Born in the state of Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil, José Ferreira da Silva Neto, nicknamed Zé, worked for over 18 years in construction without giving up his dream of returning to his agricultural roots. Eventually, in 1988, Ze, his wife Carmelita and their 3 young kids came a step closer to achieving this dream when they moved into what is now known as the Eco-farm.
In various attempts to improve their household income Ze experimented with coffee and inhame (a root vegetable) growing and cattle farming but had little or no success. To cover household expenses the farm relied on banana growing and whatever building work Ze could pick up on the side.
In 1998 shortly after birth of his fourth child Jonatan (pictured here with Ze) the farm suffered its very own Financial Crisis – the banana buyers simply disappeared and with them the income on which the family of six depended. Ze had to leave the farm and find work in São Paulo. Over the next two difficult years Ze tried to find a way to make the farm work – organic fertilisers, traditional methods of soil recuperation, and producing fruit conserves amongst other things.
After seeing at first hand the agro-forestry system in action on a visit to a farm in the state of São Paulo Zé was inspired to take his farm in a new direction. He began his ecological farming project in an attempt to make the farm self-sustainable, environmentally friendly and, to his mind most importantly, to achieve quality of life for his family.
When he began the project the farm’s income covered only 18% of the household’s expenses. Within a year this rose to 32%. By 2002 they were producing 48% of what they needed on the farm. This hit 61% in 2003 and 82% in 2004. From 2005 the farm became fully 100% self-sufficient and Zé had achieved his goal of greater financial security and quality of life for his family.
Since then Zé and his family have been sharing their knowledge and experiences with other farmers and university students of forestry and agriculture from around the country.