More information in Portuguese about this award-winning program.
The southwest of the state of Santa Catarina, in the mountain plateau region, is made up of small areas of native woods, mountains over one thousand meters high and vast rolling fields, known as coxilhas, where the main economic activity is extensive cattle farming. In this system, the cattle roam loose within the property and there is no pasture management. This tends to reduce productivity levels, already low due to the rigorous winter which is characteristic of the region.
This low productivity contributes towards a diminishing income and the departure of rural inhabitants in search of jobs elsewhere. The region, situated some 100 kilometers from the coast and containing 19 municipalities and approximately 280 thousand inhabitants, is at present the poorest in the state, despite once having been a highlight of Santa Catarina economy. The Natural Fields Program looks for creative solutions to this problem. By means of simple and accessible techniques, the Program helps raise productivity and income levels, helping rural inhabitants continue to live on the land.
Some of these techniques are: correction of soil acidity, subdivision of pastures, pasture rotation, adjusting number of beasts per unit of area, superficial fertilization, weed control and the introduction of species of grass resistant to the winter cold, when the pastures lose their nutritional value. These techniques, together with an adequate and preventive sanitary control of the herds, allow at least twice the efficiency in use of pasture lands.
Program beneficiaries are small rural producers who depend on farming for their livelihood, especially cattle farming, as well as producers whose properties show potential for the activity. To take part in the Program, producers must take part in a training course in either beef or dairy cattle as well as a course in pasture management and improvement. Producers receive funding for working up to 15 hectares.
The Santa Catarina rural and farming research organization - Epagri - is responsible for implementing the Program and articulating the network of actors involved. Partners include universities, the Association of Municipalities of the Mountain Region, agricultural and environmental entities and governmental organs and credit lines. Epagri coordinates the actions on a regional level and each municipality is responsible for direct contact and support to the producers. In some towns this contact agent is from the municipal government, while in others the agent is from the rural syndicate or Epagri itself.
In the last six years the Program has carried out 55 events to promote new technologies, with participation of over six thousand people. During this period, the improvement of the natural pasture lands has benefited 650 producers, with productivity rising from 50 to 365 kg (live) per hectare per year. Thanks to improved pastures, the Santa Catarina plateaus may yet become one of the best regions in the country for raising "organic" or "green" beef. In this type of farming, cattle are pastured naturally, using the least amount possible of chemical products. Meat produced in this fashion fetches higher market prices.
Besides the economic changes, the Program has contributed towards a greater degree of associative cooperation among producers. Few farmers return to the old production techniques after implementing the Program on their properties, and the perception of cattle farming as a viable activity helps the mountain producer feel once again important in the local scenario. The environment has benefited from farmers abandoning traditional techniques such as clearing land by burning. The Program contributes towards maintaining ecological balance, recuperating degraded pastures and promoting preservationist practices, such as soil erosion control.