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Sustainable Rural Development in Micro-watersheds

The Sustainable Rural Development Program in Micro-watersheds of the State of Rio de Janeiro – Rio Rural – has the challenge to improve life quality in the rural area, combining income generation and conservation of natural resources. To achieve this goal, the Program has developed a strategy of action that uses micro-watershed as a planning and intervention approach, involving the communities living in these geographical areas.

Implemented by the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Supplying of the State of Rio de Janeiro, through its Sustainable Development Superintendence, with US$39.5 million finance of the World Bank, Rio Rural encourages adoption of sustainable practices in 270 micro-watersheds, using efficiently and environmentally more appropriate techniques. It thereby contributes to reduce threats to biodiversity and to increase carbon stocks in the agricultural landscape, as well as to the reversing of land degradation in ecosystems of global importance of the Atlantic Forest.

Rio Rural sees the farmer as a protagonist in the development process. Therefore, the Program promotes community participation in the public policies, as well as in management of natural resources, involving 37.000 family farmers, seeking to raise awareness and accession to sustainable practices. On the other hand, it supports the searching of alternatives to compensate farming families for the limited use of natural resources imposed by conservation policies.

With the expected expansion of the financial support from 2012, the program will be able to benefit 300 thousand inhabitants of 470 micro-watersheds of the State of Rio de Janeiro by improving their living conditions and infrastructure, recovering the environment, increasing income, promoting greater market integration and, especially, creating new life perspective for their families and future generations.

The program also benefits people living in urban centers and in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro by the increase of food and water supply and decrease of pressure for jobs, housing and healthcare.

Finally, the program also benefits the global population, by the protection of Atlantic Forest rich biodiversity and the immobilization of greenhouse gases.

For its broad intersectoral approach, Rio Rural is also a potential recipient of investments in areas such as health, education, tourism, employment, energy, transport and in particular, environment, seeking to enhance resource opportunities for sustainable rural development in Rio de Janeiro.

Concept of Micro-watersheds
In a geographical approach, a micro-watershed is an area bounded by a drainage system (formed by streams) which flows into a main river. Thus, a micro-watershed can be defined as a “small watershed”.

The main differential is that the micro-watersheds methodology is associated with the implementation of sustainable development programs, directly involving and benefiting rural communities.

Micro-watersheds Methodology
The micro-watersheds methodology, which was originated and has been improved in Brazil in the last 30 years, seeks to empower rural communities to self-management of the natural resources through the adoption of sustainable practices. The awareness that the man depends on the environment to survive is essential and permeates every activity in micro-watersheds projects.

One of the reasons for using micro-watersheds methodology as a planning and intervention approach is the difficulty of planning in big areas such as watersheds, with all its complexity and many socioeconomic and environmental factors. The micro-watersheds programs have been developed to overcome this difficulty and to solve the increasing soil degradation and low conservation of rivers, the main natural resource in rural areas.

Soil and water conservation practices, undertaken by the Rio Rural make the micro-watersheds methodology a valuable environmental tool, increasing its opportunities to be adopted by non-agricultural organizations and projects.

Principles of the micro-watersheds methodology

The community participates of decisions and further activities

The community has access to information about investments

Organizational strengthening
The organizations are encouraged to professionalize

balance between social, economic and environmental dimensions


The micro-watersheds methodology requires the participation of family farmers and other residents of the rural communities, organized in interest groups. Each group chooses its representatives to form the Micro-watershed Management Committee, which becomes responsible to lead local actions for the sustainable rural development.

The members of the committees elaborate a participatory diagnosis of the main demands and potentials of the micro-watersheds, together with the local actors. From this first document are prepared the development work plans for the micro-watersheds, containing the actions that will be performed.