Investments in Agrarian Reform and family farming are alternatives to the crisis in Brazil

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Info Source: 
By Solange Engelmann and Iris Pacheco | From the MST Page | Edited by Fernanda Alcântara Translation by Friends of the MST (US) |

Destruction of policies to support Agrarian Reform and Family Farming by the Bolsonaro government deeply affected the settlements

In the midst of one of the biggest economic, political and health crises, rural workers are reinventing themselves to stay in the countryside and present a viability for a project that contributes to the country's food sovereignty. This is not a process that started now, on the contrary, it is the result of many struggles and stories. If in the previous report we went first to the North and Northeast regions, this time, we went straight to the Hugo Chaves settlement, in Tapes, Rio Grande do Sul. This is where Salete Carollo, 56, lives settler and a National Coordinator of the MST.

The landless worker started her participation in the MST in 1992, through the Central Cooperative of the Settlements of Rio Grande do Sul (Coceargs), and reports that since 1999 the families of her settlement are looking for ways to contribute to the production of healthy food for the consumption and the maintenance of workers living in the settled area, as well as contributing to food security and supplying the local market. In the settlement, several agroecological experiences are developed, in which the main one is that of organic rice.

“The experience of agroecological production of organic rice must be understood within the entire production chain organized and coordinated by the MST Organic Rice Management Group, in Rio Grande do Sul.   In fact, the Rice Processing Unit located in the settlement is only justifies considering the production volume of the organic rice chain,” she argues.

Together with a part of the families living in the Hugo Chaves settlement, the Salete family, composed of the couple and three children, works collectively at the Agricultural Production Cooperative (CPA), of the Tapes Settlement Production Cooperative (COOPAT). In this CPA, land, labor and income sharing are organized collectively. Only part of the 1,250 m² plot of land, located in the agro-villa where the residences are located, is cultivated and organized individually by each family. In the collective area, the settlers produce organic rice, cultivate pasture with animals, firewood, potatoes and manioc for internal consumption.

“In this collective area, there are approximately 60 hectares with organic rice, where 300,000 kg of paddy rice are harvested annually. An area of ​​approximately 60 hectares destined to pasture, where dairy cattle, beef cattle and buffalo are raised, in the paddock system,” says Salete.

In the collective production space, the Hugo Chaves settlement also maintains two agro-industries, a Rice Processing Unit and a Bakery Industry, which according to the landless worker, provided most of the income of families settled before the pandemic, but had its production reduced with the coronavirus.

“With the pandemic, these industries suffered significant impacts, reducing their production and, consequently, the families' income. Recent estimates indicate that the cooperative had revenues in 2020, only 25% of revenues in 2019,” she says.

In addition to the group of families that organize and work collectively, the other settlers produce individually, in the traditional model, and there are cases of settlers who are organic producers. According to Salete, these families grow various products such as fresh produce, milk, cheese and eggs, sold on the local market. Some producers also participated in farmer’s markets and others worked at home delivery.

“Both the production of individual families, and that of CPA agro-industries, supplied the local market through the three farmer’s markets in the municipality, home delivery, food supply contracts to the city hall, through the Food Acquisition Program (PAA ), National School Meals Program (PNAE), Social Assistance and other forms of public purchase,” she points out.

Settlements and family farmers without public policies in the pandemic

Leaving the South of the country, we went up to the Northeast and talked with the settler and member of the National Coordination of the MST, Débora Nunes, who highlights how this attack on family farming is perpetuated by the Bolsonaro government and how it threatens the permanence of peoples in the countryside.

“In 2020, when social isolation was defined and for that the people would need conditions, Congress discussed emergency aid and Bolsonaro vetoed family farming to access this aid. Then there was the proposal of PL 735, which was developed in the Assis Carvalho Law, to promote and stimulate food production. The same, when approved, was vetoed almost entirely by Bolsonaro. This demonstrates that there is a greater hegemony of conservative sectors and agribusiness itself with a strong expression in the National Congress. It is not for nothing that the “cattle, bible and bullet” benches in Congress have a strong relationship with the land issue,” she stresses.

The destruction of policies to support Agrarian Reform and family farming by Bolsonaro, aggravated by the impact of the pandemic, has deeply affected the settlements, worsening the economy and the quality of life of families.

“The end of technical assistance has compromised the quality of production processes, as well as actions such as project design and long-term planning. The strangulation of the PAA by resource cuts mainly impacted individual producers, who supplied horticulturalists. In the case of the cooperative, sales to PNAE accounted for most of the revenue. The resource cuts, as well as the stoppage of the face-to-face classes, caused a 75% drop in revenue compared to the previous year,” laments the settler Salete.

Faced with this scenario, the Brazilian people started to live with the increase in food prices, which only increased the number of unemployed and deaths by Covid-19, in addition to the return of Brazil to the Hunger Map. Economist Gerson Teixeira, analyzes that the dismantling and deformations of Agrarian Reform policies and family farming make food supply highly vulnerable and, as a consequence, impacted on the cost of food and the economy.

“The impacts of the interruption of the Agrarian Reform program, the extinction of the PAA and the price support policy for family farming, and the deviations in purpose in the Pronaf [National Program for Strengthening Family Farming], have direct effects on the erosion of food production base in Brazil. Add to this factor the ‘extinction’ of the public stocks policy because the neoliberal conception prevails, according to which the market would regulate food supply,” he highlights.

The economist also considers that Brazil not only faces a supply crisis with political consequences, due to the increase in unemployment and the drop in the income of the population with the pandemic. However, as he notes, that the period of emergency aid showed that the country has a “super-harvest” with only two products, soy and corn, produced by agribusiness, that do not meet the food needs of Brazilians.

Nunes also comments on the dismantling of the Agrarian Reform project and points out these attempts, which not only destroys Agrarian Reform and attacks rural peoples, but which unifies political and ideological discourses in society based on the idea that there is no dichotomy between agricultural projects for the Brazilian countryside. However, "they are two models in their essence totally antagonistic, different, and there is no possibility of coexistence in harmony," she says.

Still according to Nunes, “in addition to the ongoing dispute and confrontation of projects in agriculture, we have, without a doubt, the active role of the Bolsonaro government that adopted the dismantling of public policies for family farming, of offensive and paralysis over Agrarian Reform. Even with the end of the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), a ministry that had the function of formulating, proposing and executing policies for follow-up in the countryside that fulfill the function of food production, diversity, and the preservation of biodiversity.”

These actions signal how the Bolsonaro government has made great strides in intensifying a project that was expressed with the coup of the then President Dilma in 2016, and began to be implemented in the country by Michel Temer with the dismantling of a set of public policies built in the last few years. One of the first areas to suffer from the dismantling was Agrarian Reform and family agriculture. The MDA was extinguished and incorporated, at first, to the Ministry of Social Development (MDS). Then, it was reduced to the Special Secretariat for Family Agriculture and Agrarian Development (SEAD), linked to the Civil House. In the current government, the surplus of SEAD was incorporated into the functions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), controlled by Minister Tereza Cristina, one of the leaders of the ruralist (agribusiness and large landowners) block of Congress.

Peasants and farmers seek alternatives to resist!

Faced with the destruction of public policies for the countryside, such as the PAA and PNAE, technical assistance, among others, the families of the settlements sought in the organization and in the collective struggle, alternatives to resist and survive and this difficult moment.

The settler Salete shows that the families of the Hugo Chaves settlement, organized in CPA and individually, sought to reorganize the cultivation and variety of products for self-consumption and expand the production areas. As well as participating in more marketing spaces, such as local farmer’s markets, home deliveries and internet sales.

“As for the survival strategies in the face of this situation, we can list the increased effort in production for subsistence. In the cooperative, there was an expansion of the area destined for the planting of orchards, cane, manioc, watermelon, melon, honey production, etc., for self-consumption; increased participation of settlers in local farmer’s markets and an increase in vegetable garden areas; also an increase in other economic activities, aimed at selling at farmer’s markets, such as the production of jams, preserves, ready-made spices, pasta, pizzas, ready-made products, cheese and sausage production. Other forms of marketing are home delivery. In the case of the cooperative, an exclusive channel called COOPAT Delivery was created to handle these sales. In the relationship with the consumer, the use of social networks has been intensified,” she explains.

Gerson draws attention to the fact that the segments of the settled peasants and producers of family agriculture are unable to survive and develop their production without the incentives of the Brazilian state, which today are destined exclusively to agribusiness. “They are social segments that are at the material limits of survival. There is no way to think about the peasant economy without the incentives of the State,” he denounces.

In the economist's view, after the 2016 coup, rural elites sought to reestablish the old political-institutional order of downgrading peasant and family farming and to give absolute priority to exporting agribusiness, in addition to considering the social and agrarian policies of the country PT governments as “enemies”, criminalizing popular, indigenous, quilombola, environmentalist movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“With Bolsonaro, rural Brazil retreated to a position prior to the 1988 [Federal Constitution] CF. Immediately, the MDA was extinguished in the Temer government, then the setbacks began to escalate in the actions taken by rural workers, mainly during the PT governments. For rural employers, in particular, it was necessary not only to 'clean up' institutional spaces, but also to reposition the peasants on the fringes of disputes over the Union's budgetary resources,” he concludes.

Hegemony of the ruralist bench in Congress

In this sense, another aspect to be considered is the changes that occurred in the Legislative Chamber and the Federal Senate, where historically ruralism (the influence of agri-business and large landowners) is inserted. With important allies for the agribusiness sector, Congressman Arthur Lira (PP-AL), president of the Chamber, and Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM-MG), president of the Senate, the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (FPA) considers the moment as the best for approve its priority guidelines, such as environmental licensing, pesticides and land title regularization. Of the 513 federal deputies in office in Congress, more than 260 are from the FPA.

Débora evaluates this scenario as an aggravating factor. For her, the power that the ruralist bench has acquired is the possibility of free transit of its interests and what they will be able to legislate, as there is no executive that works. “The bench has managed to destroy the historical achievements of the Brazilian people and that does not affect only those who are in the countryside. These are essential issues that have to do with national sovereignty itself, such as the issue of land sales to foreigners and the permanent offensive on indigenous and quilombola territories,” she points out.

Thus, it is possible to understand why agribusiness - which breaks laws, has work similar to slavery, environmental licensing in indigenous and quilombola lands and uses pesticides, even lethal to human life - has so many government benefits, such as long-term refinancing and very low interest rates. Meanwhile, Agrarian Reform and Family Farming survive the ordeal of a lack of public resources.

It is essential to emphasize that this is a social, political and economic problem that is present in the history of Brazil, that is, Brazilian land issues are deeply marked by racism, social and gender inequality. And even if there are breaches for ruptures, such as the well-known Land Law, of 1850, the Brazilian State has throughout history, guaranteed the maintenance of the structural power base of the concentration of land and exploitation in the countryside.

According to the country's last Agricultural Census, carried out in 2017, about only 1% of landowners control almost 50% of the country's rural area. On the other hand, establishments with areas smaller than 10 hectares (each hectare is equivalent to a football field) represent half of the rural properties, but control only 2% of the total area. In addition, the number of people who are in conflict over land is also frightening. According to data from the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), in 2010, there were 351,935 people across the national territory fighting for the right to land and water, today, that number is 578,968 thousand.

In view of the immense benefits of public investments, which the Brazilian State has destined to agribusiness over the years and the lack of commitment of this model to the country's sovereignty, how to act as an organized civil society? Is it possible for the countryside and the city to understand the historical task of caring for common goods, biodiversity and food sovereignty and to defend them? In the next article we will talk about the collective challenges of building living conditions in the countryside, in the midst of the current scenario.


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