Sustainable Favela Network 3rd Annual Meet-Up, Part 7: Fresh Food, Ravengard, and 2021 Proposals

Élida do Nascimento's Inclusion Project in Éden, in the city of São João de Meriti, distributing fresh food to residents. Photo by Élida do Nascimento

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This is the final article in a series covering the events of the 3rd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up of the Sustainable Favela Network, which happened online on November 7, 2020. 

The Sustainable Favela Network (SFN) is a project of Catalytic Communities (CatComm)* with the aim of building solidarity networks, increasing visibility, and developing joint activities that support the expansion of community-based initiatives that strengthen environmental sustainability and social resilience in favelas across the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region. The project began with the 2012 film Favela as a Sustainable Model, followed in 2017 with the mapping of sustainability initiatives in favelas across Rio. In 2018, the program organized local exchanges between eight of the most well-established community programs, followed by the 1st Annual Full-Network Meet-Up, launching the SFN formally on November 10, 2018. In 2019, the program organized another round of exchanges—this time open to all SFN members and to members of the public—in five favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The activities carried out in 2019 culminated in the 2nd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up. In 2020, the SFN’s Working Groups continued to meet—online, due to the coronavirus pandemic—carrying out a range of activities such as rounds of support (rondas afetivas), teach-ins, seminars, fundraising campaigns, a commitment letter for political candidates, and a debate with mayoral candidates. To close the year, the Sustainable Favela Network held its 3rd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up, summarized below and in this series, with the aim of bringing the network together, promoting the mutual strengthening of relationships among socio-environmental organizers, evaluating the SFN’s 2020 activities, and making plans for 2021.

Gardens and Reforestation Working Group

On the afternoon of the Sustainable Favela Network’s 3rd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up, the Gardens and Reforestation Working Group presented the results of their research about how, during the pandemic, fresh, pesticide-free food from family farms arrived in favelas. The research arose from the group’s need to reinvent itself during the pandemic, together with the #TuesdaysWithAutonomy (#TerçasComAutonomia) campaign, which posted videos about group members’ gardens and cultivation spaces on SFN social networks.

Gardens and Reforestation Working Group mapping researchParticipants also discussed how the pandemic changed the structure of meetings and other group activities. Lorena Portela, from the Intelligent Garden project—a facilitator of the discussion and member of the Working Group—said that the fact that everything was online during the pandemic brought the Working Group the ability to “greatly increase the number of meetings.”

This increased participation generated discussion about how pesticide-free food arrives (and doesn’t) in favelas and the challenges of food sovereignty in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and urban peripheries, a topic which prompted the online event ‘Nonpoisoned Food: Privilege or Right?’ The repercussions of the event generated debate in the group about how to facilitate the arrival of natural foods and create bridges with producers and projects that can distribute fresh and organic food to favelas.

Then, a survey emerged to listen to community leaders about the challenges and prospects for continuing food distribution. With a month of research, the Working Group managed to gather 60 responses.

During the Discussion Circle of the Gardens and Reforestation Working Group at the Full-Network Meet-Up, Luiza Melgaço was invited to talk about the mapping work carried out by the Real Food Collective Action, conducted on the platform Agroecology Network. This mapping work aimed to understand how social organizations and mobilizations were bringing food to the population and ensuring that there were no moments of hunger, and to understand the responses from people’s movements in order to guarantee food access at the national level during the pandemic.

“We want real food, we want food without pesticides, without GMOs. We want everyone to be able to access this high-quality food, and we think that the answer is being collectively built by society,” explained Melgaço. The Collective Action research happened from August to October, gathering reports of 23 experiments in Rio de Janeiro, and the results were used as a basis for the construction and articulation of the Gardens and Reforestation Working Group’s questionnaire.

Raisa Bessa, a member of the Gardens and Reforestation Working Group, partially presented the Working Group’s research results. Entitled “Connections between family farms and favelas in Rio de Janeiro,” the study aimed to understand how the food supply in favelas unfolded and how to promote connections between local farmers and community initiatives.

The survey, carried out via form, gathered data for a month and was disseminated and answered by members of the Sustainable Favela Network. Based on the research, it was possible to survey 49 initiatives that work with food collection and distribution in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, with approximately 65% ​​of these initiatives working with the distribution of fresh food—food from conventional agriculture, without pesticides, and/or agroecological. The Working Group was able to perceive, through this survey, that the initiatives are needed, that there is desire for them to continue happening beyond the pandemic, and that 65% of the food comes from cooperatives of family farmers, conventional farmers, and urban and peri-urban farmers.

Presentation of preliminary results of the research "Connections between family farming and favelas in Rio de Janeiro."Of the 49 initiatives, 19 already work with agro-ecological foods. Most of the projects serve 50 to 200 families, and the total amount of food donated between all of the initiatives exceeded 12 tons of agro-ecological food distributed in the city’s favelas. The main challenge the initiatives reported is food transportation and storage. The research results and full analysis will be released in 2021, with digital materials and as a bulletin to be prepared by the Working Group.

The discussion circle included first-person reports from people who work with the distribution of food in favelas. Élida Nascimento, a member of the Gardens and Reforestation Working Group and director of the Inclusion Project, in São João de Meriti, in Greater Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminense region, said that her encouragement of healthy eating in her community arose out of concern about the poor eating habits of the population and the importance of fresh food for their general well-being and health, especially during the pandemic: “We were frightened by the arrival of this disease here. We thought about encouraging healthy and organic food,” she explained.

Nascimento also said that the project and the distribution of fresh food acted to raise awareness even among donors, who generally prefer to donate larger quantities of cheaper, less nutritious food, and that the project encouraged the donation of natural foods, which leads to better health.

Ana Santos. Photo CEM in Serra da Misericórdia 'Favela Without Corona' campaign.In order to dialogue with the results presented, Rosana Mendes, a member of the Working Group who coordinates Harmony and Song: Music and Citizenship in the Pavão Pavãozinho and Cantagalo favelas, despite not being able to attend, sent a message to the group. Mendes also participated in the research and presented her experience in food distribution with Harmonicanto, which serves approximately 75 children and their families. She commented that during the pandemic, the project managed to provide one basket of basic foodstuffs per month for each family. Due to the pandemic, she thought it was important to offer fresh food and, through partnerships, she started to supply organic food baskets and natural foods together with the basic foodstuffs. Mendes’ experience exemplified one of the difficulties encountered and mentioned by the Working Group, which is that of having contact with agro-ecological farming communities. Due to this difficulty, Mendes commented that her project started to purchase conventional fruits and vegetables at some moments.

Nill Santos, from the Association of Assertive Women with Social Commitment (AMAC) in the Baixada Fluminense, said during the conversation that the pandemic, although overwhelming, made people wake up to collective work. AMAC’s service went from 100 families to over 6,000 families served with basic foodstuffs. She said that this service was only possible through a large network of friends. In partnership with the Crioula project, organic food baskets were distributed, introducing new foods and generating a movement to show the community how to make and prepare those foods.

For members of the SFN’s Gardens and Reforestation Working Group, it was unanimous that there was a lot of collective, creative, and sustainable engagement in 2020 to help overcome the terrible health crisis in the favelas, and that healthy eating is a strategy for reducing lethality of the coronavirus in favelas.

Tribute to Ravengard Veloso

Fabiano 'Ravengard' Veloso, wearing a red mask amid pandemic. Photo by: Breno Laerte.

During the Full-Network Meet-Up, participants paid tribute to Ravengard Veloso, a recently deceased Vila Kennedy favela resident and protagonist of the Urban Food Movement in Vila Kennedy—known by its acronym in Portuguese MUDA VK. Veloso had been active in the SFN’s Solid Waste Working Group and Gardens and Reforestation Working Group, and died on October 22, 2020, the day he was scheduled to pose his question in the SFN’s debate with mayoral candidates.

Illustration of Ravengard Veloso with a shirt of his project MUDA.Veloso, loved by all, participated in the Sustainable Favela Network in the fight for a greener and more joyous world. His acquaintances paid him extremely moving tributes, which will help keep his legacy alive: “In all of our environmental education activities [in Vila Kennedy], he was present, either physically or giving support… He is a person that will leave us deeply missing him, but who left his legacy,” said Geiza de Andrade, a Vila Kennedy resident active in the SFN Income Generation and Solid Waste Working Groups.

“He left us, but he left a legacy for the communities… this will be perpetuated for each of the residents, for each of those who had contact with Raven, that generous, calm person,” said Ailton Lopes, a member of the Environmental Education Working Group and Second Secretary of the Trapicheiros Residents’ Association.

As a final tribute, a word cloud was formed by members of the Sustainable Favela Network during the Full-Network Meet-Up, with technology helping to answer the question: “What seed did Raven leave for you to plant?”

Word cloud answering to the question “What seed did Raven leave for you to plant”, condensated during the Sustainable Favela Network 3rd Annual Meet-Up.

Translation of some of the words in the word cloud above: Sustainable, integrated, arts and crafts, dreams, future, star, education, belief, healthy, social, responses, investment, true, professional, inspiration.

Evaluation of the the SFN’s 2020 Actions and Closing of the 3rd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up

The last activity of the day consisted of evaluating the Sustainable Favela Network’s activities over the course of the year. Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities and moderator of the Full-Network Meet-Up, began by presenting the preliminary results of the SFN’s research on 2020, as a basis for planning for 2021. Then, the working groups each had almost an hour to define their priorities for the next year.

Artist Natalia Meléndez Fuentes prepared a visual representation of the SFN’s proposals for 2021 (we recommend clicking on the image for best visualization):

Future perspectives for the actions of the Sustainable Favela Network.

With a focus on “strengthening projects,” “interaction,” “connection,” “education,” “exchange of knowledge,” and similar themes, it became clear through the word cloud of responses to the question “What else do you want to see the SFN do in 2021?” that the main demand is to continue building what the SFN has been creating: a strong, potential-filled socio-environmental community movement in Rio’s favelas.

Word cloud answering to the question 'What else does the SFN want to do in 2021?'

To end this special day—which in 2020 needed to be different, due to the pandemic—it was possible, even if virtually, to share a whole day of learning and activities with different themes and approaches. Williamson also asked all the participants to share a word of desire for the network and the world in 2021, and the cloud below appeared:

Word cloud answering to the question 'share a word of desire for the Network and the world in 2021'

Translation of some of the words in the word cloud above: hope, love, success, unity, citizenship, strengthened, knowledge, dance, connection, together, integration, affection.

As a last activity, the Sustainable Favela Network invited everyone to symbolically plant a seed for for the future. All those present were invited to bring a plant close to their video camera, and SFN mobilizer, Gisele Moura, planted a seed live.

Gisele, SFN co-articulator, planting a seed as one of the last activities of 3rd Annual Meet-Up.To end the Sustainable Favela Network’s day and year with a flourish, there were two artistic appearances at the end of the event. Maria Consuelo Pereira dos Santos recited the song “Progress,” by Roberto Carlos, and read a poem called “Internal Waters” written by Hannah Cavalcanti during the pandemic, which brought a message about fertilization through struggle and tears. Then, Irenaldo Honório da Silva sang his song, “Hope,” with a beautiful message to end 2020’s activities. With much hope, they called for a next year of healing, with even more unity, much struggle, and sustainable achievements for the favelas.

“Hope depends on us
Join our forces in one voice
We are all races in one heart
Pulsing in the chest with all emotion.”

Irenaldo Honório da Silva

This is the final article in a series covering the events of the 3rd Annual Full-Network Meet-Up of the Sustainable Favela Network, which happened online on November 7, 2020. 

*The Sustainable Favela Network and RioOnWatch are both projects of Catalytic Communities (CatComm). The Sustainable Favela Network is supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation Brazil.

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