Merlong Solano Nogueira
Fellow Since 1990
CERMO (Manoel Otavio Center for Popular Rural Education)
This profile was prepared when Merlong Solano Nogueira was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
Piaui is Brazil's poorest state. Most of its inhabitants are small landholders or landless migrant workers, and their inefficient farming practices, along with a lack of cooperative marketing efforts, contribute significantly to its depressed economy. Merlong co-founded CERMO (Manoel Otavio Center for Popular Rural Education) to serve two purposes: 1) to help small farmers with practical farming instruction, thereby increasing their productivity and incomes and 2) to link local farmers' groups that now have little staff, technical knowledge, or marketing leverage, and build their capacity through collaboration.Merlong sees many opportunities for increasing farmer incomes through attention to better crops, better planting methods, and better production techniques. Gatherers of the babacu coconut, for example, now sell the fruit whole to industry middlemen at rock-bottom prices. With just a minimum of processing, the communities could extract and sell the oil, which commands a higher price than the original coconut, and retain the flesh, an excellent feed for pigs and chickens.As another example, CERMO is proving the effectiveness of "irrigation by vase."Farmers bury a porous pot near their passion fruit plants and fill it with water every three days. This allows for the timely and efficient watering of plants in the dry northeastern soil. CERMO is also experimenting with alternative techniques in vegetable gardening, poultry farming, bee keeping, and fruit farming.Efforts to create a state-wide movement of small farmers complement Merlong's farming training programs. The Deliberative Council of CERMO is comprised of representatives of various rural organizations: rural workers' unions, producers' and consumers' associations, town municipalities, and other education centers. CERMO is the first group to bring them all together, thereby ensuring rapid dissemination of Merlong's ideas. More importantly, it provides a necessary institutional foundation for a concerted attack on the causes of centuries of small farmer penury.