Friday, January 15, 2010

BRAZIL: Solidarity Economy Thriving

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO Jan 15 (IPS) - The initiatives were already
there in the form of cooperatives and a variety of related
activities. But they have a new connectedness thanks to the
growing solidarity economy which has opened up new horizons for
alternative forms of production and social relations.

The Fio Nobre Cooperative founded 15 years ago by Idalina Boni
evolved from craftsmaking to textiles and now produces shirts
blouses t-shirts skirts pants shorts dresses and handbags
as well as accessories like necklaces in Itajaí a port city in
the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

Once Fio Nobre reached a certain quality level thanks in part
to a fashion designer it began to export its products. The
cooperative already has contacts in Italy and France and in
February Boni will travel to Spain to market its goods.

Before setting up Fio Nobre Boni was active for years in
rural community health and human rights movements based on her
belief in liberation theology a progressive current in the
Catholic Church that works to empower the poor.

When youre young you think you can change the world she
told IPS.

But unemployment forced her to come up with a project that
could bring in an income on which to survive while she continued
her efforts to at least improve the world she said.

That gave rise to Fio Nobre and the organisation of an organic
clothing production chain stretching from cotton farming to the
final sale under the Justa Trama brand name.

A number of other collective initiatives based on cooperation
and self-management and free of the employer-employee
relationship have networked at the World Social Forum whose
annual editions were held in 2001 2002 2003 and 2005 in the
southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre where it first emerged.

The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) emerged at the
2003 WSF which coincided with the start of the government of
leftwing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who established a
National Secretary of the Solidarity Economy (SENAES) under the
Labour Ministry.

The movement in Brazil differs from those of other countries
because it combines three dimensions said FBES executive
secretary Daniel Tygel. Besides the economic aspect which
comprises self-management and the creation of cooperatives and
networks it includes a cultural dimension related to
consumption gender relations and areas like free software as
well as a policy of social transformation.

In the long term we want to change the model of production
and the direction of development towards a model that is not
harmful to life said Tygel.

Brazils solidarity economy ranges from agricultural
production which accounts for 60 percent of the groups linked
by the FBES to crafts apparel microcredit cooperatives
bankrupt companies that have been salvaged by workers
cooperatives community church projects and university incubators
of solidarity businesses.

Although the solidarity economy currently represents a paltry
share of the national economy as Tygel acknowledged it is
growing fast despite the scant government resources dedicated to
supporting its development.

But although SENAES has a tiny budget cooperatives and related
initiatives also receive financial support from the ministries
of Agricultural Development Social Development and others.

Forging connections between the numerous and varied small local
initiatives and making headway in terms of marketing and sales
are the big challenges facing the solidarity economy.

But there are successful examples of integrated production
chains and networks like Justa Trama in which the need to
secure raw materials produced under the same shared principles -
of horizontal labour relations and environmental sustainability -
brought together several textile cooperatives and an association
of more than 700 cotton farmers.

Justa Trama and the solidarity economy movement fuelled the
quantity and especially the quality of Fio Nobres production
said Idalina Boni. The cooperatives output climbed from 1.5 tons
in 2005 to eight tons in 2008.

The production chain runs from the ecological cotton grown by
family farmers in nine municipalities in the northeastern state
of Ceará through a textile cooperative that makes yarn and
fabrics in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais to three
garment-making cooperatives in the south.

Buttons collars and other components meanwhile are made from
seeds gathered by members of another cooperative in the Amazon
jungle state of Rondonia.

The biggest hurdles faced by organic farming cooperatives are
marketing and selling their products.

In the northeast Brazils poorest and driest region the Xique
Xique network of community-focused and solidarity-based
marketing which takes its name from a local cactus facilitates
the marketing of products by family farmers in the state of Rio
Grande do Norte organised in hundreds of groups which make up
nine larger cooperatives.

Agroecology womens rights and empowerment and the solidarity
economy are the three main focuses of the fast-growing
network which links production and trade said Viviana Mesquita
a local technical assistant with SENAES.

Women have a greater vocation for the solidarity economy but
their strong presence in Xique Xique is also due to the local
activity of the World March of Women said the activist a
sociologist who has been active in the community organising and
environmental movements. (FIN/2010)

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