The east zone of Sao Paulo stands out for its high levels of poverty and violent crime. The congested megacity has approximately 904,000 jobless workers, 40 per cent of those living in the impoverished east side (stats provided by Cidades sem Fome). Social and economic injustice in the northeast of Brazil leads many to move to the metropolis to make ends meet, working temporary jobs in poor conditions, with women and the elderly the most hard hit. For many families food distribution by the city hall is the only source of nutrition. However, in this urban sprawl, a local non-governmental organisation, Cidades sem Fome (Cities Without Hunger), is planting seeds of hope and transformation.
Started by local social entrepreneur Hans Dieter Temp in 2004, Cidades sem Fome sets up sustainable urban agriculture projects based on organic farming, with the twin aims of providing jobs and improving the diets of adults and children. Their main project trains community members in precarious life situations on how to grow organic food and run their own business, so they can become financially independent and provide healthy food to their local community.
In previous projects, the average income of the beneficiaries was R$1,200 per month (US$375), earning a bit more than the minimum wage in Brazil. However, as production areas grow, and members gain greater marketing power in their communities, their monthly income can exceed R$1,800 monthly (US$563).
Alongside this, the social enterprise works in schools to build food gardens. The 38 school gardens so far have been providing 14,506 students and their families in socially deprived areas access to healthy food, preventing malnutrition. Cidades sem Fome are also using recycled and alternative materials to construct agricultural greenhouses, and running a small family farm project in the Agudo municipality of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Here, they are training farmers in multiple cropping methods as an alternative to harmful industrialised practices that have negative effects on the environment.
Cidades sem Fome seeks to improve people’s lives in an innovative, sustainable and effective way, taking an approach that can be easily transferred to other cities and countries. One way they do this is by acquiring unused land from a local electric company to set up their community gardens - spaces under which power lines run. Their innovative model has allowed them to set up 25 community gardens, providing farming jobs for 125 families.
It takes around one year for food gardens to be built and farmers to be trained, after that the urban gardens no longer need financial or technical support, and are entirely self-sufficient and sustainable. In a city where land is scarce and inequality is immense, the organisation’s founder Temp is sure that, “the development of urban farming and community gardens has an important role in the sustainability-driven future of our cities.”
Interview thanks to Ariane Kropp from Cidades sem Fome.
Photo credits: Cidades sem Fome