March 1, 2011 | by Jay Walljasper
For Saulo Araujo, the commons idea of open source extends far beyond software, beyond even the Internet itself all the way to villages in northeastern of Brazil.
Trained as an agronomist, Araujo’s work with the impoverished farmers there convinced him that clean drinking water was as important to region’s future as better agricultural practices. That’s how he got involved with the One Million Cisterns Project , a self-help movement that disseminates information about how to build better cisterns for storing rainwater and pushes for new policies to support this kind of grassroots sustainable development for water resources.
The project was conceived by Manuel Apolônio de Carvalho, a laborer from Northeast Brazil who moved to Sao Paulo and realized the construction techniques used to build rich families’ swimming pools could also be applied to poor families’ cisterns. He returned home and with the help of agro-ecology organizations perfected a building technique using curved cinder blocks that greatly reduced leakage of water from the underground cisterns. Grassroots organizations including the “Coalition of Rural Workers’ Organizations”:http://www.grassrootsonline.org/where-we-work/brazil/pólo-sindical began teaching villagers how to build the cisterns—a campaign that was later joined by the Brazilian government. More than 300,000 new cisterns have already been built.
“This is a commons project in two ways,” Araujo explains. “First, the information to build the cisterns is available to everyone—like open source, right? And, second, water itself is a commons to be shared.”
Araujo’s work eventually took him to Boston, where he is Program Coordinator for Latin America at Grassroots International, a human rights and international development organization that supports community-led sustainable development projects. He’s also involved with two local groups that take a commons approach to social problems.
The Food Project— An initiative that creates community gardens on vacant lots tended by young people, with the nutritious food distributed to low-income communities through a Community Supported Agriculture program, farmers’ markets and donations to food shelves
Alternatives for Community & Environment —An environmental justice organization working in communities of color to challenge contamination of air and land and to train young people to work on these issues.
“When I was working as an agronomist,” Araujo notes, “I realized that people need more than access to new technology—it’s important to promote social justice and protect the commons: food, water, soil, seeds.”
Araujo will speak about his work with the Food Project as part of OTC’s commons convergence March 4 at the First Church of Jamaica Plan Unitarian Universalist, 6 Elliot Street.