INTERVIEW WITH JORGE MIGUEL SAMEK
General Director of binational Itaipu-Brazil
Elected Member of Federal Parliament of Brazil in 2012
” Solutions are simple ! “
POINT OF BALANCE
Paraná is the most productive state of Brazil. It occupies 2.3% of the national territory but accounts for 25% of the country’s agricultural production. This region has undergone a process of colonization that did not apply any socio-environmental criteria. It was a very fast process of land and deforestation, following an agricultural model that was consistent with our or soil type or with our climate. We imported the European method that required plowing the fields.
This makes sense because in Europe there is snow. When this was transfered to Brazil, it was an absolute disaster. The soil remained as powder and each heavy rain caused an extraordinary erosion which has destroyed our most valuable assets : the ground. Productivity began to decline. At that time, a group of people appeared to speak out against this model and to introduce new ideas.
Because we have created a paradox: at the same time we want to improve the quality of life for the entire world population, we bring the world to the limit of what it can bear.
How to achieve this balance between creating jobs, better opportunities to the people and at the same time preserve the environment ? How to produce food, develop technology and knowledge, also working for the preservation of all rivers, the original forest, by promoting sustainable agricultural model following practices that do not deplete natural resources and gradually emerging model dependent susbtances agrochemicals ?
30 years ago, a project Cultivando Agua Boa was developed. Recently, when we arrived at Itaipu, we had the opportunity to put these ideas into practice. Having as a strategic planning unit a watershed, having as partners and actors in this process, individuals and institutions, working in this basin. Everyone dialogue that the network reaches all parts of the community: the regional and municipal authorities, education, cooperatives, NGOs… From the sum of all those wishes, we built this great project.
Cultivando Agua Boa is not a project from Itaipu. Itaipu is one of the key actors in this project. It helps to lead, to wear, to facilitate, to find other actors and also to finance in part. But the CAB has over 3000 partner organizations. Itaipu gives money, but this expense has always existed. It is only now that the money is in addition to the money from the municipality, the state (Parana), universities, NGOs, plus also other resources (including human resources and heritage). All the money raised in a single project can go further.
All these organizations have their own budgets, when they are used in a dispersed manner, causes a waste of money and shares superimposed. Money is not missing, the problem is that it is misspent. Even with little money, but with a good idea, well managed, with clear objectives, modern techniques of administration, planning, coaching, monitoring control, the result is extraordinary. And when the population is actively involved, it is even better. We have examples where participatory methodology has reached such a level that spending 10% of the usual cost, the result was much better. People are very good when they get involved in a good idea and they see the seriousness of the proposal.
For example, prepare a draft recovery of the micro-basin X. What are the responsibilities of Itaipu: do this, this and this again. How much will it cost ? 15% of the project.
Conservation paths ? Responsibility of the municipality. Cost ? 10% of the project.
Earthworks, contours, land reclamation ? EMATER’s, Cooperative’s and farmers’ responsibility. Cost? So %. And everyone is accountable … On the other hand: reforestation, forest recovery on the banks. Who is involved ? IAP, us, University. So %. By completing from responsibilities, we advance the project.
The Project Management Committee meets monthly to establish support and evaluation: the “check-list”. Anyone late pays, anyone in time is praised, which is the most advanced model used.
We started with a small micro-basin. Today, there are hundreds of micro-basins that are processed simultaneously. Good examples of each of these practices are incorporated into new projects. All this convergence makes that everyone wants to join the program. Seeing the municipalities that have already yielded concrete results, neighboring municipalities also want to follow. They are encouraged by their own producers, journalists, associations that ask “Why do not you do not like in the municipality X ?”. This creates a pressure in the right direction.
In the field of socio-environmental education, we have the under program of nutrition education which began very modestly to reach to encompass the “largest restaurant” that we have here: the schools. Every day there are thousands of stoves that host public school students of the Parana Basin 3. Food canteens, long ago, was prepared by a major industry, far from here, and everyone ate it. But why, if each municipality can produce its own food, organically, by keeping money and taxes in the area ?
Lula’s government introduced the “direct purchase” program that encourages schools to buy in their own town. And when they buy from organic farmers, they can pay them 20% more expensive. Around this possibility, a profusion of initiatives has emerged.
We had to create local mechanisms for this to translate into income for family farmers. In order to see that their products can be used by school canteens, the milk can turn into cheese or other by-products with added value processes.
We arrived to promote the diversification of their properties, to encourage organic farming products with best quality and independence from the “technology package” (set of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that farmers are required to purchase occur in conventional logic).
But family farmer by himself can not provide the supply. Hence, the importance of cooperatives that collect small production of A, B, C, D. Thus we make family farming and biodiversity viable in the region. In turn, the schools began to work with the cooks and nutritionists. Ranges are formed to make good eating habits. What is fat ? Why eat more vegetables ? Why do organic products are healthier ? Today, we have an annual competition between ranges canteens. Best recipes receive prices and are then used in each school.
Attached to all this, there is the theme of body care, ecological walks, the promotion of exercise, prevention of the children from becoming obese. All this is discussed on an ongoing basis within the school. And the child learns that eating canned goods, the “junk”, it hurts, then takes this information from him in his family.
And so, around an idea as small as a school canteen meals, imagine the revolution that is going to be. Ideas are like that. Very simple. For me, the great problems of humanity have simple solutions. Those who do complicate, do it for their existing interests. When you go to the base and that involves the population, the result is extraordinary.
A TOOL IN HAND
In theory, these ideas were developed and disseminated many years ago. The problem is to transform the theory into practice. This transformation takes place only if there is a tool in hand. For us, Itaipu was the power tool for turning ideas and theory into practice.
We are not alone. The entire network of our associates and partners see this good purpose, the seriousness of this proposal. They are aware that this is not a project for the politician ascent of someone, nobody is going to become a millionaire with this, but it really is a proposal to build a better world, a better company.
There is no better tool that the government and a public company like ours to achieve this. A series of wills, the right people in the right place, seeking alliances, finally managed to build a project of this size. It is possible to achieve in the Parana Basin 3, which includes 29 municipalities and one million inhabitants, it is also possible to do throughout the state of Paraná and its 399 municipalities. And why not in all of Brazil, with its 5,800 municipalities ? Why not do it in other countries ? It is only a matter of scale.
I am convinced that this process is irreversible and always wins over the consciences and hearts. I am optimistic to society. I meet a lot of pessimists that predicted the end of everything. I think differently, that in the end good people will win. There are many ways to go yet, many obstacles, but every day more of us every day here in this region, our army increases.
Interviewed in August 2010 in Foz do Iguaçu