Archive for Solidarity Economy / Economia Solidaria

55,000 Strong for Fair Trade

Friends ~ It’s been too long.  I’ve been busy organizing for World Fair Trade Day, 2009 … which is just 5 days away.  So, it’s time to join us.  Check out this quick video and then join the movement.  55,000 for Fair Trade  – visit

And please pass this on to 5 friends.  I’m no mathematician, but I know that eventually  5+5+5+5+…. = 55,000 for Fair Trade.

Because that’s how movements are born.  Cheers!


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MamaShayna’s Musings is often a mish-mash of information, inspiration, and introspection.  Though my motivation for MamaShayna hopefully peaks through from time to time, it is particularly well-represented today on the Fair Trade blog, where I’ve been added to the ‘Faces of Fair Trade’ series.  You can read the interview by clicking here.

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and the cup is half full! half down, half to go.

I’m taking off from Afogados to Umarizal today (map here).  I’m happily exhausted from 10 days of research, interviews, and traipsing through back country dirt roads and out to the incredible farms of local families.  So far I’ve been able to interview 8 farming families and visit their homes and land, as well as interview the Local Secretary of Agriculture as he shopped at the local agroecological fair, 8 other consumers at the same fair, and an NGO representative that works with the families.  Not to mention all of the informal learning bia observation, conversations during car rides, and dinners shared with colleagues here.

Most recently I visited the area of the 29 year old Ivan. He’s been involved with agroecology for just 8 years, and has completely transformed his family’s small plot of land (under 10 acres) from a desert-like condition, without even water to drink, to this tropical beauty:

Banana and mango trees, a greenhouse with medicinal plants, and a garden full of cherry tomato’s, cilantro, green onions, lettuce, and over 3 dozen more varieties of healthy, pesticide-free foods for his family to eat.  These are some of the little beneficiaries of the family’s new form of production via agroecology (posing in Ivan’s flower garden):

Outside of the scientific aspects of the research, the work has been so fulfilling due to the daily interaction with farming families.  They are so proud of their work, and excited to share what they know with the visiting ‘americana’ (me).  The twinkle in their eye as they demonstrate their variety of fruits and vegetables, as we visit the newborn calf of a milking cow, as they share a guava or mango from their garden… it gives a feeling of hope in the midst of what many categorize this region of Brazil- as developmentally challenged.  I actually think it’s developmentally rich and full or potential, given the situations of these families and the other 50+ members of their local association that I didn’t have the opportunity to interview.

And now I’m off to capture the second part of this data in Umarizal, 5 hours north of Afogados… I’ll do these 16+ interviews in just 6 days.  Wish me luck!

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Life of a cashew fruit – in three parts.

I’ve spent these past three days checking out the diversity of the agroecological farms of families young & old, plots between 0.4 and 7 hectares (7-17 acres) in size, and am so inspired by these integrated farming systems.  With so many thoughts overflowing in my keppie (or head, as my grandma gussie would say) that I actually need to give the brain a rest tonight.  The farms sights are beauteous & surprising, so here are a few of my favorites.

Here, the life of a cashew fruit, in three parts:


Voila! Almost ready for harvest. The fruit is used in juice or to make sweets (it’s delish), and the nut is opened, dried in the sun, buried in a dirt hole, and then roasted by lighting a fire on top.

Some other farm sightings:


A graviola fruit, full of big black seeds and white, tart tasting flesh.

A local iguana, whose being protected from becoming local dinner from João, the farmer who feeds him veggies & fruits.

And a towering mini-papaya tree.

Sweet dreams of tropical fruits and exotic, wonderful discoveries!

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Another Market is Possible; perspectives from Brazil’s northeast

Versão em português aqui: Outro Mercado é Possível

I’m psyched!  In a country with enormous potential for the solidarity economy & a responsibile consumer movement, Brazil is a huge, sleeping giant. I feel like Recife (the city that I live in) really seems uniquely positioned to lead such a movement; we’re in a region that houses half of Brazil’s family farmers (over 2 million!), and so many people have intimate family ties back to the land.  Even city people here know what a farm looks like, they can identify tons of fruit trees & medicinal plants in the local parks here, and they know that the city favelas are overcrowding in part because of the exodus from Brazil’s countryside.

Related to this, we gave a talk last night called “Sustainable Trade and Conscious Consumerism: Another Market is Possible”  (taken from the popular line of the World Social Forum, Another World is Possible).   This event was part of Brazil’s National Business Day, in which business students chose which lectures they’d like to attend instead of their regularly scheduled classes (we’re last on the list below, and all other events were entirely business-driven).

I’ve met some great characters here in Recife, and my co-presenters are two of my favorites; Eder Leão, a quirky & smart Recife-native who coordinates the solidarity economy work at the Federal University in Pernambuco, and Omar Rocha, an anthropologist and inquisitive social activist who recently got money from Recife’s City Hall to launch Recife´s first responsible consumer campaign, slated to launch in 2009.

I learned a lot from my co-presenters last night.  It’s fascinating is that Brazil does not have an active consumer rights culture like we do in the US; something that we in the US really take for granted.  Outside of the current, hip trend of ‘thinking green’ when thinking of responsible consumerism, think back to Ralph Nader’s advocacy work to get seatbelts in cars, or to how you chose your ideal dishwasher via ratings on The Consumer Reports… all of these came from a movement of active, organized consumers in the US.

But beyond consumer advocacy, during last night´s talk we looked at rethinking, deconstructing, and reconstructing notions and actions of consumerism.  Omar presented two iterations of consumerism which I want to share because I think that these are insightful in understanding how to think of re-constructing truly effective, healthy ideas of ‘consumerism”.

Responsible Consumerism: The capacity of each person or institution (public or private) to choose, to producer services and products that contribute, in an ethical manner, to improve the livelihoods of individuals, of society, and the environment (Kairos Institute)

However, beyond being responsible consumer, to contribute to real sustainability we need to be

CRITICAL consumers: “the deconstruction and reconstruction of patterns and habits of consumption…creating new and alternative forms of consumption and production values that respect social, cultural and environmental… in the ideal of another world is possible.”  The argument is that citizens have ceased to been treated as citizens, with all of the rights afforded to a human being (safety, food, water, etc), and have come to be seen as mere consumers by states and corporations.  How many votes can we buy, how many chemically processes & packaged foods can we sell.  It is our responsibility, as citizens of this world, to reclaim the word ‘consumer’ and the space that it occupies.

A poignant example:

While 1.7 billion people can be classified in a “global consumer class” (people who have access to television, Internet and cellular), 2.8 billion survive on less than two dollars a day and more than a billion people do not has access to drinking water….It is possible to provide adequate food, drinking water and basic education for the poorest people in the world with less than is spent annually on cosmetics, ice cream and food for pets.
Source – Brazil SócioAmbiental Almanac 2008

ie.: There are more citizens of this world who lack access to clean water and adequate resources to eat and clothe themselves than there are people who can afford luxury consumer goods, and we could provide food, water, and education for the price of fancy pet food and beauty products… This is absurd.  Shouldn’t our reality as human beings be the exact reverse?  Isn’t that our responsibility, to take care of each other first?  A kindergarten lesson.

I’m not trying to be simplistic; it’s not as if the policy solution is to ban chocolate ice cream from rich countries and use the money to send food abroad.  (Besides, shipping subsidized corn abroad has casued enough detriment via misguided US Food Aid policy).  But Omar’s articulate conceptualizaion of the reality of consumer behavior struck me as a very effective portrait of what’s actually going on.

Eder and I had the role of showing that ‘Another Market is Possible.’ Eder began by giving an overview of global trade and its inequities (which you can read all about at, and explained what the concept of the solidarity economy means- an economy based on self-management, cooperation, solidarity, and economic action- one in which people & the earth are not seen as commodities, but as living, breathing parts of an integrated ecosystem, and the basic format of trade or exchange can support the very health of that ecosystem, instead of acting to its detriment (that’s my take it).

The race for the perfect tomato

I then jumped in and talked about the consolidation of the modern foodsystem and how this is creating all sorts of negative, downward pressure on small family farmers to produce with new safety, beauty, and heatlh standards and stringent delivery schedules.  I described this as the race to create the ‘perfect tomato’- you know, when you’re in the produce aisle and reach for the most ‘gorgeous’ red, round, juicy tomato… and when you get home, you cut it open, and- alas!- it doesn’t smell like a tomato, let alone taste like one.  It has more of a spongy, watery texture.  Not to mention that its likely full of agrochemicals ’cause it was grown in the dead of a frozen northern winter, probably in a greenhouse.

… yet despite the plethora of market challenges, I’ve found farmers in the interior of Brazil are creating their own forms of market access through agroecological fairs and direct sales to consumers (read more about this on my blog here), and this is the exciting part about this movement for a more ethical trading system here in Brazil’s northeast.

So, how are Recifans poised to take the lead in Brazil’s movement for conscious consumerism?  As one participant noted, “We all know this reality.  It’s our parents and grandparents that come from Brazil’s interior, farming families that lived without water in the semi-arid and/or had to migrate and abandon their land because agriculture didn’t provide for the family.”  Recifans are much closer than us in the US to rural farming realities & traditions, evidenced in the popular ´forro´ music which comes from the countryside, or in the daily consumption of traditional foods like tapioca which uses mandioca flour, the sweet rapadura which comes from sugarcane, or their corn-based couscous.

Most US small farmers were forced to abandon their land earlier in the century due to very similar market consolidation trends and impossible demands being placed on them.  But Recife has a chance to act as a positive catalyst in the preservation of the small farmer by learning from the experience of the US, recognizing the trends in market consolidation and their potentially devastating effects- and then by taking action to support these small farmers.  And it´s easy to do so!  Recifans lives physically close to farming areas, and there are over 50 agroecological farmers markets that take place every week throughout the state, throughout the year (thanks to a tropical climate & innovations to farm in the semi-arid regions).  To sum up, the emotional ties and physical access to products produced outside of the modern food system exist here, and it is realistic to find products that are coming from small farmers who are stewards of the land and produce in organic or agroecological farming systems linked to the solidarity economy.  It’s possible!

Well, this seems like a lot of information to cram into one blog entry- and it was a LOT of information for an introductory workshop on solidarity trade & responsible consumerism.  To sum it all up at the end of the evening, I asked participants what one action would be that they would take today to be a more responsible consumer.  And responses varied-
  • use re-usable cups instead of the infamous small plastic cup which is everywhere in Brazil
  • bring a canvas bag to the supermarket
  • check out the local agroecological fair this weekend to buy directly from farmers
  • learn more about the social technologies of water preservation in Pernambuco’s semi-arid region

I was impressed. We packed a LOT into a two and a half hour presentation, and the participants responded with tangiable outcomes reinforcing our central theme- Another Market is Possible.

Well, I’ll wrap it up for now, but please share your questions & comments on this post!  Let’s get a dialogue going.  And the Portuguese version of this post will come soon, so that we can get some local perspectives, too.

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Seu Branco Canela’s White Gold

RIo Grande do Norte, the northeastern most state in Brazil, was once a flourishing region of ‘white gold;’ I have yet to understand what really happened, but I do know that most of those cotton mills now lay untouched, and have been for well over a decade. Here in the interior, semi-arid regions of the state there’s a local movement of family farmers who are looking to reinvigorate cotton production, and they’re doing it differently. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a glimpse into how.

Seu Branco Canela (whose name translates as Mr. White Cinammon) is one of those farmers. Well into his 70’s, he worked his entire life as a sharecropper for a large landowner, producing corn & beans. Along with his family of seven kids and his wife Clonice, they rented their home and were obligated to sell 50% of their production to the owner, leaving enough to subsist, but not to thrive. As part of the land reform movement the federal government formed the Assentamento Remedio around a decade ago, distributing land, houses, and a loan of R$9,000 to 50 poor families. Seu Branco now lives here, and says that the day he received his house (pictured above), his days of slavery ended.

Seu Branco Canela resting on his own front porch

I had lunch with Seu Branco’s family and the daughter of the landowner that he worked for, gaining a tiny, curious glimpse into the worker-owner dynamic. Branco has always been very active in CONTAG, the national workers’ union, which he says represents over 100,000,000 Brazilian’s and their families. He remains close to the children of the former landowner, and said that he was always encouraged to participate in union politics; as a union leader, he’s proud to tell stories of workers, their struggles, and successes from all 26 states of Brazil. Although Branco says he’s ‘slaved’ away on another families’ land, that family became his own, sisters and brothers who now visit him in his own home.

Now that Branco and his family have a home of their own and 20 hectares of land, they plant corn, beans, lots of vegetables, and ‘white gold,’ all integrated into an agroecological system- no chemicals added. Branco says that he lived for so many years applying chemicals to crops that his health suffered gravely; he feels a marked difference in the way that he now lives, chemical-free.

Branco’s 22 year old son Kellisson took me out to see the cotton crop at its peak harvest time. Branco can’t work in the cotton fields because he has a horrible skin allergy when he gets near the stuff, and he thinks that this is part of a reaction to the agro-toxins, pesticides, and other chemicals that he used for years while growing conventionally on someone else’s land.

Cotton, ready for pickin’

A beautiful harvest!

On an informal note, I found cotton picking to be really entertaining. Every flower that blooms produces white puffs- or the cotton balls that we use to clean our ears out and take off makeup- which grow as you pull them apart from the plant. While Kellisson and I picked cotton for the hot, dry afternoon heat, his nine year old nephew Thauã took photos of our work.

The family grows ten crops side-by-side with cotton, and sesame is one of those crops. Above, a neighbor demonstrates how to pull the sesame seeds off of the dried plant.

Feijão do Porco (‘pork beans’) are another crop that can be integrated with cotton (beans in center, cotton on right), and its used as animal feed. Branco has milking cows, chickens, hens, and others. Besides sesame, Kellisson grows corn, various types of beans, watermelon, potatoes…

Kellison and Thauã, proudly showing off our afternoon’s harvest. This is the second cotton harvest for the family, as they started producing just last year. Kellisson is now a leader among his peers and tomorrow will be one of the farmers to give a training on agroecological cotton production to 15 others from the area, in a project supported by the European Union. We’ll then visit his fields on Friday, where get to see the family’s fields, which are now gleaming with white gold, and have a mini-training on production.

One of the virtues of working for himself, Branco gets to relax in the afternoon with his grandson while we are off in the field. The family has hopes for their agroecological cotton production and the direct markets that they are creating with small european companies, as they get paid 6 times what they would be selling to a middleman on the conventional market. Branco hopes to maintain his family with their food harvest, and provide a little extra for investment in the education and in his grandchildren’s future.

Fields of white gold, golden corn, and blue, vast skies.

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Seu Zê and company

My second overnighter took place at Seu Ze de Antonio´s home, not too far outside of Afogados da Ingazeira (see yesterday´s post).  Here are some visuals.

The view from the Vilha Vela, in town.

Maria dos Dores with collard greens… the size of her!  All organically produced, no agro-toxins, in the rich soil of the Brazilian Sertão.

Seu Zê is rescuing corn varieties and keeping a seed bank to contribute to the biodiversity of local production; he´s planning on sharing the seeds of this gorgeous corn with the neighbors.


Felix and Dorinha.

 Maria dos Dores´ nickname is little pain, which kind of follows her character… amazing energy this girl has!  Zê´s three grandkids took me on an incredible tour of his 1.5 hectares of paradise, and taught me about their favorite fruits (manguita, or mini-mangoes, and graviola, a strange looking spiny green bugger)

On the right is a cistern which collects clean rainwater and stores it in a deep tank for home use.  This is one of the many ´social technologies´that local NGOs and farmers are teaching one another.

Asking for the protection of Deus and Nossa Senhora (very catholic country indeed).

A beautiful, full flowing river.  Seu Zê tells me that water is the key to life here… to drink, to wash, to plant.

The night before I left we took a family portrait (gringa in the middle).  Seu Zê and his wife Dona Isaura support this family of eight with the (literal) fruits of their labor.

Hanging with the kiddies, showing pictures of my own family & friends from the US, and other travels.

The faithful donkey that pulled three grown people and two boxes of oranges for two hours at 2am to the agroecology fair in Afogados.

We arrived at the fair at 4am to make sure that the booths were all set up, and soon after the farmers began to arrive… and then the consumers!


The farmers told me that to get the best produce, you have to arrive by 7am!  And that they pretty much sell out of everything by 9am.  They´ve built quite a faithful following and local organic movement in the tiny, 30,000 person town of Afogados.

Fresh fresh veggies and eggs from the farm. Nothing better than this.

Saying goodbye to Seu Zê (on the left) and his son (on the right).  Mario, sporting the trendy Make Trade Fair tshirt, directs the local Diaconia office, and has been a great mentor for me over these past few days.

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