Solving Brazil’s water crisis for a food-secure future

Barbara Ferreira is an industrial engineering student and founder of start-up Starelio, and has served as a Brazilian Youth Ambassador to the UN. In November 2019, she had the opportunity to take her interest in innovation and infrastructure to the Youth Ag Summit, in the hopes of ensuring a more food-secure future for Brazil.

When people think of Brazil, they often think of abundance: we export soya and coffee in droves, and agriculture is a driving force of our economy. People think we have a lot of resources, water and forests. Yet the reality is that over five million people are living in hunger in Brazil.

In many regions, this food insecurity is not just a question of access to food or fertile land, but also an extreme lack of potable water. Brazil has huge water reserves, but much of it is impure, and supplies often corrupted by salt water. The result? Over five million lack access to safe water, and an astounding 25 million people lack proper sanitation, according to

Where does this issue come from? Climate change, for a start. Brazil’s cities are getting hotter and drier; some places have already seen their lakes and rivers disappear. At the same time, we’re a huge country and infrastructure varies. We can’t use the same technologies in Manaus or Bahia as in Rio or Sao Paulo; the local climates, production methods and way of living are all very different. A mega-city like Rio will be trying to mitigate the impact of climate change on an urbanized population, whereas the interior states may have bigger issues with accessing and installing the right technologies at scale. Yet where people don’t have water, all too often, it boils down to the challenge of accessing potable water at local level. We have a lot of solutions already to solve the problems – tanks to accumulate rain water, for example – but they’re not applied extensively. Some of my state’s cities in have lived with water shortages for over five decades.

In my eyes, the biggest problem is that ordinary people don’t think they can change anything: “I’m just one person.” But I believe that my generation is having a bigger impact than any other – we’re very close to these issues, we’ve grown up under the shadow of climate change, and people are starting to see how small attitudes can change the broader situation. There are many great examples of how people are working to effect change in their own communities.

Take Engajamundo: a group of young people who are very active in fighting for the protection of natural resources in the face of climate change. Sharing how biotechnology can solve pressing issues in sectors like health and agriculture, they talk with politicians and get out into the community, going to schools to teach kids how to deal with trash. They’re now present in 18 states in Brazil, reaching 400 cities in under five years! I’m also part of a group of twenty UN Young Ambassadors, each focused on a different SDG. We received training on how Brazil can meet its SDG goals, and each semester we take part in conferences, along with networking and opinion sharing. Our goal is to contribute to solving the problems of the future.

These problems won’t have gone away in five years’ time, but knowledge is changing all the time. Basic biotechnology can do things we don’t expect, and people are starting to realize that we need to act before it’s too late. We need to become better at learning from others, especially when other people may be more specialized. This is what drove me to become part of the Youth Ag Summit community. I want to be around people who really care about what the world needs, not just about the bottom line. Through the AgVocate network, I want to hear how other young people see Brazil, and share how our youth are using innovation to tackle some of our biggest challenges. We need to share what solutions are being used globally to feed our hungry planet. It’s an issue we’re facing not just in my own state, but across the world, and we can all fix it by sharing information. As a young girl who cares about our present and our future, I want to be part of this solution.


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