Josephina Bacarica directs an agricultural community center in Sao Paulo which promotes directed educational programs to avoid migration to the city.
The New Idea
When Josephina Bacarica was starting her teaching career, her first assignment was at a rural school where she soon learned that her students needed much more than reading and writing. They had nothing, she recalls, and their families suffered from isolation and lacked the most basic information.Even then, Bacarica began thinking how education tailored to reality could help country people's day-to-day living conditions. Rather than an education with city biases, she felt country people needed more specific information, for example, on farming methods, health care and forming cooperatives to enhance results of their efforts. Bacarica has long since quit teaching reading and writing to devote her teaching and organizing skills to rural associations, unions and cooperatives. Her long-term goal is to change public policies that provoke the exodus of Brazil's small farmers to swollen metropolitan areas. Her impact in this area is already starting to be seen. For example, an education proposal of hers has been adopted by decree of the State of Sao Paulo Secretary of Education. It provides that rural schools must be located near public transportation and that primary grade teachers are to discuss Brazil's agricultural issues with their students. In addition, the State Secretary of Agriculture endorses a project to intensively plan and foster small farming along certain river basins. However, Josephina says with mobilization from within the community, such government-instigated projects do not gain farmers' confidence and consequently do not succeed. The challenge there is to build the project through community organization.Meanwhile, she is not waiting around for public awareness and public policies to change. That's a very slow process, and the rural poor need faster solutions to keep them from going to the city. Consequently Bacarica is helping organize agricultural schools and community centers to promote cooperative production and marketing, advanced organic farming techniques and regional rural culture.The work has begun in three regions. The pilot community agricultural center at Mogi das Cruzes offers technical assistance to about 1,000 area residents. Here they teach such things such as crop and livestock cultivation and how to gain access to seed banks. Farmers take their goods to greater Sao Paulo markets -- in bags provided through the town government -- to sell directly to consumers, bypassing middleman costs. Bacarica managed this through accords with companies, banks and industry. She's taking the idea to other communities and finding her enthusiasm for it is contagious.
Migration to cities from the countryside in Brazil has been increasing tremendously in the last 30 years. Lack of information and appropriate technology, among other factors, drive small farmers into the cities in search of a better life. In addition to losing their cultural identity in the urban environment, migrants are absorbed by the labor market and unattended by public and social services.
Cooperation and useful rural education adapted to each community are key tenets of Bacarica's project to create and diffuse agricultural schools and community centers. Rural culture is esteemed in the educational and social programs Bacarica proposes. As small farmers, particularly young people in poor rural areas, begin to value their work, they are less inclined to migrate to cities seeking better opportunities. The centers seek to reinforce the value of small farming and rural culture, while also giving the rural poor educational and technical tools to achieve better living conditions right in their areas.On the other hand, Bacarica also maintains that some of "the seductive things of the city" must be established in rural communities to slow the rural-to-urban migration. Those "seducers" include education, health care and income.
Josephina Bacarica's parents owned a ranch but did not live there, so her first awareness of rural life was as a city-dwelling "patroness." Still, she was sensitive to rural issues from an early age, and her first teaching job at a rural school planted the idea of what would become her life's work. The idea was strengthened through her contact with street kids whose families were dislocated from their rural roots.Her professional history is distinguished and prolific even for someone nearing 60 years of age. It ranges from academic papers and studies in Brazil and abroad to organizing community nursery schools in Rio de Janeiro slums to consulting work for government agencies. Early in her career she began seeking methods and models that worked for other organizations. With that same eagerness to pool ideas and learn from other people's success, Bacarica has contacted other Ashoka associates in related projects and plans a reunion for them to enhance each other's work.