Mark L. Miller
Some of you know that I’ve been to Brazil to work on my Master’s thesis. Here’s a brief research trip overview. Enjoy it!
The first part of the research trip took place in Alto Paraiso (Goiás). For sure, it was the most adventurous time of the trip. Coming from Peru, after 10 days of interdisciplinary university excursion where everything was planned and organized for me, the start in Brazil was rough.
Nevertheless, I was able to interview 3 agroforestry farmers and get a deep insight into the life of an agroforestry farm: I stayed four nights at Sito Florestinha agroforestry farm. My contact, Dax, helped me out a lot and directed me to different places that could contribute to my thesis.
The second part of the trip in Porto Nacional (Tocantins) was the most productive. I had a backup team from COMSAUDE, a partner association of BRASA (my Brazilian partner institution), that helped me out in finding the right people to interview and the right places where to be. That week I had an information overload and interviewed 2 soy farm managers, 7 traditional family farmers and 4 farming institutions. I also managed to get in contact with the Federal University of Tocantins, attend a seminar on agrotox (alas pesticide) use in Tocantins and collaborate on some cerrado conservation projects of COMSAUDE.
The third part of the trip was in Goiânia (Goiás). There, I found the right balance between research work and free time. I interviewed 1 agroecology family farm, 2 agroforestry farmers, 1 soy farm manager and 1 farming institution. I also visited the Federal University of Goiás, which carries out advanced research on ecology and agriculture. I engaged with with a lot of professors, PhD and Master students.
The amount of research data I was able to collect in a relative short time, was facilitated by the natural kindness and welcoming attitude of Brazilians. The help of locals and some basic knowledge of Portuguese were also keys factors of the success. Finally, to perform interviews and collect the data, I used investigation skills that I acquired from my intern at an environmental consultancy company in Milan.
Traveling was the ever-present element of the trip. I constantly had to move by plane, car, coach, city-bus, taxi and on foot.
When I first arrived to Brasilia, my luggage – containing my working clothes and the malaria pills – didn’t arrive. I had to stay in the expensive capital for five days and deal with lots of bureaucratic struggles with the airport offices. After buying some new clothes, a Brazilian phone and a sim card, registering to the Brazilian immigration office and renting a car, I left for Alto Paraiso without my luggage. The interviews to the agroforestry farmers were calling me and there was no more time to waste.
In that first adventurous part of the trip I had to deal with a great load of frustration, difficulties and uncertainties. In these moments, however, I found the best human solidarity and the most advanced ecological innovation in agroforestry farm communities.
When I did not get stuck in traffic or lost in cities, when I didn’t take wrong highway exits or miss buses, traveling around the Brazilian farmlands and the beautiful cerrado filled me with a great sense of freedom. Cruising around, working for the environment and enjoying stunning outdoor landscapes, compensated all the tiredness of the intense research work: I was doing what I really wanted to do for my thesis. I am thankful for having had that chance.
Thanks to the continuous traveling, I had the chance to see plenty different landscapes. From the over-controlled and disgustingly planned urban landscape of Brasilia to the astonishing Chapada de Veradeios nature reserve in Alto Paraiso. From the never-ending soy and corn monocultures in Porto Nacional to the pure and beautiful waterfalls of Taquarussu or Alto Paraiso. From the chaotic and urbanized city center of Goiânia to the relaxed farmlands in the outskirts and at the university campus.
All this helped me see the cerrado from different points of view and helped me grasp a general idea of what sustainable farming in such ecoregion could look like.
Besides the environmental diversity, Brazil is famous for its social diversity and sociability. The feeling that I got, is that Brazilians are welcoming, somewhat street-smart and explosive at times.
Agroforestry farmers have a strong community feeling and a sense of responsibility to change the current farming system, which is destroying the cerrado. Traditional family farmers are sound sellers and proud workers because they believe they are the ones feeding the city. They were also very kind and open to answer my research questions. Some of them feel a sense of community with the other family farmers, others don’t. Similarly, some of them have good ecological basics, others don’t. Finally, soy farm managers belong to a very different economic system and their status also affects their personality: they are more reserved but maintain the traditional Brazilian welcoming attitude.
SECURITY AND SAFETY
Many people warned me to be cautious in Brazil. In some places, security could be an issue. In fact, households fenced with electric or barbed wire and security cameras everywhere give you an unpleasant feeling of insecurity. So, I paid attention to my safety when I spent many hours on the streets or in remote farms. Actually, I never ran into dangerous situations and never had the feeling of being in danger. My only preoccupation was when I interviewed an important soy farm manager in his office.
During my little free time I had the opportunity to get to know more about the Brazilian culture.
First of all, the Brazilian cuisine. I am Italian and I am used to high food quality standards, but I think Brazilian food is delicious and I fell in love with the their fruit and their prato feitos.
Second, the language. Don’t even think to go to Brazil without knowing a little bit of Portuguese. In Goiânia, I met two PhD students from Check Republic looking for new university partnerships in Brazil. Assisting to their communication exchange with the Brazilian professors and PhDs was hilarious.
Third, poverty. Although Brazil is a developed country, there still is poverty and a huge gap between poor and rich people. It’s a modern type of poverty, in which people have decent livelihoods, can afford fancy watches and the latest smartphones, but can’t go to the hospital because it’s too expensive. In general, the welfare system is behind European standards.
My research trip to Brazil has been extraordinarily adventurous, highly productive and lifetime memorable. It was my first real research study and I am extremely happy that I started in such a fashion. I don’t think I could have carried out a research study on Brazilian sustainable farming if I hadn’t included a similar field trip. I would have probably got bored and stuck at the introduction. Instead, I am now passionately motivated to write a sound, scientifically decent manuscript that can honor my research experience and all the field work hours that I spent. A manuscript that can honor the ongoing sustainability battle, the people that helped me out in the research and that believe in a more sustainable world, and those that constantly live daily struggles to farm their family farm. I wish to find the right technical and stylistic words that can communicate all this effectively. I will commit to that even when I’m bored typing on the computer or preparing the references.
THE MOST SUSTAINABLE TYPE OF FARMING FOR THE BRAZILIAN CERRADO
Well this is something I am working on. I can’t tell you now
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