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Meet MAIS: Change Makers teaching Syntropic Agriculture

No matter what you consume, most likely a farmer took part in the production flow at some point. Farmers face many challenges which are worsening due to climate change. They interact daily with the earth, but who connects with them to ensure that their farmed goods are not degrading the environment? Navigating natural systems is a complex task, so I spoke with MAIS, an organization that offers appropriate guidance for sustainable production through agroforestry.

What is MAIS?

The Agroforestry Movement of Syntropic Inclusion (MAIS) is an organization providing education for farmers. The primary goal of this program is to offer training opportunities for those who cannot afford to pay for education in the implementation and management of biodiverse agroforestry systems.

MAIS, Syntropic Agriculture Education

How does MAIS operate?

Our training program is only possible because of the mobilization of MAIS’ members, which funds the participation of selected farmers in courses of syntropic agriculture at Sítio Semente, owned by Juã Pereira, our biologist partner in Brasilia. Once a farmer has completed the training, and after a period of follow-up, he becomes a new instructor. His property ultimately turns into a new classroom, where additional agroforestry courses will take place.

When and how did MAIS start?

It initially started when Sítio Semente held an edition of its agroforestry introduction course in March 2016, with people of diverse backgrounds coming together from all over the country. Antonio Gomides, now president of the MAIS Association, made a particular difference. He participated as a monitor and brought with him the farmer Martinho Barbosa, from Jaícos (PI). Although he had a leadership role in the underprivileged community where he lives, farmer Martinho couldn’t afford the training.

Antonio Gomides with Ernst Götsch

With Antonio’s support, he learned about agroforestry and was empowered to change his community for the better. This story drew the attention of many participants. Inspired by the course, participants began to discuss ways to help more farmers in need to learn how to implement agroforestry systems. An agroforestry evolution was born.

How do you know which farmers to help?

We assist and promote the training of new agroforestry specialists, focusing on those who already deal with agriculture and cannot afford to pay for it. The choice of benefited farmers also considers the existing leadership role of the individual in his or her community. We try to support the agriculture minorities: small farmers, family farmers, and traditional communities.

What is your mission?

We reconnect man with nature. MAIS’ actions aim to show there is a path of abundance, unity, and love that offers everything we need to live as equal and joyful beings. We believe in a better world through agroforestry.

That sounds wonderful, but I’m sure there are obstacles. Which are the toughest ones you face?

One of the biggest obstacles is the creation of new classrooms in places that are usually far from where the most active members live. Brazil is a large country, and in addition to selecting and taking farmers to an agroforestry course, it is also necessary to ensure the system’s development on the trainer’s own lands.

So how many farmers have you helped to adopt Syntropic Agriculture?

Antônio da Silva, from the ‘Azedos’ community at Santana do Cariri, in the Chapada do Araripe (CE) was the first farmer financed by MAIS after the course in which farmer Martinho participated, giving rise to the movement in 2016. we celebrated the financing of six people. Since then more than 100 farmers, among them indigenous people and Quilombolas, have received scholarships for training in biodiverse agroforestry systems, financed through crowdfunding campaigns.

Are farmers enthusiastic about learning, or not so much?

Each benefited farmer brings with him an incredible life story, which is always about struggle. Observing the transformation by agroforestry in each one’s life is an inspiring experience. They are enthusiastic for a change! Our first benefited farmer was impressed with what he learned. He told us: “Every cent invested in me is a tree planted in Cariri!”, which showed that we were on the right track.

And what about younger people, the new generation?

In 2017 in a village in western Paraná a teenager asked Antonio Gomides to give him a machete as a gift so after the course he would continue working on the agroforestry with the tool. Antonio was amused and agreed in doing so if he was the best student in the class. During the following days, the young man was the first to arrive, carried the most materials, and performed all tasks at his best. At the end of the course, our co-founder had nothing to do but fulfill his promise.

Who are the MAIS members?

MAIS counts 286 members, united as a group of communication and information exchange. Among the first members of MAIS were Antonio Gomides, Ceres Cobra, Isabela Baptista, Camila Andrade, Eric Thompson Lassmann and Pablo de Regino, and soon more people joined. Nowadays, the Florestagroup, which is responsible for the articulation of actions, also includes Pedro Faria Lopes, Murilo de Lima Arantes, João Gilberto Milanez, Nathalia Machado and Armênio Britto.

MAIS Annual Meeting, 2018

What is your goal for the future? What are the next steps?

MAIS’ goal for the future is to strengthen the presence of Syntropic Agriculture as taught by Ernst Götsch in Brazil to create a better future. We want to find a common discourse to transfer this knowledge to the Brazilian people, to family farmers, traditional communities and the academic field. The greatest challenge of the movement from now on is to maintain the focus and the union so that the practices, the principles and the processes of syntropic agriculture can be developed and spread around the world. We want to contribute to this process so that this generation creates a positive transformation for the future ones.

Want to find out more about MAIS, its members and their mission? Follow MAIS on facebook