Agriculture is the main source of income for families of Cape Verde, an island country consisting of 10 volcanic islands, with an arid and semi-arid climate, periods of short and erratic rains and localized in the Sahel area of the western coast of Africa. Because of the drought that lasts almost all year, centenarians resilience techniques are used by families who grow in tiny pieces of land to produce some food for survival.
Difficulties such as lack of water, the near impossibility of investing in agriculture and the lack of technical knowledge mean that the majority of these farmers hardly use reassuring practices for planting and for health.
Opposed to that rural and environmental reality in Cape Verde, there is located, in the island of Santiago between the Capital Praia with 131 000 inhabitants and the municipality of Ribeira Grande of Santiago with 21 000 inhabitants, a different project that was launched nearly six years ago, by Caritas Cape Verde that combines the principles of the solidarity economy and agroecology. This project is called “Sítio Agro-ecologico de João Varela“.
This project has attracted the interest of partners such as the Ministry of Rural Development and FAO in Cape Verde, and obtained the honorable mention of the 2013 Green Project Award. The project includes actions such as reforestation, organic farming, self-sufficiency and food security. This culminates with learning, socialization, solidarity, sustainability, food security and well-being.
There is a fence around the twenty hectares of Agro-ecological João Varela Site. In 2010, there were a series of investments: two large cisterns to capture rainwater with a storage capacity of more than 600 cubic meters, a reservoir of 100 cubic meters for the storage of water for field irrigation by gravity, a well-equipped water pump to pump water more than 130 m deep, nurseries, a place for animals outside the building which includes a store to keep the stock, another one for food transformation (not yet fitted), a house and the office. More than 2.5 hectares have been developed for irrigated agriculture.
The greatest extension of land was prepared for the agro-forest. Thousands of plants from more than 30 species have been introduced on the site so that they can gradually replace the american acacia (which has become an invasive species). Thus, the local flora is diverse and will complement the site’s ecosystem. There are nurseries for plants of different species, as well as vegetables and herbs to be subsequently planted in the field. Trees such as the moringa, the papaya, plants adapted to the dry climate, ornamental plants, passion fruit, among others, are there. The closed section for animals completes the site. Thus hens, ducks, goats and cows produce eggs and milk and also provide material for composting, which is useful for planting.
Irrigated agriculture contributes to the sustainability of the project. There are 20 plots of land of 1 000 meters each with the drip irrigation system. Farmers are five men and five women aged 20-47 years, of which two are leaders and project coordinators at local level. Some had no experience in agriculture and even less at the level of agro-ecological techniques. Training has been organised in the field of agro-ecology on the responsible use of natural resources, respect for the environment, resilience techniques, irrigation systems, organic farming, recycling, green fertilizing and composting of bio-fertilizers, rotation of crops, species diversification, agro-forest systems and biodiversity.
The sale of products from the site is made in a simplified way: 70% of food products are sold directly or from business to consumer, bringing income to farmers and contributing to the payment of part of the costs of water and energy (the latter is very high because it is conventional) of each sale, 10% is used to pay for marketing costs (bags, diesel, labels) the remaining 30% of production is destined for consumption of each family and some donations, this result directly from the principle of economic solidarity and social commitment.
Many friends and people who know the project make their purchases directly from farmers because they recognize the product quality and an important factor is that prices are stable throughout the year, unlike what happens in all municipal markets. However, the main source of revenue comes from online sales.
The online marketing system began in May 2014, following participation in the Cape Verde Agribusiness International Fair. On this occasion, was launched the CV Orgânicos brand, for the marketing of fresh and processed products made from Sítio agro-ecological. A mailing of persons interested in the acquisition of the products has been established and every week a list of products is sent to each one (there are currently 400 potential customers) and the customer has two days to place an order. The list of food is supplied by farmers according to the availability for the week. After receiving all the orders, these are entered on an Excel spreadsheet and the total of each product is forwarded to farmers who bring in the products the next morning, so that the basket for each customer is prepared. On average, 50 baskets are prepared every week. The orders are available in Wednesday afternoons at the Caritas headquarters.
Payment to farmers is made each month, referring to the contribution of each month based on sales. The information is provided by themselves.
Significant improvements have been noted in the lives of farmers and of their families since they have been part of the project. Customers are satisfied with the quality of the products and are pleased to be able to find organic food in Cape Verde. Caritas continues to promote organic farming, contributing to the recovery of the natural ecosystem and ensuring the future of families and of Cape Verde.