The region of Seridó Potiguar, which suffered a great economic impact with the end of cotton cultivation, had to reinvent itself over the years with other sources of income. Some of the alternatives were the bone makers, the weavers and the clothing industry, more recently, with the sewing workshops in Pró-Sertão. Cotton farming expanded in the second half of the 19th century and became the main economic activity in the arid soil of Seridó. The softwood produced in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte supplied fine fabric factories abroad, until the plague of the weevil insect interrupted this culture.
After decades without cotton production, cotton farming begins to be resumed in Seridó, based on the AgroSertão project, a partnership between Sebrae in Rio Grande do Norte, the Riachuelo Institute, Embrapa Algodão and the municipalities of Acari, Caicó, Carnaúba dos Dantas, Cruzeta, Jardim do Seridó and São José do Seridó. The pilot project for the production of agroecological cotton was started in 2022 with 54 producers from family farming.
Last Friday (26), the first results were celebrated, in a festive event in the Caatinga Grande settlement, in the rural area of São José do Seridó. The ceremony was closely monitored by the president of the State Deliberative Council of Sebrae-RN, Itamar Manso Maciel, and the directors of the institution José Ferreira de Melo Neto (superintendent) and João Hélio Cavalcanti (technician). The action was also attended by the leader of the Guararapes group, Flávio Rocha, and the director of the Riachuelo Institute, Gabriel Rocha Kanner, in addition to mayors and councilors from the region.
“Sebrae is happy with this partnership with the Riachuelo Institute and the city halls. We are in a settlement (Caatinga Grande), where the sewing workshop generates 40 direct jobs. Now cotton production is increasing this income generation in the rural area”, highlighted Itamar Manso.
The superintendent director of Sebrae-RN, Zeca Melo, as he is also known, evaluates the partnership with the group as a great opportunity for local development, which is now being implemented, by revitalizing a culture that was traditional in RN and that was dormant. “The success of the joint work with the sewing workshops already demonstrated that Agrosertão had everything to succeed. Now, we see that this perspective has come to fruition. Dozens of producers are benefiting from this action, and what’s more, Rio Grande do Norte begins a new chapter in the history of the resumption of our white gold, which was once a symbol of strength and now a portrait of business and income generation for small producers. Certainly, this is a solid partnership for the economic future of the state”.
The success of AgroSertão celebrates the beginning of a partnership with Instituto Riachuelo. “Today, Instituto Riachuelo’s projects have already positively impacted 50,000 people in Rio Grande do Norte: seamstresses, rural producers, artisans. We are showing that it is possible to transform the reality of the semi-arid region and northeast of Brazil with employment”, celebrates the director of the Institute, Gabriel Rocha.
With the positive result, the expectation for Sebrae is that, in 2023, AgroSertão will include more farmers. The technical director of Sebrae, João Hélio Cavalcanti, confirmed that a discussion was started with the State Secretariat for Rural Development and Family Agriculture (Sedraf) to expand the actions to serve more than 300 cotton producers.
“This cotton activity today can be something secondary in the income of farmers, but due to the characteristics of the soil, the support we are giving, the desire of a region that already has a culture, we are sure that soon we will have an important hub here. in the Northeast of agroecological cotton, organic cotton, the cotton that the market is looking for”, highlighted João Hélio.
The Sebrae director noted the need for a strategy for the production chain to become sustainable. “It is necessary to produce the cotton, process, generate the thread and the fabric itself. This guarantees the future of cotton cultivation, with the producer even more valued and generates job opportunities. Don’t just wait for big companies to receive this material and process it. And that it be a productive chain linked preferably to the small ones”, said João Hélio.
The researcher at Embrapa Algodão, located in Campina Grande, Marenilson Batista, highlighted that this first harvest will be 30 tons of raw cotton, equivalent to more than 12 tons of cotton lint. This will generate good expectations for the next year.
“This project started with the Riachuelo Institute’s desire to do something with the agricultural sector in the Seridó region. The Institute contacted Embrapa. From there we built the project that consists of periodic training. We created the participatory learning and research unit that has a meeting once a month bringing together farmers from four locations. Embrapa carries out the training and Sebrae enters the advisory process, every 15 days, going out into the field to pass on all the lessons discussed to the farmers”, explains Marenilson.
Agrosertão offers technical support, training, consulting and production flow, generating business and increasing income. “We always think about the aspects of coexistence with the boll weevil and having a certain sale”, highlighted the Embrapa researcher. Currently, farmers are finishing the harvest and processing. The farmer sells the lint and the cottonseed goes back to animal feed. In September, the beneficiaries of the project will have an evaluation meeting and start planning for 2023.
“During this entire training course, we carried out a series of trainings ranging from biofertilizers, soil preparation and conservation, production system, consortium, pest management, post-harvest management, processing, all this flow done with farmers and consultants of Sebrae”, highlighted Marenilson from Embrapa.
“The initiative of Instituto Riachuelo made it possible, after 40 years, for Acari to harvest cotton and, consequently, family farmers to have an additional income. The convergence of leaders, institutions and farmers in the same direction, certainly, greatly favored the success of the enterprise. And let’s move on!”, testified the mayor of Acari, Fernando Bezerra.
Sebrae and Riachuelo Institute partnership promotes production chains in RN
The Riachuelo Institute was created in 2021, with the objective of promoting economic and social development in Rio Grande do Norte, a state where the company began with the vision of the entrepreneur and founder of the group, Nevaldo Rocha. Sebrae soon joined the projects of the Riachuelo Institute, considering other successful experiences already existing with the business group, such as the Pró-Sertão, a 10-year relationship.
“It’s been 10 years since we started the relationship with Pró-Sertão, with the sewing workshops. This relationship has evolved and today we are working in three areas: fashion, handicrafts and agribusiness, with cotton”, highlighted Zeca Melo, superintendent of Sebrae RN, during an event last Friday (26), in São José do Seridó. Sebrae directors welcomed Flávio Rocha, leader of the Riachuelo group, who visited Seridó with his family to witness the success of Pró-Sertão and Agro Sertão.
“There are hundreds of entrepreneurs involved, from cotton producers, artisans from Seridó (only in Embroidery certification, artisans from 12 municipalities are involved) and sewing workshops. It is a successful experience that shows that involving small companies in the production chain is an excellent business for both large and small companies”, observed the Sebrae superintendent.
Recently, Sebrae received an award from the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development, with a project entitled Mais Performance Moda, to support technological development, the culture of data in sewing workshops towards industry 4.0. “We are going to share knowledge and innovation in the workshops to meet the desires of the increasingly demanding and connected consumer”, stressed Zeca Melo, optimistic about the strengthening of Pró-Sertão.
The event in São José do Seridó was remarkable because the municipality is known as the city of “full employment”, where 20% of the population is employed in sewing workshops and, according to Mayor Jackson Dantas, the salaries paid to the seamstresses correspond to twice the of the money that is injected into the municipality’s economy through the salaries of municipal employees.
“Every operation in which Guararapes is involved is successful. Pró-Sertão is not just a Local Productive Arrangement that allows cities in the interior to be contemplated. It transforms the lives of people in the communities where it lives”, highlighted Ricardo Medeiros, deputy mayor of São José and entrepreneur of Pró-Sertão with Grupo C. Medeiros.
In his speech, businessman Flávio Rocha emphasized the strength of the textile industry for job creation. “The textile vocation is the first step towards prosperity, industrialization, economic growth”, said Flávio Rocha, recalling that “when the first steam looms began to give their clumsy beats, 200 years ago, 90% of the inhabitants of the world lived below the poverty line. When the mechanical loom and the sewing machine arrived in Asia, Korea was the poorest country in the world and the virtuous circle started with the textile vocation began to bring other industries with greater added value, such as the electronics and automobile industries. Today, Korea, China and Asia are the references they are”.
With origins in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, Riachuelo is the largest fashion company in the world, with 40,000 employees, spread across 27 states, making it the 15th largest employer in Brazil. Flávio Rocha recalled that each store that Riachuelo opens with 100 employees involves another 500 employees along the supply chain. “We are going to open many new stores and new units in Pró-Sertão”, vibrated Flávio, president of Grupo Guararapes.
The event was also marked by the delivery of citizenship titles from São José to the directors of the Riachuelo Institute, Gabriel Rocha and Marcela Rocha. “When my grandfather Nevaldo Rocha left Caraúbas very young, he went looking for work. He didn’t want to get out of there, he had to get out of there. That’s why Instituto Riachuelo’s mission is to give people the opportunity to generate work in the sertão, so that people have the option of staying in their localities”, Marcela recalled, emotional.
In addition to Pró-Sertão, with the sewing workshops, and AgroSertão, with the production of agroecological cotton, the partnership between Instituto Riachuelo and Sebrae benefits the handicraft chain, in centers located in the municipality of São Gonçalo do Amarante, in the typologies ceramics and straw, and in Seridó, supporting embroiderers in the 12 municipalities that have a geographical indication of embroidery in Caicó.
Producers celebrate the results of agroecological cotton
Producer Vilma Medeiros, from the Umari community, rural area of Caicó, highlighted that AgroSertão provided other improvements to the properties. “I heard over the radio that there was going to be a meeting at the rural union about the resumption of cotton. As I am the granddaughter and daughter of a cotton producer and I harvested cotton, I thought that was fantastic. I invited some people from the community and left the meeting delighted. When I returned, people had no expectations that it would work. But I invited some and we started. Only on my property we harvest twice as much as expected”, Vilma reported.
She celebrates the beginning of consultations with Sebrae. “The project doesn’t just help us with cotton, but pays attention to the property as a whole. Through Sebrae, we are also going to start the genetic improvement of the herd and we have guidelines for the planting of palm. Every 15 days we have a technician inside the property. We learned to produce the biofertilizer that we use on all plants, not just cotton. All our production is organic”, exemplified the woman from Caico.