December 22, 2010 | General

Urban Agriculture In Sao Paulo (Brazil)

BioCycle December 2010, Vol. 51, No. 12, p. 51
Cidades Sem Fome creates jobs, improves nutrition and brings coherence to impoverished communities through small- and medium-scale urban farming projects.
Sara Franklin

SAO PAULO is often referred to as the New York of the Southern Hemisphere. With a sprawling population of nearly 20 million people, Sao Paulo – “Sampa,” as the locals call it – is characterized by one of the highest crime rates in the world and exemplifies Brazil’s tragically large gap between rich and poor.
In the midst of all that chaos is an extraordinarily innovative social enterprise, “Cidades Sem Fome” (Cities Without Hunger), the brainchild of expat Hans Dieter Temp. Cidades Sem Fome seeks to create jobs, improve nutrition and bring coherence to impoverished communities through small- and medium-scale urban agriculture projects. In 2001, having become active in Sampa’s municipal environmental programs, Dieter Temp was invited to develop and coordinate the first urban agriculture program for the City’s environmental secretary in the favela – or slum – communities in the Eastern Zone of Sao Paulo, home to nearly one-third of the city’s residents, with a staggering 32 percent child mortality rate. He began working to organize the community to reclaim some of the vacant land for productive use. The project began slowly, with Dieter Temp purchasing seeds and tools with his own money and organizing community meetings.
Since 2004 – the organization’s official start – 21 completely organic urban gardens and farms have been built and dozens of farm stands established. More than 100 gardeners and vendors make their living from the gardens, earning at least 500 reis (about $300) a month, a salary increase of between 60 and 80 percent for most. More than 660 community residents benefit directly from the program’s produce and environmental and job training.
Dieter Temp, who studied agricultural and environmental policy in Tübingen, Germany and received a master’s degree in business administration from the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, explains that he knew from the outset that the project would have to become self-sustaining if it were to make a lasting difference in the community. He required that gardeners from the community train one another. This method serves to both build community capacity and minimize the need for paid staff.
Today, gardeners, the majority of whom are women, harvest and sell their produce locally, some directly across the street from the various gardens, some a few miles away (as the larger sites and greenhouses are located on the very edge of Sao Paulo proper). All produce is priced at a rate that local low-income residents can afford. Cidades Sem Fome has partnered with markets in some wealthier neighborhoods as well, where prices are increased to reflect the growing demand for locally-produced organic produce. The organization has also worked with several high-end restaurants to supply food for the city’s explosion of and interest in haute cuisine.
Project leaders gather leftover lumber from local construction projects to build crates used to transport vegetables and flowers to market. They also use scrap wood to build terraces in sloped areas, construct boxes for use in home gardens for families who don’t have outdoor garden space and to build compost bins for individuals and gardens. Ladders, scaffolding, roves and walls also emerge from scavenged timber, cinderblocks and bricks. Scrap plastics are used for wrapping and planting fruit tree and flower seedlings. And community members are encouraged to collect materials from municipal agricultural and horticultural projects, which Brazil’s Department of Agriculture accepts and pays for through its municipal recycling program.

Composting is a key component of Cidades Sem Fome’s strategies. The favelas are poorly served by municipal sanitation services, and so reducing the amount of trash that ends up in street gutters and makeshift dumps is an important component of improving the local environment. In addition, extensive composting reduces the program’s dependence on expensive organic fertilizers, and increases output due to the addition of nitrogen-rich finished compost. Dieter Temp partnered with the city to train community members in composting methods, including the addition of barbeque ash, manure from chickens they keep in their scratch yards and food scraps to their bins. Finished compost is used in home gardens and spread on Cidades Sem Fome community plots.
With so many community members actively composting, Cidades Sem Fome already produces more than it needs for its own projects. A recent grant from the Japanese Consulate in Sao Paulo paid for the purchase of machines to grind pruned tree branches into wood chips fine enough to add as feedstock. The organization is also working with a private company, Ecourbis Ambiental SA, that collects compostable materials within the city center in order to reduce the volume of waste being buried in landfills. Dieter Temp is in the process of developing a partnership where Cidades Sem Fome will receive the raw scraps and break the materials down through composting. Given these new developments, Cidades Sem Fome and Ecourbis Ambiental SA will soon begin cooperatively selling their excess compost for use in public and private residential gardens and a growing number of school gardens. Currently, 60 percent of the trash dumped in Sampa’s landfills consist of raw organic materials. Dieter Temp hopes the composting project will not only bring revenue to Cidades Sem Fome but also encourage the growth of urban agriculture in Sao Paulo.
One of organization’s most recent initiatives is an aquaculture program. This past spring, with a grant from the Australian Embassy, a tank that can hold 320 square meters of water was built on Cidades Sem Fome’s largest site on the city’s periphery. Dieter Temp worked with EMBRAPA, a Brazilian agricultural research and training network, to create the model. Tilapia and grass carp are being raised. In one year, fish can grow to reach 2 to 3 kilograms (4-6.5 lbs), and when sold at current market rates, will gross 21,120 Brazilian reis (about $12,500/year).
The fish serve many purposes. Participants can harvest and consume them themselves, providing a much-needed source of protein and minerals. The money made from selling the fish adds to participants’ income. And the fish-and-farm symbiosis means raising them is virtually free – the varieties of fish being raised are vegetarian and feast on scraps of cabbage, lettuces and other water-heavy leafy crops. And when the fish tanks need cleaning, the old water is used as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the crops.
The conservation and recycling of rainwater is another key component of Cidades Sem Fome’s sustainability approach. Rainwater, collected from neighborhood rooftops and gathered in cisterns, is purified and used to irrigate crops. The teams dig wells (4-5 meters deep) at many of their garden sites. The wells are always connected to runoff so that there is a “rational utilization of all available water,” says Dieter Temp, noting that users of city water pay by the liter.
Because none of the land on which Cidades Sem Fome’s gardens sit is owned by the organization, it is continually on the look-out for new plots. These include public lands, plots owned by private companies that aren’t suitable for building projects due to power lines overhead or sewer pipes beneath, and private landowners who want to donate plots for the social project. A technical evaluation of each plot follows, including testing the soil for heavy metals and making sure water is available. Once a lending contract is finalized, the Cidades Sem Fome team cleans the site, amends the soil if needed and selects community members to run the garden – focusing on the most socially vulnerable.
With a focus on reuse, self-sufficiency and sustainability, Cidades Sem Fome has the potential to become a model for other communities, both within Brazil and internationally, looking to become more livable and seeking innovative ways to cope with growing rates of poverty and hunger. In an increasingly globalized world, Cidades Sem Fome has become yet another example that acting locally really is the way to lasting change.

Sara Franklin is an independent food systems consultant and writer.

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