FLAVIO LUNA

Brazil,

Flávio Luna is improving the culture and skills of a new class of small producers arising from Brazil’s large landless population. Through a multifaceted approach harnessing technology, Flávio fills key gaps in the agricultural value chain, from transforming existing extension services to meet the needs of these producers, to launching new services. 

This profile below was prepared when Flavio Luna was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.

INTRODUCTION

Flávio Luna is improving the culture and skills of a new class of small producers arising from Brazil’s large landless population. Through a multifaceted approach harnessing technology, Flávio fills key gaps in the agricultural value chain, from transforming existing extension services to meet the needs of these producers, to launching new services. 




THE NEW IDEA

Recognizing that Brazil’s land reform initiatives were not meeting the needs of newly resettled formerly landless Brazilians, Flávio has developed an ambitious effort initially targeted to transform this segment of the agricultural economy. With SIGA he is creating opportunities for small formerly landless farmers by improving their access to critical markets, technical, business and management information, and training and filling key gaps in the agricultural infrastructure in rural communities. SIGA is a technology-based online information platform that provides critical producer, production and management information, as well as market prices and buyer information. 

Flávio’s initiatives create new mechanisms for farmers to share and access information and training, to better manage their agricultural enterprises. This requires shifting the mindsets and practices of both the farmers and the existing extension systems that are ostensibly established to serve these populations. Efforts at building and enhancing the capacity of farmers and the technical advisers who work with them are linked to SIGA, which serves as a mechanism to engage multiple institutional partners and programs, including local, state, and national initiatives that fill key gaps in the agricultural value chain. Not only does this provide crucial pricing information to help farmers’ capture greater product value, but it also connects farmers to one another, and to individuals and small groups of farmers to new markets. SIGA also offers information and tools to reinforce small producer’s cultural practices and build management expertise. 

In the process of cultivating these small producers, Flávio seeks to influence Brazilian society’s perception of agrarian reform, at a time when public support toward these policies are declining. To address the needs of the current and formerly landless, Flávio recognizes that agrarian reform initiatives must be sustainable strategies for social and economic development, rather than subsidy-based poverty alleviation. By offering concrete successes in how formerly landless communities engage in the agricultural economy, Flávio’s work demonstrates how land reform benefits landless families, and country development. 




THE PROBLEM

Farmers in Brazil face a number of different factors that have kept them from reaching full economic inclusion—including their own participation in the agricultural movement, social stigma, and government policy. The movement toward land reform peaked between 1995 and 2011, when more than 1.2 million families resettled. However, according to the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, there are still many families that need to resettle in Brazil. Statistics from the Landless Peoples’ Movement indicate that as of 2010 there were still about 90,000 landless squatter families across Brazil. 

While Brazil can justifiably point to progress in resettling large numbers of formerly landless people, the overall policy has proven insufficient for the successful integration of these populations into the agricultural economy. The formerly landless Brazilians continue to live in poverty, despite having received grants of land and small-scale property from the government. This population, largely former agricultural workers (and even tenant farmers), has not been able to gain the experience of managing their own enterprises. Once they settled their lands, they found themselves in a situation where they had to manage their own production unit—yet because they lack basic skills in small business development and management, they ended up unable to sustain themselves. 

These small farmers are unable to capture the value of their crops. Middlemen have exploited the “market failure” that has emerged, buying their products at prices that tend to fall below the expected market level. Lack of market information is one reason that families lose the potential profit from their work. Resettled farmers are widely dispersed, and generally lack telecommunications infrastructure. Along with a historical bias against cooperatives, which in Brazil tended to be state-directed and dominated, hampers small farmers from forming effective sales and distribution units. All of these factors have led to these small producers’ low level of confidence in their ability able to sell their products, rendering a vicious cycle. 

Compounding the practical challenges facing small producers are social stereotypes, mischaracterizations and historical mindsets that perpetuate the circumstances in which they live. Rural residents perceive that they have few opportunities for financial inclusion, which increases pressure on them to migrate to urban areas. Those rural residents who remain in their communities have historically become very dependent on public assistance, which in turn has aggravated the already negative image of the rural movement among wider Brazilian society. Today however, this movement is in the midst of an evolutionary transformation from a protest movement using advocacy and militant (and occasionally violent) behavior into one that needs to focus on their livelihood development and to access the tools and information necessary for their community to succeed. Attitudes toward the rural movement on the part of Brazilian society, however, have yet to catch up with this evolutionary shift, creating further barriers to the needed additional agrarian reform policies.




THE STRATEGY

Flávio recognized that for small agricultural producers to succeed in Brazil’s rural northeast, new systems and new mindsets needed to be developed that would transform not only the agricultural practices of farmers, but their access to infrastructure supports and markets. His work involves linking disparate and often isolated actors into a more unified value chain for small producers in the Northeast, and helping to nurture mechanisms to ensure that these linkages endure. 

Flávio begins by working to change the practices and culture of the existing network of resident agricultural advisers, many of whom come from the landless movement themselves. Encumbered by a history of militancy, and a bureaucratic system that fails to focus on the needs of individual farmers, Flávio is helping them to adopt a more people-centered approach, incorporating new techniques, particularly management and planning skills that better integrate landless farmers into the larger market. His goal is to build a practical culture of management within these resident agricultural advisers. 

To bolster and reinforce the capacity building efforts of agricultural advisers and farmers, Flávio created a resource network to serve multiple purposes. An online information platform, SIGA draws in a massive network of partners, from agricultural extension agencies, family farmers, informal and formal farmers’ groups, local municipalities, Internet centers, agricultural distributors, government supply centers and government purchasing programs. SIGA is much more than a market information service. It offers agricultural production and management resources for farmers and technical advisers, supports linkages among agricultural producers across a wide geographic region, and links producers with buyers from both corporate and government-mandated purchasing programs, which have long been out of reach of small producers.

Farmers can access this platform via the telecentros (community-based phone and Internet services) located in their communities. Through the platform, farmers can instantly learn the available market price of their products, giving them the necessary data to negotiate with middlemen and avoid exploitation. The mere access to this kind of information has increased the income of settled farmers by 100 percent and more. The platform also connects dispersed farmers and allows both formal and informal production groups to form. These networks allow them to market their products at the best prices to the highest bidders. 

Leveraging existing government purchasing programs, the platform also provides the conduit for small producers to sell their crops. These programs are mandated to buy a percentage of their agricultural quota from small farmers, but have had difficulty achieving this goal. In the first phase of its implementation, from 2008 to 2011, Flávio’s online platform registered 1,000 farmers, established in five cities, and helped them gain access to the Support Program for Family Agriculture Program as well as the National School Lunch Program. It also allowed farmers to create 40 new agroecological markets for the sale and commercialization of their products. 

Initially launched at a time when federal policy sought to foster regional development by building networks of local actors; funding ended, and Flávio found other means to secure continuity and raise system support. The platform became a tool for technical advisors from nonprofit organizations. The tool is currently being used by the Specialized Multidisciplinary Advisory Group on Technology and Extension. Additional user organizations working with the tool also pay a share of its maintenance costs, which ensures the independence of systems from governmental influence and improvement of technical information.

Since its inception, the platform itself has undergone significant evolution. Once the system and infrastructure was in place providing market pricing, and such, Flávio prepared the farmers to know how to access and best employ them for their benefit. He decided to rethink the system, choosing to turn it into a pedagogical tool to teach more professional management techniques. Farmers’ started to make better harvest plans by producing customized reports based on easily accessible crop data. After studying these results, they make estimates of the future demand, maximize production potential, diversify production, evaluate general profit, and devise strategies to increase profit in different periods of demand. Flávio also built a component to socialize the farmers helping them re-engage with one another after operating autonomously. His platform organizes them into groups based on some common feature, such as type of good produced. These groups facilitate the creation of cooperatives, so that farmers can gather their crops and sell them through the same commercialization channels. Such networks help lower distribution costs as farmers’ share the costs of logistics. Moreover, Flávio promotes exchanges between settlements, so they may learn from others success stories. 

Flávio registers different sectors of people to use his system. First, he reached out to technicians, who participated actively in its creation, and needed to understand its multiple facets. Currently, outreach is focused on beneficiaries; registering families and interest groups. Initially 4,500 families located in the regions of Zona da Mata Norte and Brejo registered with the platform. The plan is to focus next on registering government procurement agencies with the products they intend to buy and the market prices. Also, Flávio’s institutional partners, municipalities, and family farming fairs will be integrated into the system. Flávio is considering including middlemen in this process, since many are settled farmers, considered more reliable and capable sellers. By using the system, they are now accountable for the prices and negotiating with farmers for a fair market price. 

Each component of Flávio’s work reinforces the ability of small farmers to succeed in agricultural production and to access markets. Another example is Flávio’s efforts to accelerate the construction in João Pessoa, of a new center called the Center for the Commercialization of Family Farming. This center, the result of a partnership between the city government, the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service, and the technical advisory agency, would be a permanent agricultural market in João Pessoa. While the center has been in the planning stages for the last ten years, it became a reality with Flávio’s leadership. The space will provide computers with Internet access, to enable farmers to routinely use the SIGA platform. 

Flávio is building connections among citizen and government organizations that serve formerly landless small producers not only in Paraiba, in order to expand his work and the platform nationwide. He is connecting organizations in states across Brazil, from Ceará to Sao Paulo to Santa Catarina which promote cooperation, fair trade, and organic foods. The government agency for digital inclusion has approached him to implement the platform more broadly in the state-sponsored computer centers in the most distant cities. 




THE PERSON

Flávio was born in João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba, in 1966 to a modest family. Having grown up in contact with the rural environment and caring for farm animals, he wanted to make a profession out of this passion. Flávio majored in Animal Sciences with a specialization in Management and Strategic Planning. In the 1990s his professional experiences were in the world of agribusiness, doing experiments to increase productivity in the raising of cattle; when rural violence and the land struggle by the Landless People’s Movement reached their peak. Deeply touched by their struggle, Flávio accompanied his sister, a medical health officer, and his brother-in-law, both very close to social movements, on site visits to learn more about the reality of the landless peoples in Paraíba. Witnessing people starving and suffering from easily preventable diseases such as worms, Flávio felt that his vocation was to help them restore their dignity. Flávio thought the best way to support them was to give them land to work and make a living. 

Flávio left agribusiness in 1996. He received accreditation to become an outreach technician in agrarian reform settlements while also embarking on graduate studies. Through his work, he came to realize that true land reform took place not merely by redistributing parcels, but by empowering people to overcome dependency on outside forces. Flávio will continue to mobilize partners to reach more farmers and to help them overcome the stigmas attributed to land reform in Brazilian society.