Por 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. CAP hired just under 50 University students in Rondônia to assist with farmer interviews in the region. Many of the students had family members farming or managing cattle ranches in the region, and had a personal interest in the results of the project. The students surveyed households in three study regions within the state: Ariquemes, Ouro Preto d’Oeste, and Rolim de Moura. This profile is based on an interview with Fernando Húngaro Lemes Gonçalves, the supervisor in the Ariquemes area.
Born and raised in Rondônia, Fernando loves adventure. He is pursuing a Masters in Management in the city of Porto Velho to learn how to help small, family-run businesses thrive in Brazilian cities. CAP gave him a chance to experience research firsthand. Studying farming families in his home state complemented his concern for urban family livelihoods across the country.
The most difficult part of the project, in Fernando’s eyes, was keeping the student interviewers motivated and excited about the project. In Ariquemes, many of the farm owners resided in the city, with only hired farm managers on site if anyone at all. This made tracking down landowners to complete the interviews difficult. The students in Ariquemes worried over their low survey counts and complained about immense travel times for no results. “We talk to them, calm them down, say we understand it is difficult that people were not there and we were not expecting [it]. This is research,” Fernando explained.
CAP is important to Fernando because he thinks Brazilians, at least in Rondônia, do not have a very strong concern for the environment. “When people could get involved they don’t,” he said, in “political ways, social ways,” or otherwise. Partly this is because families prioritize their immediate needs and a few luxuries - new cars, TV’s, nicer furniture and appliances - items that people in the industrialized West have. While most families had some form of internet and computer access, most of the Brazilian students had never seen a tablet before. Fernando sees environmental concerns as coming in second to raising the standard of living for many rural families. In contrast, CAP inspired him, as he witnessed “a lot of people engaged in [...] something they believe in.” The experience gave him hope for the future and an example of effective research.