By Marcela Garcia Corrêa, Evaristo Mesquita and Rhuan Pereira
The transition to more sustainable production forms, particularly in the case of organic family farming, depends upon public policies, infrastructure, technical support and financing. The spaces for this type of production have been built to respond to the growing concern with new forms of producing and consuming, as shown in those articles: Supply I and Demand. In this sense, the transition also requires a cultural change and adaptation to new paradigms.
Use of technology and tools can facilitate access of smallholders to social and environmental certifications. However, it is necessary to consider cultural aspects involved in the relationship of farmers with technologies – or any tools available to optimize organic production – and the farmers’ peculiar way of getting hold of the tools.
Typically, new technologies seek understanding of time and space, speeding processes and simplifying communication and interaction between people who are physically distant from one another. Technologies such as email brought benefits to the communication between people, when compared to a more obsolete tool, like letters. That transition does not represent only the adoption of a more efficient support, but also the rearrangement of possibilities individuals have to interact in time and space.
But, what about when you expect to use a technology to optimize a space that has its own time? What about when the relationship of the people with that space go beyond what is produced, and involves deeper aspects, such as purpose and faith, traditions and beliefs?
To turn Brazilian smallholders into active agents in the complex production and consumption chain of organic products and facilitate their access to social and environmental certifications through new technologies, such as blockchain, introduces the matter of how to relate with meanings farming and organic production have to farmers. And it also raises a question about how their traditional knowledge is leveraged and boosted by technologies, without being replaced with a vision that is only focused on production.
A matter of dialogue
When we speak about organic smallholders in Brazil, it is worth pointing out the differences between that type of actor and large farmers who produce using the conventional rationale of agribusiness, with many resources and sophisticated technologies.
For smallholders, the contact with the land and the production is something closer, more manual. In addition to that, the role played by farming is key to those families, it is an integral part of their members and their lives as a whole.
To speak about the application of blockchain in the organic production chain in Brazil is to inevitably address its applicability to a way of life and existence, not just work. It is the starting point to discuss issues including access, appropriation and use of technology, farmers’ acceptance, and possibilities to adjust the use of technology to their lifestyle and world vision.
A matter of time
The speed technology can convey to the most varied processes and the dynamic of conventional production, which needs to be fast to support an intensive consumption standard, does not match the organic production time, which is nature’s time.
‘We’ve been working with this [sustainability] since 2000, because it is about the importance of balancing the ecosystem. If there are rats in the field, snakes eat them. When ants start flying, birds eat them. So, you must work on fauna and flora at the same time. That is what makes the environment sustainable. It is to live well in a good environment, to live well with nature’, says Vilson Câmara, an organic family farmer of Rede Povos da Mata, in Ilheus, State of Bahia.
Organic family farming sees the land as a living organism that must be respected. It is not the peaks of demand that command production pace, but rather the possibilities of cultivation offered by each season throughout the year. Whereas the agribusiness rationale follows a market calendar – a year divided into 365 days and a population that demands all kinds of food throughout the year –, organic farmers are driven by the seasons of the year.
Whereas conventional farming needs agrochemical and artificial production systems to adjust nature’s time to the demand’s time, organic farmers must know rain and dry seasons and know what is possible to produce in each period. It is necessary to prepare the composting, fertilize the land, plant. And, according to farmer José Rodrigues Pinto, a member of the Associação dos Produtores Orgânicos do Amazonas (Apoam, Association of Organic Farmers in the Amazon), it is necessary to really believe each seed will become a plant that can be served as food to the family, or a source of revenue, traded in organic street markets in the city.
Also, another example of that connection with nature, in areas of family farming visited by the group in Belem, such as the group of women Rede de Economia Solidária e Feminista (Resf, Solidarity Economy and Feminist Network), the harvest of many plants – which are directly sold to Natura – has a greater meaning. It is a ritual, which first requires a ceremony of thanks called Priprioca. That dynamic with time positions nature not as a resource to be explored, but rather as a critical agent that enables life and should be, above all, watched over and valued.
A matter of purpose
Purpose is another important concept to understand organic and responsible production. ‘Producing organic food is not like wearing a T-shit. If you change teams, you change your T-shirt. Here we do things with our hearts’, says Câmara.
Often, the motivation to start producing organic food is to have the work more valued, because organic products offer an average potential gain around 30% higher for farmers. But finding out the importance of that type of production for the environment and for the health of population is what keeps families of farmers producing organic food.
The feeling of having a purpose, which is so valuable for farmers, becomes part of a cosmovision, i.e.; a world vision and a way to conceive reality. Cosmovision refers to a set of values, beliefs, conceptions and, especially, feelings that emerge regarding the way beings see the world before their existence.
Câmara, who lost his property certification label for a while, decided to continue producing organic products. ‘Let’s do the right thing. (…) Let’s work with clean farming, selling health to our customers. And, actually, eating healthy, because we only eat what comes from the property, so we know it is clean food, and we will live better’, he declares.
Acknowledging the importance of the work they do and sharing that pride with family members is a critical factor for organic farmers – particularly for young people, who see organic production as a possibility to value the work and to have better life conditions.
Therefore, it is not enough to provide the necessary infrastructure (such as Internet access, mobiles and computers), offer training, and apply blockchain hoping to solve the organic chain in Brazil. It is necessary to understand that projects like that will greatly affect the way smallholders live and, thus, keeping that in mind, one must first understand their reality and respect it. As well as blockchain operates according to the so-called consensus rules, some assumptions must also be made when applied to organic production: full respect to the beliefs, values, traditions and lifestyles of farmers.
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