Rural Territorial Sustainable Development and commons self-management: Interinstitutional Dialogue and Transition to Sustainable Livelihoods

Project by Aico Nogueira

This project examines the interinstitutional dialogue within the Brazilian federal structures and local organized civil society around new approaches and interventions aimed at promoting sustainable rural development, in the context of international discussions concerning climate change, the strengthening of family agriculture, and sustainable livelihoods. It seeks to understand the potentials and obstacles related to multilevel governance regarding public policies, especially local self-management of the commons, focusing on the transition towards equitable and sustainable agroecological systems and the effect on food security and sustainable rural development.

The case study chosen is the Sustainable Rural Territories Development Program (PRONAT) and the Vale do Ribeira Territory, an area characterized by environmental and social vulnerability, restrictive environmental laws, and several previous attempts to promote sustainable development. In exploring how civil society and governance institutions at several levels interact to affect rural development, agroecological sustainability, and food security, this research will be attentive to the role of political ideologies and partisan disputes at various levels, and their outcomes in terms of policy and action. Furthermore, it will also examine how programs formulated for this purpose rarely break the state/ market dichotomy in the administration of the commons, preventing the creation of institutions capable of changing traditional sectoral views centered on large-scale production and the consequent strengthening of long-established country's land concentration model. In addition to the neo-institutionalist polity centered, commons and multilevel governance literature, document analysis, interviews, focus groups, and direct observation techniques are also used.


  1. How do political-ideological issues and public authorities' understanding of new development strategies prevent effective interinstitutional dialogue between different levels of governance, which impact negatively the achievement of public policy objectives?
  2. How can better policy design favor the inclusion of a broader spectrum of civil society actors within political debates, as well as reducing the asymmetries between them by facilitating the negotiation and agreement of politically and economically viable projects that foster sustainable development in the region?
  3. How can a better formulation of policies and programs, based on a more efficient interinstitutional dialogue break with the state/ market dichotomy in the administration of the commons, strengthening civil society in this process and helping to overcome traditional sectoral views and the transition to agroecological production systems?

The activities of this project started in November 2019 and the actions described in the research project were developed as scheduled until the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In November and December 2019, Aico carried out the following activities: visits to the study area, the Guapiruvu community in the municipality of Sete Barras, state of São Paulo, Brazil; literature review; improvement of conceptual parameters and documentary research.

In January 2020, the first research period began at York University in Toronto. Initially scheduled for January, February, and March, the work was focused primarily on extensive research on the conceptual aspects related to the participation of local communities living in and around protected areas in sustainable development projects. The research also emphasized important issues, such as the challenge faced by these local communities in converting traditional agricultural production methods to agroecological systems; the importance of the internal structuring of these groups in creating an effective dialogue with the various institutional levels present in these units; and the way in which the absence of official support for these initiatives can lead the existing agency in these groups to subvert the original development objectives.

Research in the Guapiruvu Community

Aico's work in the Guapiruvu community took place firstly with informal conversations followed by semi-structured interviews. Within the community, they were carried out with two different community leaders: the pioneers in the struggle for the adoption of actions aimed at sustainable development in the neighborhood, and with those who defend conventional forms of development. On the level of the other institutions operating in the area, semi-structured interviews were also conducted with representatives of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, INCRA, and with representatives of the Forestry Foundation and the Intervales State Park, respectively at the federal and state levels.

Secondly, the results of the interviews with the community leaders shaped the planning of a focus group carried on with representatives of both groups, in which issues concerning the interinstitutional community dialogue, the existing different cleavages in terms of worldviews, development expectations, and agroecological production were discussed.

Thirdly, information on the agricultural production of the neighborhood was collected and the correlations between the socio-productive aspects and mental models of classification of the individuals within the community with the local institutions could be established.

Fourthly, the connections and the influence of the local community organizations and their agroecological production on the organization of family farming in the city of Sete Barras were analyzed. Likewise, its effects on the establishment of a short alternative circuit for the production, commercialization, and consumption of organic products, which links family farmers in Sete Barras and consumers in large urban centers in the state of São Paulo were also considered.

However, the community survey could not be carried out due to the pandemic travel restrictions.

Designed to be an instrument that measures elements such as local relations of trust, reciprocity and exchanges, common rules and sanctions system, worldviews and internal classification systems, as well as networks and groups connections - elements that classically characterize social capital and agency -, its results will bring more concreteness to the work hypotheses and will allow suggestions for improvements in the implementation of public policies to be better addressed.