Local Perspective: Kassia Freire, A Reforesting Farmer
By Cassie Sevigny
The Connections between Water and Rural Production project (CAP) investigates whether and which farmers adapt their production systems when they experience water variability, what adaptations they make, and whether these adaptations reduce income losses when droughts occur. Improved understanding of these feedbacks will inform efforts by government agencies and civil society to help farmers respond to water scarcity. Kassia Freire is one local farmer in Ouro Preto d’Oeste determined to keep her farm productive and maintain her water resources. In July 2019, she invited members of the team to her property to see how she protects her water sources.
We drove past a streambed on the way to her property that was as red, dusty, and dry as the road. Kassia’s streams used to look like that too, only flowing in the wet season. Now Kassia has water year round. To get here, she had to fence off the stream running along her property. This isn’t a common practice - most farmers allow their cattle free access to streams to drink. Cows tend to trample stream banks, which widens streambeds and damages plants. Since Kassia switched to water troughs for her cattle and protected the stream, plants have come back by themselves. The palms and shrubs reduce erosion and evaporation during the dry season so the water can continue flowing. She even fenced off a section of her neighbor’s land that was eroding into the stream. She showed us several springs that came back as a result.
At first, even the oldest farmers thought reforestation and keeping cows out of streams was ridiculous. But “look at your land, it’s dead,” Kassia told them. “You need to bring life again.” Kassia’s mother realized deforestation dried up the water, and from her Kassia learned to protect water by reforestation. “Trees are the solution to everything,” Kassia says. “Trees don’t give me money. Fish, cows, meat give me money. But how are you going to survive without water? How are the cows going to drink without water? How will the fish survive without water? How will the cows survive without trees? They need the shade.” When she shows people how important water is to their farm animals, they change their minds about her ideas. “But they need someone there to show them,” she said, just like she learned from her mother.
Kassia is determined to be that someone to counter the information farmers receive from industry lectures. Companies that sell feed and fertilizer won't benefit from reforestation and water protection, so they’ll never mention those as solutions, she explained. “Two to three years ago at this time I didn’t have water. I would’ve had to buy water for my cows.” So Kassia hopes to use her own property to show farmers and policy-makers that it’s possible to have a successful farm and still protect water. “Life is coming back to this land,” she said, and looking at hers, you believe it. “I have trees, I have water, I have money in my pocket.”