After years of economic boom, Brazil has been in the grip of a severe economic and political crisis since 2011. This is reflected in the average per-capita income, which dropped from around USD 13,200 in 2011 to just USD 8,700 in 2016, a decline of more than 30 per cent. Although the proportion of Brazilians living in absolute poverty has been substantially reduced since 1990, and Brazil’s social programmes are internationally considered as exemplary, these and other social achievements are in grave jeopardy because of the deteriorating economic situation.
Despite all the achievements and progress of recent years, Brazil continues to exhibit huge social and regional inequalities and deficits between individual regions and population groups. Thus, in the Northeast, the so-called poorhouse of the country, where the project is located, certain social indicators remain at the level of Sub-Saharan African countries. The region is characterised by backward small-scale agriculture, huge latifundia, little industry and the absence of state structures in many rural communities. The proportion of poor people is extremely high at 45 per cent of the total population.
The present project focuses on the Sertão do Pajeú and Sertão do Araripe in the state of Pernambuco, characterised by a hot and dry climate. These regions are among the semi-arid zones of Brazil, the so-called semiárido. Rainfall is limited to a mere three to five months each year, and occurs only irregularly during this period. Pressure on the soil and water reserves has greatly increased in the last decades, due to massive logging for industry and fuel, overgrazing and climate change. The consequences are soil erosion and the accompanying advance of desertification.
The population in the project region is mainly engaged in smallholder agriculture. It grows maize, beans and manioc in rain-fed cultivation, of which a small proportion is sold in the local markets. More than half the families have no running water. They get their drinking water and water for personal use either from the rainwater collected in a cistern, or buy it from a potable water tanker which does not, however, supply all the remote communities. Healthcare in the villages is precarious, and the farming families mostly only have access to village health workers. The level of education is low, around 28 per cent of the inhabitants aged 18 and above are illiterate.
The region’s main problem is the scarcity of water. The corresponding infrastructure (cisterns, water pumps, retention basins) is inadequate and is not always adapted to the conditions. The farming families usually do not have sufficient water for their domestic needs and for irrigating their fields. For this reason, there is a need for additional investment in the water infrastructure and in further training for the farming families, in order to increase the production of food crops and fodder plants and enhance their income.