Santarém, Brazil - 2007
Santarém, Brazil, is a major shifting sands community due to rapid, large-scale urbanization. Two major sources of migration to the city are disenfranchised small farmers from the plateau region and disillusioned youth from small river-dwelling communities (communidades ribeirinhas) in the Amazon. The bulk of the migration occurs mainly because of the expansion of soybean plantation and production to this Northern region of the country. Soybeans fetch extremely attractive prices on the international market, especially in Europe and China. As a result, the Brazilian government has offered economic incentives to encourage the monocultural production of soy. In addition to migration, the other major impact of note has been deforestation (to make room for soy). In 2003 Cargill (www.cargill.com) completed the construction of an international exportation port in Santarém. Its construction, in combination with the BR163 Highway, has brought soy production further northward into the Amazon region. Their gradual takeover of the area has been abetted by the work of local enforcers who use violence and intimidation to drive small farmers off their land. For the small farmers, disillusioned and powerless in the country, the allure of city life outweighs the risks. And so, a pattern of urbanization has ensued. Meanwhile, in the communities next to the Amazon, Tapajos and Arapiuns rivers, the youth are leaving their families and moving to the cities in search of employment and education. Few return to their communities. Rapid urbanization puts strain upon cities: social services fail to keep up with the needs of the new residents. All this, combined with minimal governmental intervention at both the state and federal levels, has led to a further concentration of wealth in the hands of the new soy farmer (Sojeiros), the development of new peripheral neighborhoods lacking basic infrastructure, and increasing violence and poverty in the city of Santarém.
With the acceleration of deforestation and proliferation of soybean cultivation, many communities in the Brazilian Amazon area find themselves searching for new forms of community economic development. To this end, an internationally recognized NGO, Projeto Saudé e Alegria (Project Health and Happiness, or PSA), has been working with the forest-residing indigenous peoples in the rural areas of the municipalities of Santarém, Belterra and Aveiro, in the west of the state of Pará since 1987.
CEAPS, Centro de Estudos Avançados de Promoção Social e Ambiental
(Center for Advanced Studies of Social and Environmental Progress)
Projeto Saúde & Alegria (Health & Happiness Project, www.saudeealegria.org.br) – Santarém, Pará (Brazil)
PSA is a long-standing grantee of the Ford Foundation Brazil office in Rio de Janeiro. has been working in the Amazon region since 1987 Starting in 2003, the organization started to gradually expand its service area to 143 localities, involving around 29,000 beneficiaries. Its mission is to support participatory and integrated processes of comprehensive and sustained community development, managed by the population itself. Starting with local realities, the most pressing needs and the input of residents, PSA seeks out simple solutions adapted to the available resources in the communities themselves. The programs seek to involve all sectors and age groups – leaders, rural producers, health monitors, traditional midwives, women, teachers, youth and children – training them as multipliers of actions and encouraging self-management.
PSA’s signature tool for starting conversations and building trust with isolated rural communities has been its floating circus. We find a strong parallel in the discovery of such a non-threatening point of entry into new community health relationships, with the discovery among North American NGOs about the conversation-starting role of public and farmers markets. The strategy we want to accomplish with the American markets is to start the conversation with economic development and finish with a certain level of community health establishment. In PSA’s case, it is the other way round. Serving an area rampant with infectious diseases and high infant mortality rate – twice the Brazilian national average – PSA finds its point of entry with health intervention tools, to improve the people’s lives. Further, the leadership from PSA has expressed interest in planning and implementing a farmers market as a strategy to directly connect consumers and producers. Furthermore, PSA is firmly grounded in promoting public health strategies towards community development.
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