The town of Rio das Flôres, located in the Mid Paraíba Region of the state of Rio de Janeiro, suffered terribly from the collapse of the regional coffee trade, dropping from a population of 30,000 in 1950 to 8,000 in 2000. After 50 years of economic depression, Rio das Flôres is at last beginning to recover and now has a population growth of 4.7%. In order to manage this substantial growth, the town instituted the Municipal Sustainability Program in 2001, with the goal of supporting social and economic development.
The main objectives of the project were defined based on public opinion surveys of the town’s residents distributed to every family in Rio das Flôres. The city’s residents identified income and jobs, local development, education, culture and leisure, housing, social assistance to children and youths, health and sanitation, citizenship, and administrative modernization to be the main objectives of the Program.
In partnership with the private sector, responding to demands for improved income throughout the municipality, the municipal government has instituted training courses in vocations including sewing, computer literacy and craft industries. The municipality has also encouraged the development of cooperative associations, which are crucial tools in boosting local economy. The training courses are run with support from a number of institutions, such as the Brazilian Service for Support to Micro and Small Businesses (SEBRAE) and the National Service for Commercial Learning (SENAC).
The industrial sewing and computer courses last three months and are held at the Olimpio Rosa dos Santos training center, which belongs to the municipal government. To absorb local graduates, City Hall encourages cooperative sewing associations. These registered cooperatives work mainly on production for clothing companies. They receive several incentives: free rent, free electricity and loaned sewing machines. 80 new jobs have been created so far, with an average wage of 600 Reais. The computer course is based on the Linux free software operational system. Part of the student body is made up of City Hall staff, trained to use the Linux system, which is to be adopted by the local government. As classes are far from the town center, free transport is provided. Completion of either course results in a certificate to show potential employers.
Developing municipal craft skills promotes tourism and therefore is one of the key objectives of the Municipal Sustainability Program. The craft association has federal governmental support; as a result, craftwork is exported throughout Brazil and to countries such as Portugal. The craft association also takes part in regional fairs and events.
The Municipal Sustainability Program pinpoints the importance of an integrated policy to energize the economy and improve efficiency, improving quality of life. The Program helped diversify the local economy which for many decades was based solely on the coffee trade and cattle farming. The effect of the changes can be seen by the revitalization of the municipality for tourism. This includes opening up former 19th-century coffee farms for guests, cleaning rivers, clearing trails to reach waterfalls and creating scenic viewpoints, in addition to improving general cleanliness and new signposts.
As a result of the Municipal Sustainability Program’s contributions, a total of 534 jobs have been created between 2001 and 2005 in the textile, farming, tourism, commerce, civil construction and services sectors. There are now 237 new jobs in the public sector, 165 in the craft cooperative and 108 in the sewing cooperatives. The total of direct and indirect jobs generated by the Program is equal to 12.5% of the total population of Rio das Flôres.
The key success factors of the Program are good political articulation and an administration which incorporates sophisticated public management tools, focusing on results, transparency, decentralization and partnerships. As the municipal government promotes social and economic development, the level of participation of civil society in local administrative matters grows, legitimizing the democratic character of the local government.
• In order to revive the dwindling local economy and boost the diminishing population, the municipality of Rio das Flôres has adopted an integrated social and economic development policy.
• By diversifying the local farm-based economy, training the population to work in textiles and crafts while at the same time working on incentives to regional tourism, the town is creating jobs in a number of different sectors and giving the economy a new focus.
• Political articulation, partnerships and civil society participation have been central to the Program’s success.