Brasil: Programa Cisternas wins award as one of the most relevant public policies to combat desertification



The “Programa Cisternas” (Cisterns Program), a public policy for access to water that enables rural families in the brazilian semi-arid region to live in the region, was considered the second most important initiative in the world to combat desertification. The recognition comes from the Future Policy Award 2017, the only one that honors politics, rather than people, in an international level. The divulgation of the Silver Award for brazilian policy was announced today (22). The award ceremony will take place on September 11th, at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in Ordos, China.

The award, an initiative of the World Future Council, which this year had the partnership with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), testifies to the effectiveness of actions to coexist with the semi-arid region as a public policy with the potential to reverse degradation of the soil, which makes it impossible to produce food; abandonment of regions affected; hunger and poverty. Desertification affects 58% of the semi-arid area, where 11.8% of brazilians, many of them living in poverty or extreme poverty.

A striking and differentiated characteristic of the Cisterns Program is that it was born within the civil society experiences, proposed as a public policy of coexistence with the region by the organizations operating in the semi-arid region by Articulação Semiárido Brasileiro – ASA (Brazilian Semiarid Articulation – ASA) and assumed by the State. This is a public policy of the State, as the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (Consea) considers, since several governments have interacted with it: the Fernando Henrique Government, especially the Lula and Dilma governments and, currently, the Michel Temer.

“Thanks to a social movement, Brazil introduced the Cisterns Program to support the goal of installing one million rainwater cisterns for the domestic use of millions of people living in rural areas in the semi-arid region. The goal of installing one million cisterns was reached in 2014. There are also 250,000 technologies for collecting rainwater for food production and thousands of cisterns built for schools. Now, much less people are leaving the region because of the drought, and although, since 2012, the region has experienced one of the worst droughts ever recorded, reports indicate that there is no incidence of the worst effects of drought – infant mortality, hunger, mass migration – which used to be widespread in the semi-arid region”, attests the text of the awards announcement.

“Congratulations to ASA for receiving this important recognition from the Future Policy Award 2017,” said Telma Rocha, Program Manager of Fundación Avina’s Access to Water Program. “The programs you design and implement are a fantastic example of innovation with purpose that has grown in scale to become public policy.”

In the “Sertão do Araripe” (semi-arid area in the State of Pernambuco), the story of 58-year-old Mr. Luiz Pereira Caldas and his wife Nilza de Oliveira Caldas, 60, is emblematic of reversing migration movement that happened in the region after the public policies of coexistence with the semi-arid. After two decades living in the State of São Paulo, they returned to their hometown, in the municipality of Granito. One of the main reasons for the return was the favorable farming practices brought with the installation of the “barreiro-trincheira” (technology for collecting rainwater for food production) on his mother’s property. This type of technology is excavated in the soil to accumulate, at least, 500 thousand liters of rainwater. Because it is narrow and deep, the water mirror in contact with the action of wind and sun is small, which reduces the evaporation of the liquid.

Arriving at Venceslau Farm where they grew up, Mr. Luiz and Mrs. Nilza began to plant, near the “barreiro-trincheira”, bean, passion fruit, tomato, pumpkin, banana and other typical fruits and vegetables (andu, acerola, jerimum and macaxeira). Soon after, Mr. Luiz learned to build cisterns on courses offered by ASA organizations to increase family income. In 2015, the family conquered another technology to coexist with the semi-arid region: the “cisterna-calçadão”, which also holds rainwater, usually used for the productive backyard, mainly to water vegetables, a type of crop that requires lots of water and needs to be protected from the intense sun.

With water and adequate soil management, the farming families plant everything, including the production of seedlings of native plants, for preservation of the Caatinga and Cerrado biomes, that occur in the semi-arid region and which are highly degraded by man’s actions for cattle raising, monoculture expansion and timber extraction.

“When I bought this piece of land there were no trees planted. Not a stick to make a skewer to bake a piece of meat, so I planted ‘umburana’, ‘sabiá’, ‘catingueira’, ‘craibera’ and other trees. Between them I plant ‘palma’ and today I put my hives “, says the farmer Francisco de Assis da Silva, called “Preguinho”, of the community of São Luiz, of the municipality of Maravilha, in State of Alagoas. He has achieved good results working with agroecology, such as the reversal of soil infertility. This practice has contributed to production even in times of drought.

The farmer practices techniques of sustainable use of soil, such as mulch, natural defenses, fallow period, crop rotation, productive diversity among others. “If I utilize poison, contaminated the land, food, my health and bees would not produce quality honey.” In addition to the cultivation of native species, fodder and vegetables, Mr. Francisco also breeds birds, sheeps and develops the activity of beekeeping.

Desertification – according to the UNCCD, drylands cover 40% of the Earth’s surface, where arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid climates occur. Evidence of the desertification process is present in almost all parts of the semi-arid region and, in some places, are so striking that they were labeled “desertification nuclei”: Seridó (States of Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba), Cariris Velhos (Paraíba), Inhamuns (Ceará), Gilbués (Piauí), Sertão Central (Pernambuco), Sertão do São Francisco (Bahia).

Learn more about the other winning policies here:


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