In Ipiranga, a rural city of 10,000 habitants in Piauí, an organization of artisans found themselves with less work because of the coronavirus pandemic. Aware of the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health professionals in the region, the Association of Artisans in the City of Ipiranga-Piauí (ASSARIPI) changed their usual work programme to produce face masks and hair caps.

Until now, ASSARIPI artisans have been using stems and fibers from buriti – a native plant from the region – to produce furniture, baskets, decorative items, clothes and bags , with support from the Viva o Semiárido Project, financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the State Secretariat for Family Agriculture. Lídia Ribeiro de Andrade, president of the Association, explained that the idea to help resulted from the high demand for protective equipment.

“Initially, we made only a few pieces and donated them to needy, elderly people. After a few days, we were already producing protective equipment for the local health centre and, soon after, for the regional hospital in the neighboring city, Picos," she said.

“They have already manufactured medical masks, caps and gowns for health departments of the Vale do Sambito region,” said Francisco das Chagas Ribeiro, coordinator of the Viva o Semiárido Project. He explained that the Association was adapting the machines to produce 500 individual protection pieces per day, which will be distributed through the Project's commercial network.

With three children and five grandchildren, Iolita Ramos, one of ASSARIPI's co-founders, depends on the Association's income to survive, but now she is investing all of her energy in the spirit of solidarity. "We realize now the reality that we are confronting with the coronavirus and we all have to make our contribution to overcome it," she said.

"We are working on the production of the masks, but we would like to help even more," Iolita remarked.

The demand has been so great that the Association is failing to meet some orders. "Even hospitals and health centers in the capital of Piauí, Teresina, and other states have contacted us, but we cannot respond to all of these demands," lamented Lídia.

Upon learning about the high demand, the Secretariat of Family Agriculture – IFAD's local partner in the Viva o Semiárido Project – contacted two other associations of small rural producers in the neighboring municipalities of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré and Batalha.

Each of these associations will produce 800 items per week, which, combined with the 500 items produced daily by ASSARIPI, will result in the production of around 5,000 PPE components every seven days.