[06/01/08] Informa #151 - Legalization of Land Grabbing

Esteemed friends of the MST, The approval of Provisionary Measure 422, Medida Provisória (MP) 422, by the federal deputies on Tuesday night, May 27, a few hours after the resignation of Marina Silva, the Ministry of the Environment, confirms that the defense of biodiversity is losing the battle against deforestation and development at whatever cost, which are defended by diverse sectors of the government. The recently approved MP 422 can be translated as the “legalization of land grabbing”. It deals with the sale of public lands of up to 1,500 hectares without bidding— broadening the limit by a thousand hectares—under the tutelage of INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, or Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária).

Now, MP 422 awaits the company of the Draft Act proposed by senator Flex Ribeiro (PSDB-PA), or PL 6.424, another large incentive to the devastation. This law will reduce the requirement for legal reserves (areas for forest preservation) in Amazonian properties from 80% to 50%. Both proposals demonstrate the federal government’s priority: to open territory for agribusiness, whatever the cost may be. The agribusiness sector is today the protagonist of the Amazon’s devastation that, in the last five months of 2007, has exceeded 3,000 square kilometers of forest, according to the data of the Ministry of the Environment. It is not a coincidence that the winds point to the North and agribusiness follows this direction. In the Amazon region there exists the largest concentration of terras devolutas, or returned lands, in the country. This is the basis of a process of occupation and devastation that, allied with the use of the state-owned machine for private ends, opens the space to the diverse fronts of agribusiness featured in the market, especially the extraction of wood, livestock and the monoculture production of soy. To trade the forest for livestock is an old project. It is known that the initiative to occupy the region with cattle dates back to the decade of the 1950s and was stepped up during the military government when in 1966 they approved the first livestock projects in the region. The Amazon suffers today with an enormous dose of illegal occupations realized by large landowners, ranchers and soybean producers, developed through land-grabbing and the plundering of wood. The most recent data about the advance of livestock production, for example, is emblematic and frightening. The amount of area used by livestock in the region is 32.6 million hectares, which is equivalent to the combined area of the states of Sao Paulo, Rio and Espírito Santo. Of the 30.6 million hectares devastated between the years of 1990 and 2006, 25 million where transformed into pasture. The itinerary is simple: first it is necessary to enclose the land acquired through INCRA— generally in an illegal way—, sell the wood in the area and then, after a small fire to make the land suitable for pasture, use the land for livestock production or, with more investment, for the planting of soy. The scheme depends on Brazilian export companies and foreign companies. One third of the meat produced in these illegal areas, and a large part of the stolen timber and soy, go outside of the country. That is, part of the surplus of Brazilian trade balance, the principle “benefit” of the agribusiness model, is sustained by the devastation of the Amazon. This shows the inclination of agribusiness in Brazil: to use land that belongs to all people solely for profit, without taking into account ecological questions or with regard to human conditions for survival. The problem of the pillage of wood and occupation by livestock is far from being resolved. To the contrary. Now the attack of these large landowners, or latifundiários, is blatantly a travesty for settlements, the example of the complaints that marked the end of 2007 about irregular projects in Western Pará, in which, instead of protecting farmers, they were being illegally exploited by loggers. The scandal revealed the existence of a pact between the loggers and Incra of Pará, accused of falsely setting aside areas of the forest for settlements, but which instead are exploited by large-landowners, much of which was denounced by the MST. In this ciranda, the monoculture of soybeans often works in partnership with livestock; the bean has already expanded into areas of degraded pasture. The cultivation already devastates the savannah and advances on the Amazonian forest. Leading this process are financial capital and the large transnational agribusinesses, such as Cargil, Bunge, Monsanto, Syngenta, Stora Enzo and Aracruz, which direct a model of agricultural production based on the expulsion of rural workers, indigenous peoples, and on the destruction of the environment. Between 1995 and 2003 the production of soy grew by more than 300 % in the states of Pará, Tocantins, Roraima and Rondônia, and this expansion is predicted to continue until 2020. The area of soy cultivation in the Amazon region grew from 20 thousand hectares in the year 2000 to 200 thousand by 2006. Most startling and incriminating is the data about the increase of production in Santarém, in the state of Pará. It is a clear example of the relationship between the investments of transnationals and the devastation of our forest. The area harvested in Santarém jumped from 200 hectares in 2002, to 4.6 thousand in 2003 and today it corresponds to 16 thousand. Curiously, it was the year 2003 that Cargill constructed the port in the city, intended as a means to export the beans, began to operate. The port was illegally installed. Cargill did not submit an Environmental Impact Assessment which is required for such a venture, according to the 1988 Constitution. The transnationals now look to introduce into the market new transgenetic seeds, further exacerbating the advance on the forest. This is already happening. We are embittered by the recent release of two varieties of transgenic corn by Monsato and Bayer that can now be marketed. The decision of the CNBS (Conselho Nacional de Biossegurança) puts at risk the long process of preserving the fields that have hundreds of corn varieties adapted to different regions and for different uses and freely cultivated by farmers. The gravest consequence relates to the country’s food sovereignty. Corn is the basis of Brazil’s food structure and the transgenic varieties are cultivated primarily for the production of livestock feed and bio-diesel. Even if the transgenic varieties are used for food production, the alert remains, due to the disapproval of Anvisa (Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária) concerning the process of the seed’s release, for there is not sufficient data that proves the safety of the beans for human consumption. For years, the movement has been demanding that the creation of settlements be concentrated in areas with the largest number of encampments, such as the Northeast, the South and the Southeast. We see the forests as the patrimony of humanity and we know that the people most affected by the devastation are the peasants. This position is upheld by our actions, which are in opposition to the agro-export model. We bet on peasant agriculture developed on small properties, with a basis in agro-ecology, and we know that the small farmers are the guardians of our land. National Secretary of the MST