After nine hours of driving down the Trans Amazonia highway, we reached our first stretch of paved road at the town of Apuí. This small town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest was our destination and point of research for the next week. Surprisingly, the people were not indigenous, although we occasionally passed a reservation on the way there; rather they have all migrated there within the past few decades from various states in Brazil and even from foreign countries. And what exactly are they doing in Apuí? Mostly farming.
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Farming in this area requires deforesting; and almost three-quarters of Amazon deforestation is due to clearing pasture area for cattle farms. My summer internship has been focused around interviewing cattle farmers living in this region, some of whom are part of a relatively recent wave of civil society and private sector interventions to engage beef producers in more sustainable practices. Their objective is usually some combination of assisting farmers in fertilizing the pasture to increase the number of cows consuming grass per hectare and thus reducing the need to deforest more land, more ecosystem preservation and reforestation, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. These various programs are mostly undertaken on a very small scale, and many are still in the pilot phases with the prospect of one day being able to scale up the projects to include more cattle farmers.
Working in collaboration with Brazilian non-profit Imaflora and other master’s students from the Universities of Sao Paulo, Michigan, and Oxford, we are conducting surveys on about fifty farms, located in four different states around the Amazon. Half of the farms are participants in a “sustainability program” and the others are “conventional” farms. The survey inquires about specific farm practices, motivations for joining, and the impact of the program. The data collected will inform a number of academic papers and policy briefs to be written on the topic. I am also interviewing the partner organizations to learn more about the nature of the programs, the challenges, the potential for scaling up, and the role of the government and market forces in such initiatives.
As I wrap up the last few weeks of the internship and begin looking back at the data and reflecting on the experience, I am grateful for this unique learning opportunity to carry out on-field research in program evaluation. The “anthropologist in me” has enjoyed hearing the first-hand experience of farmers and visiting their properties, while the “policy researcher in me” has found reassurance in the fact that with this glimpse into the livelihoods of the farmers, I may be able to inform the direction of current and future sustainability initiatives.
Lora Cirhigiri graduated from Hope College with a degree in International Studies. After completing her degree, she spent three years in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where she co-founded and coordinated a non-profit organization promoting youth leadership development. She is interested in international development policy.