’s a benchmark in family farming and it is yet another benchmark for the Compact that they are implementing as well.’

Clemilda Ignácio, rural worker, YouTuber and representative of the Association of Alternative Poultry Farmers of Cariri Ocidental Paraibano, is one of the signatories of the Compact. She says this connection with the past while looking to the future is what represents the true unity around the Caatinga. ‘A future in which people are concerned about the environment, where family farmers generate income, so they don’t have to leave their region, where people identify themselves as Caririzeiro, as North Easterners, as Paraibanos. And may we be able to live on this land and leave something for future generations. We are deeply rooted in this soil. So we have adapted, just like the trees and animals of the Caatinga. This is what a Caririzeiro is all about.’

Lucineide Cordeiro, an agroecological farmer, says agroecology has changed the story of her life and this union for the development of the territory can change the lives of many people, especially women in the countryside. ‘We from the Pajeú hinterland can grow crops without burning, without clearing land, adding to our income and thus empowering us women to increasingly occupy these spaces of power. May we be able to reach more communities, more locations, really showing that our roots are here and that we need to change everyone’s lives, by bringing agroecology based on caring for the Caatinga, caring for native plants, our fauna and our flora.’

Dark, is one of the region’s strong roots. She says agroecological cotton has changed her life completely. ‘I’m not merely earning a living, I’m also preserving the environment, doing good for nature, ensuring our healthy diet and bringing more women into the project, removing them from violence and strengthening rural families.’

The PPI Compacts goals

Sustainable Cariri Compact 

  • Production: supporting the development of the goat and sheep chains, encouraging milk production and poultry farming, taking advantage of existing structures for raising animals in the landscape. Supporting the region’s agricultural industries in the honey, flour and fruit-pulp sectors, seeking certification and boosting the ecological cotton chain.
  • Protection: supporting farmers with the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), combating deforestation in the Caatinga and encouraging forest restoration, land and environmental regularisation, solar energy and water reuse, especially in Permanent Preservation Areas (APPs).
  • Inclusion: focusing on strategies to include women, young people and local family farming in national agreements and structuring sustainable rural tourism.

Sustainable Pajeú Compact

  • Production: certifying products and incentives for agro-industries, especially honey, fruit pulp, cashew and manioc. There will also be actions aimed at animal husbandry and ecological cotton.
  • Protection: restoring the Caatinga and implementing a programme of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), environmental and land regularisation and structuring a carbon credits and emissions-reduction programme.
  • Inclusion: the landscape seeks support for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ATER), gender inclusion, support for family farming through the Farmácia Viva programme and sustainable rural tourism.

Sustainable Apodi Compact

  • Production: focusing on red rice and the ecological cotton chain. Strengthening fruit-growing, beekeeping and horticulture and structuring the livestock chain.
  • Protection: encouraging agroecology, creating isolation corridors between large-scale farming areas and communities, increasing society’s participation in water-management policies and recovering degraded forests.
  • Inclusion: ensuring 50% of women are involved in strengthening family-farming networks, cooperatives and organisations, certifying family-farming products and encouraging the use of new technologies. Facilitating access to credit for women and young people and promoting rural tourism.

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