Cid Simoes and Paola Segura
Sustainable Agriculturists and Development Experts
Photograph by Victor Sanchez de Fuentes
Cid Simoes and Paola Segura are protecting the planet—and Brazil's small farmers—one fruit tree at a time. "You know," Simoes says, "conservation can be good economically and environmentally. All people need is the right information, the right alternatives."
The sustainable agribusiness initiatives launched by this husband-wife team are proving just that, offering small farmers options for success they never knew they had. Traditionally, farmers in Bahia, Brazil, use slash-and-burn agriculture, deforesting new land each year for crops. "Meanwhile," Simoes explains, "inside the forest, there are ornamental tropical plants like orchids, lipstick palms, and heliconias that markets around the world want to buy. Once you show farmers that they can plant these flowers using far less land, and earn twice as much as from bananas and cassava, they're ready to do it. Some of these plants can be harvested without creating any impact on the forest at all. Others allow farmers to earn as much on only 1,000 meters as they did by clearing 100,000 meters of pristine forest. And all are sustainable."
Simoes and Segura also point out the conservation pitfalls to traditional reforestation using eucalyptus and pine trees. "With those trees, farmers need at least 1,000 acres to be profitable and must wait eight to ten years before harvesting the wood. In the process, soil is depleted of essential nutrients." The Simoes-Segura alternative? Fruit trees. "They require much less land, start producing in just three years, spread roots that help the soil retain water, and pump nutrients into the Earth, since only fruit—not trees—are harvested. What's more, they produce long-term, guaranteeing income for generation after generation."
Such convictions are based on first-hand experience. "Paola and I run each project ourselves first, to test it, hiring just one family to work with us. We buy the land, do the planting, earn enough money to recover our expenses, and then donate the project to the family we've trained. In return, they must bring five other families on board and teach them. Those five multiply to another five, and so on. Before we turn it over, we make enough profit to start our next project, so it's all sustainable." Since almost all farmers involved are illiterate, conveying technical information can be a challenge—another reason teaching that first family by working side-by-side is so critical. "It's also why they believe in us," Simoes explains. "We're right there in the dirt with them."
Such success, they hope, will allow more rural people to stay and build profitable farms rather than leaving to seek work in urban areas. When jobs in the cities don't materialize, migrants can be marginalized, resort to crime, and exacerbate growing social pressures in Brazil's overcrowded urban centers.
A local proverb states that to understand someone you must wear their shoes. For Simoes, it's easy. "I grew up on a small Brazilian farm with about a hundred cows in the middle of nothing. I know the difficulties of that life."
To his amazement, he was offered a full scholarship to Earth University in Costa Rica, an institution dedicated to the balance between agricultural production and environmental protection. There he met Paola and was introduced to the concepts and techniques of conservation. "It was such an unexpected opportunity for me, I wanted to give something back," Simoes shares. "We both wanted to find a way to make a living by helping small farmers and the environment. The world is a big place. But with our projects, we know at least this little corner of the Earth will be protected. We look at the people involved and you can see it on their faces—they get it, it's working, they're succeeding, and teaching the next generation. That's the most exciting part of what we do."
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What are Cid Simoes, Paola Segura and the rest of the National Geographic Explorers up to? Meet the E-Team and learn about their projects in this interactive mural.
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