case studies banner
case studies


Seeking to Promote Agroecology in Communities of Small Landholders in Paragominas, Brazil
Overview In Paragominas, Brazil, deforestation continues to occur, large landholders are slowly shifting from ranching to production of soybeans, corn and rice, and small landholders often abandon their land. Agroecology may provide a more sustainable environmental, social and economic future for the region. This case study explores the potential for establishing agroecological principles in one community of small landholders.
Scale Community and house-hold level.
Location Paragominas, Para, Brazil (2.55°S, - 47.35°W)
Elevation Sea-level(0 m)
Climate Tropical rainforest (Af, Am)
Agricultural Region Rudimental Sedentary Cultivation (D)
Population Density 1-10 persons / square kilometer.
Principal Crops The principal crops listed include crops that are native to the region and/or have the potential to grow well in this environment, these crops are not, however, presently grown in the area. Cacao (Theobroma cacao), Caju (Malvaceae), Pineapple (Bromeliaceae ananas), Black Pepper, Beans, Lentils, Banana (Musa ), Tapereba (Portuguese name), Cupuacu (Theobroama), Manioc (Manihot esculenta).
Domestic Animals Cattle, pigs, chickens.
Soils Oxisol: orthox (O1).
Natural Vegetation Broadleaf evergreen trees (B).
Ecoregion Rainforest Province (Tr3). Constantly humid, broadleaf evergreen forest.
Basic Principles addressed The proposed application of agroecology would seek to: Use Renewable Resources, Conserve Resources, Manage Ecological Relationships, Adjust to Local Environments, Diversify, Empower People, Manage Whole Systems, Value Health
Page Author and Date Carolina Balazs, 2001



The Caipi Community is located approximately 50 km from the town of Paragominas, in the state of Para, Brazil. From the 1970s until 1996, Caipi's current location was deforested and used for cattle ranching purposes. In the mid 1990s, a group of landless people from the Movemento Sem Terra (MST), or the Movement of Landless People, began squatting ("illegally" living) on the land. As part of the agrarian reform policies, in 1996, The National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) purchased this land from the current owner and allowed the "landless" community to formally settle on the land. While these people now live on the land, they are not fee-simple absolute owners; INCRA still holds a certain level of jurisdiction over the land. Today there are roughly 60-100 families living in this community. Presently, the majority of these families implement subsistence agriculture on individual parcels of land. The typical crops planted are manioc and bananas. While the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Supply (EMBRAPA) offered Caipi members subsidies for planting a diverse array of fruit and vegetable crops (see principal crops), this effort has achieved limited success. Presently only one community member (the current president) has diversified his agricultural system. What I propose below is to implement agroecological farming systems at a community level. The ideas presented have the potential to be implemented with the dedication of the community, EMBRAPA, the MST and local NGOs.

lessons learned

The lessons learned can be divided into:

1) a brief analysis of the government's program; 2) a discussion of agroecological practices that could be implemented; and 3) a discussion of important factors/limitations to consider.

1) Regardless of EMBRAPA's seemingly beneficial offer to the Caipi community, the crop diversification program has not been readily adopted. This highlights the fragility that "top-down" solutions/policies can have. While the idea of diversifying crops is an excellent idea, I suggest that the program should have incorporated a more participatory element in which the community was an active part of the program design. In addition, as with many development aid projects, the long-term sustainability of this program should have been more carefully considered. For example, although there may have been initial starting capital, seed bank and extension agents, these inputs may no longer be present.

2) There is a great potential for agroecological systems to be established in the Caipi community, as well as in other communities of landless people. To achieve this potential goal, I propose several solutions. First, a more participatory model of community involvement should be developed with the community, EMBRAPA, extension agents and NGOs. Secondly, drawing from the large diversity of native crops that can be planted, I propose that diverse intercropping systems be planted, either under communal or private management. Among other things, implementing such a grassroots level agroecological program would empower the local community members, encourage people to remain on the land and it would improve the nutritional value of people's diet. In addition, if a more long-term use of the land were implemented, this would decrease the need to move to new areas and deforest.

3) One would need to consider the community's potential reluctance to adopt new farming methods/eating habits. Because most of the community members have migrated from other regions of the country (primarily the Northeast), their knowledge of farming is oftentimes limited. While this could pose a potential challenge, this situation also offers the potential to teach them about a sustainable land-use practice that could potentially benefit the individual as well as the community.

principles illustrated

Use Renewable Resources

Dry forest biomass could be used as mulch, manure from domesticated animals could be used as a way to build soil organics.

Conserve Resources

The average annual rainfall in Paraominas is 1750 mm, therefore rainfall offers a natural irrigation mechanism, by planting the diverse array of native crops, there is greater potential for conservation of genetic resources.

Manage Ecological Relationships

The diverse cropping system could help to reestablish nutrient stocks in soils that experienced nutrient loss after deforestation, over time this system would minimize the need for additional deforestation since the agroecosystem would ideally create a sustainable land-use system.

Adjust to Local Environments

This diversified agricultural system would use crops native to the Amazon region, and rely on daily rainfall patterns for irrigation, during the dry season (when rainfall averages < 50mm per month) dry cropping could be implemented.


The system would be a polyculture of native crops, I would also propose that any surplus in crop production be used to establish a niche in the local market that currently imports all its fruits and vegetables from the greater Belem vicinity.

Empower People

By producing food that could be directly consumed or sold people would see direct benefits. This could inspire and encourage the community and help build a stronger sense of connection to the land.

Manage Whole Systems

In the Caipi Community, this system could be managed at a household or community level. If agroecology were implemented on large-landholdings in the greater Paragominas region, this could evolve into management at a landscape level.

Value Health

A more diverse crop base would increase the nutritional value of the community's diet, fight malnutrition, and thereby improve individual health.

More information: 

My interest in this topic stems from field-work in Paragominas, and conclusions I reach in my thesis, "Deforestation and Human Land-Use Dynamics in the Brazilian Amazon: A Case Study Using Remote Sensing and GIS" (Balazs, 2001). Specifically, some large landholders are beginning to plant soybeans, corn and rice.