Interview of  Valérie Valette, director of the documentary «  Flowers of the Future : Agua Boa  ».

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How did you find the “Cultivando Agua Boa” program in Brazil  ?

Why did you decide to make a documentary ?

How did you manage the conflict to adhere to a program established by the most powerful dam in the world when you had so often fought against this type of infrastructure ?

“… The “Cultivando Agua Boa” program is not there to help the poor and dispossessed peasants, as it is usually the case in this kind of problem. The goal is completely different.”

What are the main reasons that convinced you to get interested by this program ?

“… a little oasis of real democracy, lost in a desert of political renunciation all around the world.”

“… We arrive there at the debate for the introduction of a new paradigm that would respond to the challenges of the 21st century, leaving the ideological ruts of the previous centuries.”

According to you, what conditions helped the implementation and success of such a program ?

What is the role of the public company of Itaipu in the realization of this project ?

How is taken the problem of financing such a program ?

“… It seems to me that in light of this example, the citizens of the world are entitled to receive such a small financial commitment, but significantly politically, from their public institutions.”

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How did you find the “Cultivando Agua Boa” program in Brazil  ?

It happened from a quite tasty paradox, as life causes it so well.
I started as an environmentalist activist for living rivers and nothing could predict that I find such a program within one of the largest dam in the world !

In 1988, I helped launch the citizen movement opposed to the seven dams project on the Loire and its tributaries. The local committee, SOS Loire Vivante, based in Le Puy-en-Velay, served for five years the place of the construction of the first dam, supported by the Loire Vivante scientific expertise. It was a fine example of civic consciousness and action coordinated throughout the last wild river in Europe. It was also a victory, awarded by the Goldman Prize in 1992, by the complete abandonment of the proposed development and by the establishment of the Plan Loire Grandeur Nature. This plan, still in force after 20 years, is able to manage this beautiful river with great respect and understanding for both ecosystems and local residents.

I then actively participated in the struggle of the Catalan and Aragon citizens against the National Hydrological Plan (NHP) in Spain. A mammoth project which included the construction of 120 new dams and the transfer of the Ebro (very similar to the Rhone River) by a “pipeline” of 1 000 kms to the south, to encourage hotels building speculation and intensive agriculture . This massive transfer of water entailed the sacrifice of the precious Ebro Delta. Contrary to popular belief, Spain is over-equipped in water infrastructure, inherited from the Franco regime, and isn’t in need of water. It mainly suffers from mismanagement of water demand and a headlong rush into the sense to offer always more…
It was a new victory of the civil society, also rewarded in 2003 by a Goldman prize.

I left in late 2009 to study the case of the Yacyreta dam, between Paraguay and Argentina, along with Pawel Wiechetek, an activist living in Paraguay. He was awfully close to the people affected by the construction of this mega-dam, known throughout the continent as “the monument to corruption.” Encarnacion, the second city of the country was about to be flooded with 2/3 by the lake of the reservoir.
We visited during my stay an international meeting on the theme of water, in five hours bus upstream on the same river, the Parana, held by the Itaipu Dam, built between Paraguay and Brazil.
Needless to describe my state of mind on arrival at this conference, the head and the heart still full of horrors and injustices caused by the catastrophic Yacyreta dam…

Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council (which actually represents the interests of water companies near of the international institutions) was invited on this year, and his speech at the forum, as much reactionary in the background as in the form, could only encourage my confidence and my bitterness towards the dams and water policy in general.

But then, took turns at the podium : Marina da Silva (still Minister of the Environment), Jorge Samek (Director of Itaipu-Brazil), Leonardo Boff (famous theologian of Liberty), Nelton Friedrich (Director of Coordination Itaipu and Cultivando Agua Boa)… And then I wondered what was going on ! I could not believe, I felt like dreaming. I had never heard anything so committed, so progressive and certainly not at this level of responsibility.
I think Loïc Fauchon had to ask himself where he has landed !

I’m leaning towards my neighbor and I asked her some questions. She was a young agronomist who had to learn to sixty farmers how to convert to organic farming… Gradually, I realized, discussing here and there, that we were in the “Cultivando Agua Boa” program annual conference and that what seemed to be the fleeting window of yet another plan for assisting poor people was actually achieving a true utopia, genuine and effective.

Why did you decide to make a documentary ?

Because a documentary can convince much faster than words. Because diffusion is faster and easier to understand, through this one.
Time is running out to find hope, restore good feelings, reactivate civic engagement, restore the role of the policy (in the etymological meaning of the Greek term : organization of the City by the Citizens for Citizens…).
The audio-visual tool is now an essential vector. 
The same evening, back to the hotel, I was convinced that only a film could quickly convey the extremely motivating example of “Cultivando Agua Boa” around the world…
I got the agreement of Nelton Friedrich through the professor Pedro Arrojo, a Spanish movement against NHP main leader, and I organized the filming in Brazil with the help of Pawel Wiechetek and the excellent professional cameraman, Thierry Simonnet. The “Cultivando Agua Boa” team gave us a great welcome. This was an exceptional human adventure.
The result is an unusual film, not really “academic” by the standards of the usual documentary, but that just reflects the freedom to act and to think, true to the philosophy of this unique social and environmental program of its kind.

How did you manage the conflict to adhere to a program established by the most powerful dam in the world when you had so often fought against this type of infrastructure ?

In the case of “Cultivando Agua Boa” program, the contradiction is only apparent.

I’m actually extremely critical towards the discourse recovery of major economic and financial groups that proclaim themselves champions of “sustainable development” and “green economy”. For me, all these statements and concepts are trying to gain time to continue a productivist and consumerist logic more, criminal against people and the biosphere.

This is not a compensation scheme for compensating local populations from the negative impacts of the dam. It was built in 1975 under the military dictatorship and municipalities bordering the reservoir have long found a stable economic equilibrium. They also receive substantial royalties from the sale of energy from the dam and enjoy a highly productive land, which makes the state of Parana the Brazil attic, with a good general standard of living.
Itaipu Dam is one that still had a “good” location. Its construction has affected about 40,000 people for energy production than the Three Gorges in China will certainly never reach, with more than 3 million people affected.
I do not thereby justify the construction of Itaipu. I relativize the damage it has caused because it enjoys a unique relationship between impacts and benefits. But I remain convinced that the dams are not a renewable energy source, on the contrary ! Their dramatic impact on populations and ecosystems are still too unknown. And each new building will cause more impact forever less energy…

The “Cultivando Agua Boa” program is not there to help the poor and dispossessed peasants, as it is usually the case in this kind of problem. The goal is completely different.

« Cultivando Agua Boa » program is destined for all affected populations, not by a dam, but by all the social and environmental consequences of predation at work around the world :
deforestation, erosion and over-exploitation of land, massive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, monocultures, GMOs, contamination of groundwater and rivers, loss of biodiversity, climate change, loss of family farms, rural exodus, consumerism, waste, health problems, loss of social cohesion and civic links…
Its methodology can be easily adapted and replicated in any other place in the world, whatever the climate or geographical context.

I completely distinguish this program from the issue of dams…

What are the main reasons that convinced you to get interested by this program ?

What convinced me of its authenticity and effectiveness is due to several factors :

– A significant factor for me is the political will : this program has been developed by the Brasilian Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Environment and applied for 10 years by a public entity, the Itaipu dam. It is not a “charity business” from a NGO or foundation, more or less transparent, supported by some unknown group of big private interests, as it is the case more often than we think… It is a political action, determined to implement public means at its disposal to advance in the protection and development of the Public Interest and the protection of the Common Goods.

At time of globalized liberalism, where the role of politics is found totally subservient to large private interests, it is a rare example of determination, consistency and efficiency. What happens to Itaipu, in the “Cultivando Agua Boa” program, is like a little oasis of real democracy, lost in a desert of political renunciation all around the world.
This exception should be the rule and all governments should have long been engaging in this way, focusing on life/survival of people and the biosphere instead of an irresponsible economic logic.

– The methodology and ethics of this program are also exemplary. They ensure efficiency and sincerity rarely reached. The methodology is based in large part from the work of Paulo Freire. It allows mutual understanding and commitment of the various actors of civil society through methods of media and horizontal communication. Hierarchies, flowcharts, organizational structures aren’t pyramidal anymore. Inter-crossed networks, learning circles, steering committees promote a dynamic and independent extension of commitments, agreements and actions. This is the famous “mandala effect” that leads to a communicative and cumulative initiatives and achievements flowering.

The organization of the PAP (People who Learn to Engage, in brasilian) is indicative of the direction of the program : to give everyone the ability to express himself and participate in community consultation. From this open and equal dialogue then will be born a common commitment, solidarity, transparency between all actors in society, whatever they are.
In this serene and determined commitment, solutions arise and the actions apply, naturally, in all areas… generating new solutions and actions in a general cooperation synergy. This is a process that allows access to genuine autonomy, far from an assistantship formatted that installs the people in financial, economic and political dependence, imposed from the outside.
It is not either to provide ready-made and decreeded solutions “from above ” or ” elsewhere.” These are the people and organizations directly affected that develop the answers to their questions, solutions to their problems,  themselves.
There is no better guarantee to ensure true equity and adequacy of the actions and their follow-up in time !

This program gives people access to genuine autonomy. This is what gives it a such efficiency and all its sincerity.

– This increasingly participatory and teaching methodology is coupled with very high ethics.
Personally, I am not afraid to use the word “spirituality” , here in a very broad sense, by distinguishing it from religions. Religions are all respectable and can be understood as paths that lead precisely to a universal spirituality , common to all human beings, beyond all mythologies and beliefs. We could perhaps define this ultimate spirituality as the love of Life, in all its forms, the desire to protect it and the faith in his safeguard.
To implement this definition of spirituality in the practical management of the world, the political will is the complementary instrument indispensable in a renewed democratic framework.
We arrive there at the debate for the introduction of a new paradigm that would respond to the challenges of the 21st century, leaving the ideological ruts of the previous centuries.

– Finally, one of the last factors that convinced me of the very special interest of the ” Cultivando Agua Boa ” program is the personality of the main initiators, collaborators and leaders.
I forward you to the interviews from some of these people on this site, which show their human qualities and skills…

According to you, what conditions helped the implementation and success of such a program ?

Success is a subtle cocktail of evidences, and luck…

I think we can draw some lines to explain the forces of ” Cultivando Agua Boa ” :

– a specific and progressive political will,
– a large institutional creativity,
– a large freedom for private, individual and collective initiatives and actions,
– an ethical close to spirituality (love and protection of Life, pursuit of personal and collective harmony within a respected biosphere),
– a territory limited and consistent geographically (the municipalities located along the reservoir lake and the micro-basins redesigned around streams of these common),
– a space freed from the current economic constraints (neither ” debt” nor austerity programs like in the ultra-liberal mode) and the usual political issues (the direction of Itaipu has remained the same for 10 years, appointed by the Brazilian government in both presidential constituents of Lula da Silva and the one of Dilma Rousseff, avoiding cronyism linked to the local elections).

And of course, a dedicated team, led by a genuine Ideal… !

What is the role of the public company of Itaipu in the realization of this project ?

Itaipu’s main contribution to the population is the idea of the program and the extraordinary work of its small coordination team (about 10 people). It has assumed a titanic role of initiation, promotion, training and animation without sparing his sentence.

The coordination team has developed the first network of relationships , opening communication between the different components of society, explaining the issues, benefits , methodology and ethics of the program.

It has organized awareness meetings, Workshops of the Future, the Municipal Management Committees, and launched the first partnerships.
It monitors the program and its assessment, by celebrating his success with a festive and convivial annual Congress where all of the participant gather to witness the actions carried out and realized…

How is taken the problem of financing such a program ?

Usually crucial issue of funding is however not a fundamental condition for the success of this program. Proof that money does not solve everything and occupies a too large place in our society…
Indeed, despite of its huge financial resources from the sale of electricity to 90 % of the needs of Paraguay and 20% of those of Brazil, Itaipu does not behave so paternalistic or authoritarian, neither as “patron” nor as “generous donor” to the municipalities and the micro-basins of its area of ​​influence. We are not in a deadlock of the assistantship, but in a dynamic cooperation.

Itaipu invests in an action or a project a Brazilian “real” when it is ensured that the two “reales” are found and invested by other stakeholders. These two reales can take a financial form, but can also assess in equivalence of given time and energy, of raw materials and supplies made ​​, of knowledge and shared experience, of provision of infrastructure and equipment, etc… Whether it is the common, the population of micro-basin, the individuals, the companies… all of those who are committed to solve a problem or to create a dynamic through a collective action, have to achieve it, above all, by themselves.
By releasing the lock money, all the creative and cooperative energy that can be deployed is impressive.
Pleasure to do is the real wealth…

The real Itaipu’s investment is the constitution and the animation of the coordination team and its financial participation for third in most of the projects.
Nothing more or less than what governments can make when they take their responsibilities.
It seems to me that in light of this example, the citizens of the world are entitled to receive such a small financial commitment, but significantly politically, from their public institutions.

August 2013 , in Haute-Loire , France.

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