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The need for environmental extension education in facilitating sustainability of pig and poultry industries in Santa Catarina State, Brazil

Airton Spies1, Carlise I.S. Spies2, Shankariah Chamala1, Malcolm Wegener1 and Robert Beeton3

1The University of Queensland, NRSM, St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, QLD 4072
The University of Queensland, Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072
3 The University of Queensland, NRSM, Gatton Campus, Gatton, QLD 4343


This paper reports stakeholders’ views of the need of environmental extension education in driving the pig and poultry industries in Santa Catarina, Brazil, to a sustainable future. Since the 1980s, these important industries have undergone major changes, with rapid growth in size and scale, but with fewer producers. This geographical concentration has strong negative impacts on the natural environment, particularly because of water, air and soil pollution from animal waste. In most of the area where production takes place, the amount of waste produced is far beyond the sustainable assimilation capacity of the environment.

This study conducted in Santa Catarina, presents pig and poultry industry stakeholders' views on issues and principles for the sustainability. Among other important issues such as environmental regulation and governmental support for the industries, stakeholders consider that environmental education is the key way to achieve better waste management. This needs to be provided by an environmental extension education strategy, which can reach the target population, such as farmers, meat companies, transporters, rural extension agents and scientists. The sustainability issues are becoming paramount for the pig and poultry industries' future, as community reaction and outrage, as well as restrictions to access markets are likely to increase.

Neither governmental extension services, nor the technical advice provided by the meat companies, are focusing sufficiently on environmental issues. Environmental education strategies are reviewed to understand why producers do not adopt certain sustainable production practices.


Environmental management and cleaner production are rapidly becoming key issues in economics, trading and business competitiveness (Hale, 1996). Sustainability embraces the protection of the environment, taking into account social progress for everyone, prudent use of natural resources, and the maintenance of high economic growth and employment (Scott, 2001 p.3).

In Santa Catarina State (SC), Brazil, the pig and poultry industries are export oriented, and therefore need to improve their environmental management to meet Word Best Environmental Practice (WBPEM) standards. Intensive animal production ranks highly in terms of environmental concerns in SC. The large amount of waste produced by piggeries, beef feedlots, poultry and dairy farms, is not adequately treated, and is contaminating the soil, water and air in the surrounding environment (Talamini, 2000). As the adverse effects frequently extend beyond the farm boundary into the general community, conflicts between production and other interests are common.

General agricultural extension approaches in SC by the public and private providers broadly include activities relating to technology transfer, education, attitude change, human resource development, and dissemination and collection of information as well as interpreting science for farmers. Little or no emphasis is given to environmental education (Tassinari, 2001; Pagani da Silva, 2000; Talamini & Pagani da Silva, 2000).

As defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability, or sustainable development, means "providing for current needs without jeopardising the ability of future generations to provide for their needs" (WCED, 1987). Brazil’s population has changed rapidly. From a majority rural population (up to the 70% in the 1940s), it is now 82% urban and only 18% rural (IBGE, 1997). This means that farmers are now under more pressure regarding the way they use and deal with the natural environment. There is need for a general review of agricultural, health, and environmental extension strategies to incorporate the broader community’s interest. This requires change in philosophy and the use of modern methods in extension programmes, such as environmental education.

India was one of the first countries in the world to make control and prevention of the environmental pollution a constitutional obligation (Chauhan & Suri, 2001). Brazil has also introduced tough legislation in relation to environmental protection, since the Agenda 21 was produced in 1992. However, environmental conservation by legislation alone does not work. It needs to be tailored to particular social, cultural and economic characteristics (Latin, 1996).

Environmental extension education

To be sustainable the pig and poultry industries need to be economically viable, benefit the whole society, and be environmentally sound. In Australia, the people involved in LandCare groups needed to develop human resource skills to work effectively as partners in protecting the environment while ensuring sustainable development (Chamala & Mortiss, 1990). In Canada, Einsiedel Jr (1996) suggested the concept of Participatory Environmental Action Research (PEAR) for environmental extension education. It involves novices, scientists, and local residents in exploring environmental problems, facilitated by extension professionals. Educational benefits from this approach include learning research techniques and teamwork. Scientists need to develop skills in adult education, as emphasised by Einsiedel Jr. (1996). It is a non-formal, active learning process. It occurs when community members, motivated by the need to solve environmental problems, become actively involved in the search for and contribution to solutions (Einsiedel Jr, 1996). The Participatory Action Management (PAM) model adopted in Australia, provides a similar framework for stakeholder participation (Chamala, 1995).

In Brazil, the TAMAR-IBAMA project for the protection of marine turtles based its success on local participation from the fishing villages, on education programs and ecotourism (Marcovaldi & Marcovaldi dei, 1999). In the Piracicaba river basin in Brazil, another environmental education program for ecosystem health involved representatives from nine municipalities to provide local communities with environmental knowledge. A participative planning approach was adopted, educational films were produced and the results have shown that environmental education extension made a major contribution to ecosystem health in the basin (Barbosa et. all, 1999). In the search for solutions for environmental problems, a key aspect needed is public education (Wagenet et. all, 1999).

Environmental education seeks to address the living conditions and lifestyle choices of the population. The aim is to change the consciousness and readiness (Eulefeld, 1995). Through extension programs that include a focus on environmental education, farmers and their families can participate in the reconstruction of their living conditions with ecological and democratic values of social and economic justice (Fien, 1997). The involvement of key people such as the youth and local schools’ teachers is important for successful environmental education programs, according to Adara (1999).

Concepts of environmental education

Eulefeld (1995) discusses several ecological concepts and models related to environmental education in Germany. Table 1 summarises these models and their main characteristics.

Table 1. Models of environmental education and their main characteristics


How environmental education is regarded

  • The cognitive model

Environmental education is regarded as a way to enlighten the population about environmental problems

  • The emotive model

Environmental education is regarded as nature-related education theory

  • The cognitive-experimental model

Environmental education is regarded as a problem – and action-based method of ecological learning

  • Ecopedagogy

This model criticises the socio-economic system

Source: (Eulefeld, 1995 p.17)

Background to the pig and poultry industries in Santa Catarina, Brazil

The pig industry plays a major role in the economy of SC, a State in South Brazil with an area of 95,000 km2. Agriculture in SC is intensive. Approximately 90% of the farms have a total area of less than 50 ha with a diversified portfolio of enterprises. Intensive Animal Production (IAP) particularly pigs and poultry, are the major drivers of the economy in the Western region of SC (ICEPA, 1997; Spies & Frengley, 1999). Production in SC is currently over 7 million pigs per year or 25% of Brazil's total, making it the largest production area in the country. Currently the vertically integrated pig production system in SC has 310,000 sows, and 12,000 producers.

Between 1986 and 1996, the total number of pig enterprises in SC declined from 55,000 to 25,000, according to IBGE (1997). For the same period, sow number rose by 55% while pork production increased by 180%. Although economic efficiency has improved, the overall long-term sustainability of the industry is not assured. This is important, as industry growth is partially dependent on access to exporting markets, where strong pressure against environmentally unsound production practices is likely to be faced. Indicators of sustainability are needed to assist the industry.

Environmental concerns for the pig industry include soil, water and air pollution from pig wastes. An adult pig produces an average of 0.27 m3 of waste per month, which means that in SC approximately 1 million m3 of pig waste is produced per month. The high number of pigs and chickens in the small geographic area of Western SC results in large quantities of waste to be disposed per hectare of farm land. Water contamination, with nitrate above 10 mg/l, was found in 37% of the samples tested in Concrdia (SC) region, and 82% of water samples tested between 1985 and 1998 showed significant levels of faecal coliform bacteria. A recent survey by Rural Extension agents has shown that only 10 to 15% of the pig producers had adequate waste treatment systems.

Most important problems identified in the Fragosos Creek Catchment

In 1999, a major study was conducted in the Fragosos Creek microcatchment in Concordia, which is a representative example of the region. The main problems were identified as pollution resulting from the intensive animal production, namely pigs and poultry (Talamini & Pagani da Silva, 2000). This catchment has 119 pig producers, representing 61% of the total number of households. They estimated that the daily total emission of pollutants into the Fragosos river was very high (see Table 2). This problem is aggravated by the low water flow in the river, of 959 litres/second.

Table 2. Emission of pollutants different sources into the Fragosos Creek in 1998/1999 (in Kg/day)







Population (N. head)

40 539

730 080

4 458

4 000

779 077

Total solids

14 392

10 951

8 471


33 980


4 722

2 792

1 070


8 649






1 886













Source: (Talamini & Pagani da Silva, 2000) 1 BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand).

These data clearly show an overload of waste into the creek. The analysis of levels of nitrates, phosphorus, potassium and faecal coliforms confirmed this prediction. Only 1820 ha (29.5%) of land in the microcatchment were suitable to receive effluent as fertiliser. However the total volume of effluent produced in the area was 143,000 m3 per year. Considering that 43 m3/ha is the recommended maximum quantity of manure to be applied per ha per year, this would leave 61,000 m3 or 43% of the waste without a sustainable use as fertiliser. In one way or another, this waste is overloading the catchment and polluting the soil, water and air. In addition, producers in general have very poor storage systems, with high levels of leakage and overflow.

As a consequence of the disequilibrium caused by the excess of waste in the catchment, the population of blackflies has risen dramatically. Fewer natural predators for the blackfly larvae in the water and streams and more organic matter (higher BOD), has transformed this into a major issue of concern impacting negatively on quality of life for the general community.

Survey methods

To gather information on stakeholders’ views and perceptions of sustainability as well as the need for environmental extension education in overcoming the problems the industries are facing, a two-stage survey was designed. Two questionnaires were framed. In the first stage, an electronic questionnaire was answered by key stakeholders from the pig and poultry industry in SC. The Survey Said software was used to design the survey, for the respondents to answer the questionnaire, and for basic data analysis. The sample included respondents from the groups such as researchers, rural extension agents, private consultants, academics from agriculture, veterinary and environmental science universities, meat companies’ management and extension and veterinary service staff. Directors of cooperatives, policy makers, NGOs, pig and poultry producers, suppliers and the general public, affected by the pig and poultry industries were also included. A total of 350 stakeholders were invited by an e-mail letter, from which 252 responded and 228 questionnaires were usable. Figure 1 shows the professional groups to which the respondents belong.

The second stage involved fieldwork carried out directly with 60 producers in SC. It was not possible to reach many producers via electronic survey, therefore they were visited and interviewed in loco. This stage also included four focus group meetings to refine and add qualitative information to the data gathered via questionnaire. Frequencies, percentages and cross table analysis was carried out to interpret the results.

Figure 1. Number of respondents, according to the professional group they belong. (N = 288)

Results – Main issues of sustainability and the need for environmental extension education

One of the main outcomes of the survey showed that the environmental degradation in SC is huge, caused mainly by waste from pig and poultry production. Stakeholders believe that there is need for very strong regulation. The meat companies can not transfer the environmental problem and the risks to the producers alone. The interaction between urban and rural populations is already a major source of pressure for producers and policy makers, particularly in the areas were farms and urban developments are too close.

The main findings from the focus groups meetings show that the current extension services provided to pig and poultry producers are based on the commodity approach.

The focus is on:

  • Improved technical efficiency and productivity
  • Economic efficiency
  • Benchmarking for quality production

The survey also shows that:

  • Stakeholders from all sectors (public and private) as well as many institutional groups recognise that environmental performance needs to be improved, to match WBPEM
  • The basis for achieving WBPEM requires environmental education
  • There is a need for shift in the current extension approach

A numbers of barriers to achieving a sustainable pig industry in SC were also identified. Most of these barriers relate to the current approach by the industry, centred on technical and economic efficiency, and ignoring the social and environmental dimensions. The existing regulations do not penalise unsustainable practices or benefit those who contribute positively to sustainable development. Market prices do not yet reflect the true cost of production, nor do they account for environmental and social costs. High cost and lack of capital to implement sustainable technology, such as waste treatment systems, are barriers to using sustainable practices. Some operators are focused more on short-term profits rather than long-term sustainability, ignoring the limits of the natural environment, and their social responsibility.

The respondents' perception that, to be sustainable, the pig and poultry industries in SC need to operate without damaging the natural resources such as water, air, soil. The community’s economic and social wellbeing was mentioned frequently. Figure 2 shows that of 288 respondents, including producers, more than 200 either agree or strongly agree that this is a necessity for the industries to be sustainable. To some extent, the industry knows that there is an urgent need to adjust, and if these adjustments are not made, pigs and poultry production will face major difficulties in the near future.

Figure 2. Stakeholders’ opinion about the principle of producing pigs and poultry without a detrimental impact on natural resources. (N = 288 respondents)

Being environmentally sound was considered the most important issue, followed by making a contribution to social well being. Achieving technical efficiency was a less important objective, followed by achieving economic efficiency (Table 3). The scores ranged from 1 to 10, 1 being not important at all and 10 extremely important.

Table 3. Scores for objectives and goals for the pig and poultry industries in SC

Objective and goals to be achieved by the pig and poultry industries in SC

Respondents' institutional link

Total average score

Private sector

Public sector

Objective of being environmentally sound




Objective of being technically efficient




Objective of being economically efficient




Objective of high contribution to social well-being




Issues of sustainability

The main issues for the pig and poultry industry's sustainability are presented in Table 4. The results show a high level of agreement that the adverse effects on natural resources is the most important issue, but the private sector emphasised the need to improve producers' managerial skills more than the respondents from the public sector.

Table 4. Scores for sustainability issues for the pig and poultry industries in SC

Issues of sustainability

Respondents' institutional link

Total average score

Private sector

Public sector

Long term farm profitability




Adverse effects on natural resources




Off-site environmental impacts




Socio-economic impacts




Farmers managerial skills




Conclusion and discussion

Traditional extension approaches are challenged to put emphasis on environmental education. The increasing separation of urban populations from food production has partly fuelled interest in greater environmental care. Agricultural education and rural extension agencies should embrace this public viewpoint in order to command credibility and support. Sustainability requires sound practices in the three components: environment, economic and social. It is concluded that:

  • Both sectors, public and private agree that improving environmental performance is important for the industry to be sustainable;
  • The current model of production and practices is contributing to social and environmental problems;
  • Some extension agents only perceive the animal waste as a potential fertiliser, giving little attention to pollution and not observing the limits of the assimilation capacity of the environment. They need to be educated on the environmental impact of IAP waste;
  • Legislation and incentives are not sufficient, there is a need for environmental education;
  • Some improved methods of production and waste management are already being used;
  • Extension agents can play a key facilitating role to develop appropriate technologies as well as implementing sustainable practices;
  • Present government and private extension services helped to achieve technical and economic efficiency, but now there is a need for trained staff to be able to include environmental education in their modus operandi.

Despite being economically competitive, the pig and poultry industries in SC are environmentally unbalanced. In the social arena, the concerns are about the concentration of production with fewer larger producers. What needs to be done so that the social benefits of the industries can be maximised? The question is, how much can we give up something from one component to benefit the other. In other words, how much can we damage the environment to make profits? It is an issue of trade-off between economically efficient and environmentally sound production systems. The answer may lie with environmental education, which will enable the people involved in the issue to make their own democratic decisions about a sustainable future.

There is a need to involve producers as well as community members in environmental extension education in the pig and poultry industries. This is an opportunity to use participatory extension approaches, in which the stakeholders become actively involved in the solutions of the problems.


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