This profile was prepared when Manoel Peixoto was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Bael strengthens the cooperative system at the heart of the rural economy in Ceara, a state in northeast Brazil, through a regional network of communities called “Pe Duro” that are organized under the Foundation of Cooperation and Development (ACOOD). These cooperatives are collectively owned businesses in which the community is involved in every step of the production chain from supply to consumption, and where all profit is distributed equally. Bael’s work both diversifies and reinvigorates rural economies by strengthening the entire production chain that exists within the community cooperative system. ACOOD focuses not only on business success, but also on how cooperative profits can be used to best benefit the community. Poverty and housing shortages in rural areas force many people to work on large farms owned by centuries-old family oligarchies or to leave their communities in search of work in cities. Bael and ACOOD reinforce community cooperatives through family savings programs and credit programs for building new homes or renovating old ones, and by investing in new enterprises such as biofuel production—all of which ultimately helps families stay together and earn better wages. Bael’s strategy works because it is suited to the unique “frontier culture” that exists in northeast Brazil. The Pe Duro network draws on economic and social relationships that have existed between communities for generations but which have never been formally organized. Additionally, due to the arid climate, communities in northeast Brazil have always been isolated from the rest of the country. ACOOD is well suited to the self-reliance and independence needed to survive in this part of the country, and Pe Duro has evolved into the strongest regional coalition that has ever existed in the northeast. Already it has influenced key policy decisions about cooperatives and microcredit in Ceara as well as other nearby states.