Brazil with its 190 million inhabitants and its enormous size – 25 times larger than Germany – has areas that are structurally weak; the same is the case in Europe as well. One such “problem area” is the northeastern part of the State of Bahia and its capital Salvador. It is characterized by the stark contrast between the hot, dry back-country (Sertão) and a narrow, fertile coastal strip which used to be a jungle (Floresta Atlantica).
The rapid growth and spread of Bahia’s sugar cane industry had been possible only with the assistance of slave labor from Africa – more than 80% of the population is descendant from slaves. This fact reinforces the prejudice that Brazil’s northeast is backwards and underdeveloped. Long periods of drought make farming and cattle breeding difficult.
More than 60% of the over-40 population cannot read and write; the official monthly minimum wage is about 250 Euro. As late as the 1960’s and 1970’s, hundreds of thousands of people starved to death while the rest of the world took no notice.
Even today this region has a high rate of unemployment. Child mortality rates and malnutrition have improved considerably, however, thanks to state support with the “bolsa da familia”. That is the reason why we have chosen this region for our project.
The map shows how great the distances are:
Bahia itself is about the size of Germany. Várzea is located 300 km (almost 200 miles) northwest of the capital and port city of Salvador. The main highways are completed; however, it still takes an average of 1.5 hours to drive 100 km (a little over 60 miles). A well-developed bus system offers public transportation.