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The story begins – partnership between Government and GTZ (German technical cooperation)

Date interview: May 24 2016
Name interviewer: Manuela Rosing Agostini
Name interviewee: Fabio Esswein
Position interviewee: Producer and co-founder of Ecocitrus

Social-ecological relations Regional organizations Re-orientation New Organizing Local/regional government Institutional void Identity Expertise Breakthrough Altering institutions

This is a CTP of initiative: RIPESS/ Ecocitrus (Brazil)

The history of Ecocitrus started in this CTP in 1990. Even before the cooperative was formed, a group of rural producers was mobilized in a project called PRORENDA, in a partnership between the government of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul and the German company GTZ to stimulate family farming in Brazil. It was with this project that the producers of the Caí Valley region in Rio Grande do Sul began to organize collectively. This partnership between a foreign private company and the state government allowed a significant advance for the region. We can identify the importance of external incentive in the following reports:  

"I think the work that came through this relationship, from the State Government to GTZ, has added a lot to our region here, so that farmers know how to work in groups" (Ecocitrus VP).  

"It's a tool that made it possible for the farmers here to create a working format so that they can manage their discussions well" (Ecocitrus VP).  

"So that was the first organization. Just as the inputs, the products also started being commercialized. But, again, they were conventional producers. Until at some point, we started working, in search of information, towards more sustainable ways of producing" (Ecocitrus VP).

This last statement shows that producers worked with conventional agriculture, that is, with the use of pesticides. With the PRORENDA project and the organization of the producers for the search of information, a new era began for the producers of the region: working with organic products. Here, we note the presence of socio-ecological relations, since the producers started to worry about the conservation of the environment and about a more sustainable production. This reality is shown in the following statement:  

"It's a different association. This association was connected, within this project of the State Government, to GTZ. There was the institutional link. In this work, this relationship of Harmonicitrus with farmers, they were all conventional producers. There were no organic producers at the time. We managed to get the farmers to organize and think together" (Ecocitrus VP).  

Another important factor that we observe is the creation of an identity in this new group. A portion of the producers that were part of PRORENDA united around a new philosophy of life and production, creating a group identity that led to the later formation of Ecocitrus.  

Even with the support of external actors, it is observed that the change in mentality of other actors in the region was very hard. By the time the producers began to organize and have representation, other local institutions did not accept peacefully, as can be seen in the following statement:    

"And when I took office, one of the main things I wanted to do was to create a council with representatives from all associations and farmer groups in the area, from the municipality. That's where I faced a war against these institutions, the technicians, veterinarians, agronomists and people in other fields that didn't want this to happen. They said farmers couldn't come to the council and talk, that this was a technical thing, and only technicians should talk" (Producer and co-founder of Ecocitrus).  

In the last statement we can observe how this project altered the way the farmers dealt with dominant institutions. Moreover, it is observed that there was a break in the pre-existing dynamic in which producers previously had no voice, and how with this new organization, now can be represented in local institutions.    


For this project to happen the main actors involved were the government of the state of Rio Grande do Sul - the southernmost state of Brazil and German technical cooperation agency GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit). An agreement between these two actors made the PRORENDA project possible, which aimed at "effectively improving the living conditions of families of small rural producers by mobilizing their potential for self-help and a minimum of state intervention" (  

In addition to these two main actors, other local actors were involved in this process, as can be seen in the following statement:  

"The project had a work program that included a Chilean consultant, two or three from Germany, a few from the State Department of Agriculture, two or three technicians working alongside this project - not only here in the Valley, but also in other regions in the state - and also to EMATER, as an agency of assistance to farmers, linked to the government, which had an important role to work with this association and the groups, the farmers, to provide technical assistance" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

This involvement of external actors did not rule out the importance of participation by local ones in this project. In the statement below, we can see the relevance of regional organizations.

"New knowledge to try to solve the bottlenecks that existed there and that still exist today and are not any different from those that existed at that time. This is what the actors were for. What was important, the discussion the project brought forward, was the involvement of the local actors. Local actors represented mainly by municipalities. The municipal governments were the first contact that this group, GTZ and the State Department of Agriculture, made in municipalities for the project to effectively happen. The rural workers’ unions and FETAG in Rio Grande do Sul were also always contacted, and we tried to reach a consensus that the project was important and that everyone should make it happen. It wasn’t easy, of course! The county governments didn’t understand the project at first. Even the rural workers' union, it seemed like they, in my view, thought we were interfering with something they were supposed to do. So there was that conflict of interests that exists in all counties, in all regions, by local political actors" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 

Even with the support of different institutions and the state government, it is clear that, while there was an incentive, the local actors and the mobilization of producers is what made the project really happen and yield results. Without this mobilization, the project would have died. The speech below can show that government support is important to start a project, but it is not the only solution:  

"I think that when we speak of the relationship of government support in our process is one thing that helps, but does not do it for you. It may be a lever, but it ends at some point. If you expect that you need this to start, you never do. So this relationship with the state is a bit complicated. The perception of time for a private entity is very different from the perception of time for a public body. Managing this can be complicated" (Ecocitrus VP).

Related events

1986 - Creation of Harmonicitrus - first association of producers, still conventional, which later gave rise to Ecocitrus. Harmonicitrus had 150 to 200 conventional producers. When producers began to think about a more sustainable process, the group reduced to 14 producers. The process began to be organic in 1993/1994, the year in which the producers began to organize themselves to make Ecocitrus an association.  

1988/89 - beginning of the negotiations for the PRORENDA Project, with a partnership between the State, GTZ and the Harmonicitrus association.  

1991 - beginning of the PRORENDA project.  

1993/1994 - creation of Ecocitrus as an association.  

1997/1998 - Harmonicitrus disintegrates into several small groups of farmers.    


The first major contradiction that was identified in this CTP was the frustrated expectation that was created with the project. When the producers were invited to join the project, they imagined that GTZ would participate as a funder in the region, meaning that it would invest money. In the first few meetings it became clear that the objective of GTZ was very different:  

"When the Germans came here, when GTZ came, the first feeling that came to the people here was that we would have money, that they would bring money for us to build our factory. They came to our meetings and the people kept thinking, 'But what about the Deutschmarks? What about the money? Where is it? How much do we get? How is this going to be?' This was their first frustration, because the Germans didn't come with money. They said, 'The money for you is a result. You don't know how to work with money. You have to learn to work as a group and the money is going to be a result of your work.' We started training ourselves" (Ecocitrus VP).  

In another producer's statement, we can observe the same frustration, which even generated difficulties in keeping producers:  

"The first big problem that we identified at that time, seeing the whole story today, is the farmers' understanding of what this project would be, what this project would bring to the region. What the farmers expected at that time was for GTZ to bring a truckload of cash to implement a juice factory project. When this didn't happen, and the Germans had another idea in mind, which was that the farmers should organize themselves, this created a whole set of difficulties in making the farmers believe in the project. Until that happened, there were numerous meetings and conversations with various municipalities here in the region, so the project really started to do something for the farmers" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 

 Even with the expectations of receiving money not being met, the producers gradually realized the importance of the project for their mobilization and organization. In the following statement we can identify the use of the word "protagonist", which shows the beginning of the changes in dominion in the local institutions.  

"In some municipalities the project was going okay. In others not so much, because of a lack of understanding. I believe it was a battle for it to be implemented and understood, not as interference in local politics, but to improve the situation of the family farmers, the citrus farmers of the region. This understanding was always difficult. This consensus, of what the project really wanted, was difficult. There was always the impression that the Germans would bring money for us. They didn't. So, what did they want here? Here, in these training sessions, the farmers were protagonists. They took it upon themselves to make their own policies of production and organization. There was much political struggle, with parties and everything." (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

Even with all the advances that have been observed, one of the producers tells us that today, in 2016, the problems continue to happen. Much of the mobilization that was carried out was lost. This may be due to the profile adopted in the association and the divergences that have continued to occur with local institutions and policies.  

"I think there are ups and downs. And like I said, it depends on the state and municipal political actors and everything. I see a major setback now. We already had an organization, a very strong work with the farmers, with the institutions, but it's not happening today. Nearly all municipalities are practically stalled and if they do work they work very poorly, so there has been a setback. It's our fault, but also the farmers didn't organize themselves or forgot what they should be doing" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  


In this CTP it can be observed that a small group of producers believed in organic production. The vast majority of producers did not believe in this new reality presented to them. Even with all the difficulties of starting a new production philosophy, the group that later formed Ecocitrus anticipated a new reality and invested time and dedication in this new area, which today has a market and a significant source of income for the region. However, this group faced many challenges, the biggest of which was the lack of information to the local community, who saw them as "crazy". In the following statement we can identify these factors:  

"In organic production, for example, today here in the region we are known nationally, abroad, within the state, but for farmers, institutions and local politicians it's still a taboo, something that's not normal. We're abnormal, we're crazy people and we don't work as we're told to work when it comes to production, commercialization and the non-use of pesticides. We're seen as the 'ugly ducklings', like in the kid's story. These are conflicts that existed then and exist now and that haven't been overcome and will never be. I believe this will always happen" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

Even though today Ecocitrus is recognized for the excellence of its products and for the economic growth of a cooperative, one of the founding partners issued an important warning about the principles of the cooperative. In his opinion, many things are being lost and the initial dreams of the project are no longer being followed. This may be a current anticipation of future events.  

"What we wanted at the beginning and how we evolved in terms of organization, of Ecocitrus as an institution, has changed over time and some people like me still have the same idea, the goal of making a different agriculture, have different relationships between farmers and everything else. But I see that the world has changed and we have become somewhat out of step. I think it's normal, with the new generations coming. We have been working on this project for 30 years, with Ecocitrus for 21 years. I see there is a setback in the region and Ecocitrus. People have been forgetting some basic and important things that should be taken up again" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).


When questioned about the positive impacts of this CTP on the history of Ecocitrus, the interviewee guarantees that the benefits were not only for producers, but for the whole region:

"Certainly. Not only for Ecocitrus, but for the whole region here in the Caí Valley, where citriculture is one of the main activities. For small farmers, it was very important because of this partnership between the State, GTZ and Harmonicitrus, a whole organization of farmers emerged, a whole new work mindset where farmers should be the protagonists, and they took upon themselves to organize effectively" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

One of the topics that came up very strongly in this CTP is the mobilization that this project made possible to local producers, who started to have more tools to reach their objectives.  

"On the other hand, farmers began to build up the courage to express their ideas, to make sure their claims were put into practice. I believe this has been a great gain for the region. There is a whole history, to this day, there's a different scenario today, but which led to a different situation for the farmers with respect to dealing with the political leaders of the region" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).

 Something else that became evident is the need to seek more training for producers. Those who had the skills in the 90s follow strong principles of agroecology and cooperativism, but many new members were incorporated and did not go through the same process. One of the interviewees is concerned about the future and with the next generations.

 "This is also the result of a process we're going through today. It's a hard process, because we got into many difficult situations, with high investments at the same time. Two large projects. And we're having a hard time getting this project to yield results and everything. It's a difficult time, time to discuss the important things, which are fundamental to a process like this. We're only discussing our survival, that's a problem. I believe I've overcome this phase. We're trying to make it happen. Something has to happen when it comes to training farmers because there's been a very big change. Out of the 14, 6 or 7 stuck around, then another 30, 40 new ones came in and weren't trained the same way - although we did have a qualification process, it was different from the beginning of the project. It's difficult for people to understand. It's difficult to carry forward our basic principles of agricology and everything else "  

One of the important points that we find in this CTP refers to institutional voids. We understand that an institutional void occurs when institutions that should occupy a certain space or promote a particular activity do not fulfill the role that is expected of them. In this case we see a void in what concerns the supply and incentive to the production of organic foods. The regulatory immaturity in Brazil brings in a lot of difficulties for small producers to invest in this kind of more sustainable production. In addition, there is a lack of public policy to encourage family farming. This project had the primary incentive of a foreign institution, which could subsequently have been increased by local institutions. However, the lack of information and encouragement caused many farmers to migrate back to conventional agriculture, as can be seen in the following statement.  

 "It is possible for farmers to do different things different from what they did back then and not be totally at the mercy of all the institutions and organizations that existed at the time for other work that could have made much more progress here in the region. We laid out Ecocitrus for all the farmers. We made a campaign, we went from town to town, discussing, putting our factory at disposal so that they had their own production of essential oils and juices. This didn’t happen, even though we had made a whole transparent process of discussion about how we were going to work. Very little happened. We formed another cooperative that is doing a little bit of work with us, but we could be making much of the production of the region for the farmers, for them to have the final product, to commercialize it and to be on another level - not only to be suppliers of raw materials. One can say that this is something that could have been different and didn’t happen, because of lack of understanding and everything. I know it's a difficult process. In 20 years, as technicians and farmers, we think that evolution has to happen, but we know it’s not so easy. We think we can change something, make things happen. Getting to the end is a bit difficult, we also have to see our limitations and the time it takes to have a change and do something different."    

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