Adoniram Sanches Peraci, a 37-year-old agronomist, has worked on rural development projects in Brazil since 1995 and has received Kellogg Foundation backing on several occasions. He is now the general coordinator of the National Program for the Strengthening of Family-Run Agriculture (PRONAF), of the Ministry of Agrarian Development, which embraces 1.4 million families in Brazil. In this interview, Peraci talks a little about his career.
When did you start working in the area of rural development and family-run agriculture?
I am the son of a small farmer. I left my hometown in inland Paraná state to try and get into college in the capital, Curitiba. After working as a waiter and doorman to pay my entrance exam classes, I was accepted at the faculty of agronomy. Ever since that time, I have felt a close connection to the land, to rural development, as my family comes from this area. In my penultimate year at college, I was a trainee with a health program that the Kellogg Foundation had with the university, and I had the opportunity to get to know the Foundation. In my final year, by which point I was working as a trainee in the Vale do Ribeira, the poorest region of Paraná, we prepared an empowerment project in preventative healthcare and food production and sent it to the Kellogg Foundation. After some changes were made, it was approved. With this project, which lasted three years, our work with food security and preventative healthcare improved many of the region’s statistics.
Once the project was completed, how did you continue your work?
Six months after the project ended, the Kellogg Foundation offered me a fellowship to take a Masters degree in Mexico. I spent two years at the College of Postgraduates and wrote my thesis on self-managing organizations and sustainable development, with a case study of the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, where another of the Foundation’s projects was being developed. When I returned to Brazil, I was invited to work in the Department of Rural and Socio-Economic Studies (DESER), a non-governmental organization based in Curitiba that develops agricultural policies.
Could any of the experiences from your time in Mexico be applied in Brazil?
Once I started working for DESER, I introduced a microcredit system in the Vale do Ribeira region using some of what I had learned from the Foundation’s projects in southern Mexico. We managed to secure the backing of the Foundation for a small project. We set up five cooperatives in the Vale do Ribeira. Seeing as banks have limited dealings with the poor, we designed an alternative credit system. We managed to achieve social inclusion within the sphere of financing policies. The experience was brought from Mexico to the Vale do Ribeira, and from there it spread throughout the whole of southern Brazil.
How did you come to be appointed national coordinator of PRONAF?
I worked for DESER and was part of a group that had drawn up the President Lula administration’s food security, micro-financing and food production program. After the 2002 election, the coordinator of DESER, Valter Bianchini, was asked to become national secretary of Family-Run Agriculture, working with the Minister of Agrarian Development. He said: ”I want Adoniram to come with me to head up PRONAF”. Today, I am the deputy secretary of Secretary Bianchini and I am responsible for the general coordination of PRONAF. At PRONAF, in our first harvest year, which runs from July to July, we increased the number of families benefiting from the program from 950,000 to 1.4 million, embracing more than 400,000 extra families. In terms of credit, we increased the amount from 2.2 billion reals to 4.5 billion reals. In two years, we intend to double the number of benefiting families and triple the amount of available resources.
When was PRONAF created?
In 1995. It is a program that the government adopted due to pressure from social movements. It was DESER that set up the structure of PRONAF. But it was the grassroots social movements, the Pastoral Land Commission and other organizations that pushed for its creation. Even hunger strikes were staged at the doors of the Ministry of Finance, an enormous mobilization to secure a program for the support of a small segment of rural Brazil.
You used to work at civil society organizations and now you are with the government. What is the benefit of this background for public life?
In my case, which is also the case of many people I encounter at the ministries in Brasília, the primary benefit is a sensitivity to social problems, given our first-hand experience in environments of poverty and exclusion. The question is how to adjust the machinery of government to take into consideration the existence of this segment and how to understand that we are dealing with a problem of economic development, not just ‘assistentialism’. This is what we’ve discussed at the various Kellogg Foundation forums: poor people are poor for lack of opportunity, not a lack of capacity. By distributing food baskets, you are entirely denying the capacity to be human – although, as an emergency measure, food baskets do have to be distributed. Something else I’ve learned is that work conducted by non-governmental organizations in rural areas, regardless of the quality, is peripheral. We need to classify society’s best practices and turn them into public policy. Now I head up PRONAF and many other people [with experience in the third sector] are in public life. The whole conception that was peripheral is starting to be brought inside the sphere of government policy, whether it is municipal, state or federal.
Could you give an example?
The microcredit system that we implemented in the Vale do Ribeira region, I am now implementing all over northeastern Brazil. The Banco do Nordeste development bank will introduce the same methodology in more than 1,700 municipalities. CREDIAMIGO, the Banco do Nordeste’s credit system for suburbia, will be applied in the countryside, but following the same methodology we have used in the Vale do Ribeira. We are also going to implement this microcredit system in northern Brazil, using the Banco da Amazônia, another regional development bank. And, with the Banco do Brasil, we are going to spend 145 million reals to apply the Vale do Ribeira system in various pockets of poverty around the country – except in the North and Northeast, where this will be performed by the banks I mentioned previously. In Rio Grande do Sul we have already spent 5 million. In the Vale do Ribeira, including some areas of the states of Paraná and São Paulo we have spent 10 million. In Mato Grosso do Sul, in indigenous communities, 7 million. In the Vale do Jequitinhonha region, another 15 million. Therefore, a micro proposal, conducted in the Vale do Ribeira, is being expanded into the Northeast, the North and to some pockets of poverty in other regions.