IECA Members Teach and Learn in Brazil

Jan. 1, 2009

The Fourth Annual Iberoamerican Erosion Control Conference (IV Congreso Ibero-Americano de Erosão e Sedimentos), held this past August in Belo Horizonte, a large city in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, included participation by several IECA members. The five-day event included a variety of technical courses, papers, forums, and an international trade show.

IECA’s Ambassador for Brazil, Luiz Lucena, CPESC, was the lead organizer of the conference. It attracted erosion control professionals from universities, public agencies, and private industries from Brazil as well as Argentina, Peru, and other countries in South America, as well as Switzerland and Germany. Most attendees were Brazilian.

Three Western Chapter members conducted full-day training courses that addressed erosion control challenges involved with increasing development of communities on hillsides and construction of roads, pipelines, and mining activities in mountainous terrain. IECA Board member and vice president for international development, Julie Etra, CPESC, presented a course on establishing and monitoring native plants that was taught in Spanish. Western Chapter member Craig Benson taught a well-received course in Portuguese that covered prevention and erosion control hazards in high-risk areas. John McCullah, CPESC, former IECA director, taught a course on bioengineering for rivers and streams and another on controlling erosion of rural roads.

Other IECA members participating in the conference included Gustavo Salerno, CPESC, president of the Iberoamerican Chapter, and Angel Menéndez, both from Argentina, and Iberoamerican Chapter directors from Peru, Gino Mathews, treasurer, and Jesús Cardozo.

Product Showcase
One of the highlights of the conference for Etra was the trade show. “In addition to manufacturers and suppliers from South America, several exhibitors from Europe also displayed products,” she reports. “Most were geotextile vendors, including blankets made of a variety of fabrics.”

Among the exhibitors were the following:

    • Coripa, an IECA member based in Argentina, offers gabions, cellular confinement systems, concrete block, geomeshes, geodrains, and various types of blankets. The company also provides design services


  • Deflor, which has a plant in Belo Horizante, manufactures fiber rolls; erosion control blankets made of coir, straw, and a combination of the two; and also makes a tackifier from manioc, a food staple (
  • Greenfix, a German company with an outlet in São Paulo, Brazil, produces organic erosion control blankets with or without embedded seeds, and roof greening systems (, as well as looms for blanket production.
  • Vertical Green do Brazil sells a variety of erosion control products, including blankets made of sisal, family Agavaceae, a plant grown in Brazil (

Hitting the Books
The conference also featured a book-signing session. One of the authors was Terezhina Galvão, an engineering professor from the Universida de Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), who has written various technical publications. Currently teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, she presented a full-day course at the conference. Galvão signed her children’s book about the environment. “It was well received by those at the session,” McCullah says.

Aloisio Rodrigues Pereira, an Iberoamerican Chapter member and well-respected expert on vegetation, also was on hand to sign his book. It provides guidance for selecting plants useful for controlling erosion and fairly detailed information about the species used, including natives and non-natives.

McCullah presented three books. Landforming, written by Horst Schor and Dr. Donald Gray, a professor at the University of Michigan, describes cost-effective construction technology for environmentally compatible slopes. Another book, developed by McCullah and Gray for the US Federal Highway Administration, describes biotechnical practices for controlling erosion during construction of roads and bridges. The other, produced by Salix Applied Earthcare for the California State Parks, details the latest erosion and sediment control techniques for building roads in rural areas.

Meeting with Researchers
During the conference, Galvão led the three Western Chapter members on a visit with several erosion control researchers at nearby UFMG. One of them, Carlos Alves, presented an exhibit of the Project Manuelzão, which he directs, at the conference. This grassroots project is helping to restore the Rio das Velhas (the Old Woman River), a tributary of the São Francisco River, the third largest in Brazil.

“Started by three doctors, it now includes several thousand volunteers collecting data on water quality, aquatic health, and fisheries,” McCullah explains. “The group lobbied the government for construction of the first wastewater treatment plant in the Old Woman River watershed three years ago. Already public health is improving, the fisheries are becoming restored, and the movement is growing.”

The group also visited with Professor Maria Rita Scotti Muzzi. A leading biologist, her department is doing state-of-the-art applied, and practical research on the use of mycorrhizae fungi and bacterial nitrogen fixers for reforestation and land restoration. The purpose is to reduce or eliminate the use of manufactured fertilizers. “They’re using commonly accepted practices that many of the highway departments that I work with in California are just now beginning to understand,” McCullah says.

Some Lessons for IECA
“Speaking for IECA, I want to thank Luiz and everyone who worked so hard to produce such a quality venue,” says Etra.

The conference was an eye opener for McCullah. “Among the lessons I learned was that limited budgets prevent many erosion control professionals in countries like Brazil and Argentina from importing products and materials that have long been used for controlling erosion elsewhere, such as North America,” he says. “So, they have developed methods that rely much less on advanced technology and much more on basic materials and labor.”

“That’s one reason they produce a lot of their own erosion control materials like the ones I saw at the trade show,” Etra explains. “I had no idea that Argentina has an 85% tax on imported goods.”

“It was a humbling experience realizing that, even though the industry has developed great technology based on innovative materials, there are many areas where erosion and sediment control depends on applying basic principles using readily available materials,” adds McCullah.

The conference also highlighted some directions for IECA in supporting the work of erosion control professionals in South America, he notes. IECA’s Western Chapter, a Sister Chapter to the Iberoamerican Chapter, hosted a working dinner to address some of the ways the Western Chapter and IECA can help the Iberoamerican Chapter grow and to develop to be more sustainable and effective.

“They need to know that the work they are doing is important to the association and that we stand behind them,” says McCullah.