Aproagro: three pilot companies thrive thanks to the resolve of the poorest community in Brazil
Today’s Brazil presents itself on the international scene with a growing awareness of its political, economic and cultural clout. However, it still suffers from many social wounds inflicted by the huge inequalities in the way the country’s immense wealth is distributed.
It was from this land, and more precisely from a community - which took its name from a former slave who had rebelled like the Spartacus of old - that an initiative was begun: one that marks a quantum leap for the EoC. This is an experience born “from the ground up,” with hardy roots deeply planted in the community and characterized by tenacity and resoluteness.
We are located in the municipality of Branquinha, Alagoas. Here, scientific research undertaken in 1998 identified a community in the territory of Zumbi dos Palmares with the highest levels of poverty in the whole of Brazil. In 2011 a pilot project was begun in
this former latifundium¹, to create an endogenous² process of job and income creation especially for young people.
The initiative leveraged on the formation of the human person as a being made for unity and brotherhood, fortifying the collective efforts to transform reality for the benefit of all; thus was born the project “Promoting Local Development in the Zumbi Dos Palmares Community from The Perspective of Communion.” It organized the “Instituto por un Mundo Unido “ (Institute for a United World or IMU), in Maceió through the initiative of local members of the Focolare Movement working in close cooperation with the Action for a United World Association (AMU) and the Economy of Communion.
Twenty people from the Branquinha community, most of whom were women and direct participants and beneficiaries of the project’s activities, recently formed “l’Associação Aproagro.” All were highly motivated to put in place the EoC values in the local production, and spread them in the neighboring communities. Years ago, when IMU volunteers presented the EoC in the territory of Zumbi dos Palmares, these poor but dignified peasants, were immediately and fully convinced. A few families made the decision to commit themselves to this way of working to ensure that the quality of their products reflected this same commitment.
This effort brought about their decision to adhere to the values of “agro ecology” (non-use of toxic substances, soil conservation, social involvement of the farmer and his family). It was a way of working that was supported by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the University dell’ Alagoas (UFAL – Federal University of Alagoas), where EoC coordinator Luigino Bruni had been a guest speaker, and where a group of students from various academic disciplines were carrying out interdisciplinary research work with the community Branquinha.
After a year of study with the AMU in search of the most appropriate type of operation, three areas were identified: agriculture, confectionery production using the fruits of the land that was cultivated, and handicrafts using local wood fiber. In the meantime, a professional training course for prospective workers in these activities was being developed, with AMU conducting a program of formation on the Economy of Communion. This was run for all the members of the community with the widest possible participation of all families in the area, getting them involved one by one through questionnaires and meetings. Simultaneously with this effort, the construction of a small building was begun to house the production activities as an “incubator”, equipping it with machinery, using it as a place for training as well as production. It then proceeded to the operational phase, providing training and consulting to begin production activity with the intention, should the experiment prove positive, of raising production on a bigger scale, and creating a true “manufacturing hub” in the community that is managed and inspired by the spirit of the Economy of Communion.
Today, the building houses the three production activities that are planned, and both technical training programs and guidance are in place. The ability of AMU members to form relationships with the leaders of Branquinha, with government experts and with UFAL has made it possible to achieve an activity that is integrated, shared and participative. Every week, the producers of Zumbi dos Palmares sell their products at UFAL. Recently, they joined a trade fair and won a prize.
Soon, the NGO “Casa digital do campo”, which is committed to the fight against the digital divide in Brazil, will take action to equip rural areas with internet connections. This is important element for broadening the training capacity of producers and creating contacts with a community of potential followers and customers.
The “roots” planted during more than ten years of work and commitment in getting in touch with and forming the community beyond the inevitable difficulties are now the best guarantee for the future. The values of the EoC are now the heritage of this community, so much so that when receiving visitors from outside, words like “EoC” or “fraternity” are shown to be the foundations of the relationships among them. In looking to the future, a strategic plan has been prepared for the development of the three small companies, based on their access to the market in the city of Maceio. For the sale of these products – fruits, sweets and small handicrafts – quality and the spirit of those who produce them will be the major strength. A trademark is being developed that will convey their experience of life and redemption. This experience marks a step forward in addressing the roots of marginalization and poverty.