[06/20/06] MST Informa #119: Plant agroecology in the heart of the world

Dear Friends of the MST,

We would like to share a portion of text below, written by the Benedictine monk Marcelo Barros for the Fifth Conference of Agroecology—Developing a Popular and Sovereign Project for Agriculture. The encounter occurred in Cascavel, Paraná on June 7-10, where it brought together more than 5,000 agriculturists from across the state to exchange experiences and discuss agroecological production and sustainable development. The complete document can be found on the MST website on the internet.

“In almost all presentations and discussions we have had here, we have seen that the economic model in place in Brazilian society and in a large part of the world today, the so-called neoliberal capitalism, or whatever you would like to call it, has sunk the world into social inequality that is more scandalous every day and that is responsible for ecological destruction that, if it continues on this path, will destroy the planet and make life on Earth impracticable. We all know that, etymologically speaking, the term ‘economy’ has the same prefix as ‘ecology.’ In the more profound sense, ‘economy’ means the administrative norm of the common household so that all can live in a dignified way. Today, the economy is exactly the opposite of this. For this reason, there is no possibility of an ethic of ecology and solidarity in this universe of an exculpatory market and a competitive economy.

As I am writing this text, in Xingu, hundreds of Indians are occupying the hydroelectric plant of Paranatinga II, on the Kuluene River in Mato Grosso. These construction sites had already been seized by the Federal Justice, but nevertheless they continue. The Indians say that this hydroelectric plant will do irreparable damage to the Kuluene River that runs through the Xingu Park, where 5,000 people of 15 ethnicities live. The dam will prevent the reproduction of many species of fish that need rapids and the uninterrupted length of the river to reproduce. This will affect the life and survival of many indigenous communities in a terrible way. They know that the plant is being built to guarantee large plantations of soy and pasture, destroying the forest and savanna. Furthermore, they are going to flood sacred territories of the Xingu people where the first Kuarup was celebrated in honor of the illustrious dead, a ceremony that is observed by many ethnicities there.*

There are two life philosophies that are at stake. It is not possible to maintain and contribute to the official lifestyle of profit and eke out an ethic of solidarity and ecology. However, we know that capitalism does not just sell products and merchandise. It sells dreams, it sells symbols. It dominates our imagination. It makes slaves of our fantasies. Besides destroying transgenic seeds, we have to stop transgenics of the soul, of our sensibilities, and of our feelings. And we have to, of course, occupy space. We must recreate a sensibility that makes our concept of life, managing relations, and living our way of cultivating and feeding ourselves more and more attractive and pleasurable.

Agroecology already has 30 years of experience. This is already the Fifth National Conference and there have been many regional encounters, principally here in the South. And what is beautiful and important is that we live Agroecology, not just reclaiming it as an ancient and traditional agriculturist technique that the Indians and our ancestors who worked the land knew. We learn from elders and indigenous communities that Agroecology is a way of life, a spirit with which we feel and see relations and life itself. Since we are not isolated on a distant island, we have to live with this system and even, whether we like it or not, participate in it: manage the earth and agriculture in accordance with rules that not just we make up, have access to programs and funding that can favor family agriculture, and so on and so forth.

But the challenge is that we do not want our products to become just another fashion label, a brand, an elitist thing. If we are convinced that life itself demands Agroecology and that this should be the common and normal way of production, then we have to fight so that it can become more accessible to everyone.


The world has a heart just as we do. Human beings, men, women, young people, old people, and children, have the function of being the soul, the principle of zeal and love for the entire universe. Society has not only failed to prepare us for this, but on the contrary, it has made us think that each person lives just for him- or herself. For this reason, a permanent effort of converting and planting new sensibility every day is important.

Rural agroecology and the agroecology of our entire lives require more solid community structures. It is necessary for us to go against the grain of neoliberal individualist society and create new relations that belong to the community, are light, current, and can be reference points for today’s world, primarily for youth. With this community base, we can create an economy of reciprocity, of service to life, and not to accumulation and consumption. We must also recreate political structures that are more humanized and less vertical.