Case Studies, Systems Thinking

Brazil’s National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production (PNAPO): A policy and plan that demonstrate the progress that can be made—and reversed—by political will

Disclosure: PNAPO is no longer an operational federal policy in Brazil. This case study was updated in February 2021 to reflect as much, and remains on the Beacons of Hope website as an example of a national policy initiative that drove real progress in promoting agroecology among rural communities.

When it had political support, Brazil’s National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production (PNAPO) was a groundbreaking federal policy that supported sustainable development of rural communities through the adoption of agroecological and organic farming techniques.

The catalyzing moment for the policy was the 2012 “March of the Daisies,” an annual demonstration advocating for the improved rights of rural women. On the list of 150 demands made in 2012 was a request for more land to be distributed for family agriculture. A day after the march, then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff committed to creating a national program on sustainable agriculture to benefit rural communities. PNAPO and its accompanying plan, Brasil Agroecológico (PLANAPO), were the outcome of that promise.

PLANAPO first came into effect between 2013 and 2015, and brought together the private, public, and civil society sectors at many scales across the country. The plan was regarded as a political achievement, having meaningfully engaged stakeholders and encompassing the development of policies related to rural development, food sovereignty, and human rights.

Among other achievements, the first cycle of PLANAPO invested more than €364 million into the agroecological agenda of Brazil, supported 5,300 municipalities to transition their school budgets to purchase products from family farmers, and trained 200,000 farmers in agroecological practices.

PLANAPO’s aims and approaches

The second iteration of PLANAPO was updated for 2016 to 2019. It expanded the scope of the original policy plan and was strategically linked to other food security and nutrition policies coordinated by 10 government ministries. Because of this transdisciplinary approach, PLANAPO was considered central in Brazil’s efforts to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals targets.

The plan included six strategic axes, objectives structured around production, the use and conservation of natural resources, dissemination of knowledge, commercialization and consumption, land and territory, and socio-biodiversity.

This sixth axis relating to socio-biodiversity highlighted the cultural value of family farming and agroecological practices. It also recognized the role that traditional and Indigenous farming systems play in the agroecology movement. PLANAPO aimed to mainstream these values and practices as a way to support the transition towards sustainable food production across Brazil.

These efforts were complemented by the Ecoforte program, one of PLANAPO’s pivotal initiatives. Funded by the Brazilian National Socio and Economic Development Bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Económico e Social, BNDES) and the The Brazilian Bank Foundation (Fundação Banco do Brasil, FBB), Ecoforte provided direct financial support to strengthen agroecology and organic farming networks throughout the country.

As part of PLANAPO, the federal government focused on both conventional and ecological forms of agriculture. Its actions impacted more than a half dozen activity areas, including strengthening family farming, promoting agroecological training, improving access to water production, sourcing seeds suitable for organic production, and supporting the promotion and marketing of organic and agroecological products.

Bolsanaro’s Brazil: Agroecology efforts reversed, on stand still

The second cycle of PNAPO came to an end in 2019. While the policy is still listed on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website, Brazil’s political climate is not favourable to agroecology.

Since assuming office in 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro has reversed and loosened many of the country’s environmental protection policies and institutions. This includes eliminating the National Commission for Agroecology and Organic Production and abolishing CONSEA, a body that was responsible for overseeing Right to Food policies with strong involvement of civil society. This act dismantled many food security and sustainability policies and has undermined progress towards agroecology goals to date. Yet, PLANAPO’s past successes still stand as an example of a transformative federal food policy that benefited thousands of rural farmers and elevated conversations around food security. From its example, other similar initiatives can rise.