"Agrarian Reform has stopped completely," said MST Leader

Friday, June 29, 2012

By Jose Coutinho Junior

The Minister of Agrarian Development (MDA), Pepe Vargas, in an interview with Carta Maior declared the decrease in the coming years of the number of families settled pursuant to agrarian reform.
The minister also claims that the number of families living in the encampments has decreased. For Alexandre Conceição, from the National Coordination of the MST, the statements mask the reality of the Brazilian countryside.

Check out the interview with the Página do MST:

How do you assess the statement of Minister Pepe that the number of families settled in the coming years will drop?

It's an unfortunate statement. The agrarian conflicts and rural violence because of the dispute over land has increased. Just see the emblematic case of farms of Daniel Dantas, in Pará, which has been negotiated with MDA and the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) for more than three years. [Ed. Note:  See lead article on home page.] It was agreed that of the six farms that were occupied, three were intended for Agrarian Reform. To date, no inspections have been made by INCRA. So the minister is wrong to say that land reform will decrease because the number of families living in encampments has decreased. Rather, the pressure continues, there are a large number of families camped, around 180,000 families, and conflict increases. What happens in Pará is a result of this. Another factor is the drought in the Northeast and South. Families lost their production, infrastructure, animals. And the policies outlined by the MDA and INCRA so far are insufficient to solve the drought problem.

How is the progress of land reform this year?

Agrarian Reform has stopped completely. We are warned that if trends continue, this year's results will be worse than 2011. And the trend is that the struggles and mobilizations, which gain strength again, make more pressure every month that passes. The South began to agitate again, like the Northeast. We will make periods of struggle to fight again because Agrarian Reform continues to be ignored.

It was presented, during the April days of struggle, to INCRA and MDA, the government's proposal to create a working group to decentralize the expropriation of land and settling families in more precarious situations. The government promised to form a group and give the answers in 30 days. To date, the group has even been formalized. There is a prospect that is to formalize this next week, but there is no certainty. We're getting in the middle of the year and there are no answers because there is an established program of agrarian reform and the government cannot formulate this program.

According to the minister Pepe Vargas, 22,600 families were settled in 2011 ...

The number from 2011 was the most shameful in the history of Brazil in the last 16 years. It was the worst record of this period, an embarrassment to the Dilma government, for the MDA and INCRA. The settlements last year did not cater to families who are camped. The minister is wrong to say that the number of families living in camps has decreased. Just look at the numbers from INCRA. The declarations of the minister show that neither the MDA nor INCRA have a plan of expropriation of land and agrarian reform. They have no plan, no infrastructure or resources to accomplish this task.

Why is Land Reform stopped?

There is a great advancement of transnational corporations in agriculture. The budget of these companies is ten times greater than that of MDA, INCRA and the Ministry of Agriculture. So, these companies take over in the Brazilian countryside. The government is weak on Agrarian Reform and put a limit on the purchase of land by foreigners. There is a ceiling of R$ 100,000 [approximately $49,000] that can be invested in each family in the settlement of land expropriation. It is impossible; with inflation of land caused by transnational corporations and the purchase of land by foreigners to buy good quality land, to develop agro-ecological farming, producing food without poison - for the same amount per family. To expropriate land, the government budget this year is R$ 560 million [approximately $260 million], which is insufficient to establish the 186 000 families camped.

The discourse of the government in relation to land reform is that no longer necessary to have more settlements, but to ensure investments in existing settlements. How do you see this discussion?

This discourse is tiring, because it appears in any debate with the government to discuss the land issue. We also want investments. Now, where is this happening? Where's the budget to build houses, agro-villages, rural health clinics and schools? In the last ten years, more than 37,000 rural schools in the countryside were closed. Despite the discourse, in practice nothing happens. Neither the creation of settlements nor the investments in the areas of agrarian reform.

How much public funding is targeted to family farmers and landowners?

Last year, R$ 14 billion [$7 billion] went to the family farm and R$ 150 billion [$74 billion] for agribusiness. This week, the government will release the Harvest Plan 2012/2013. The amount will revolve around R$ 180 billion [$89 billion] for agribusiness. In contrast, the government will spend R$ 18 billion [$9 billion] to the family farm. Ten times less investment for the family farm, which produces 70% of the food, generates nine jobs for every hectare. Moreover, the agribusiness is debt-ridden, but postpones the debt with the Brazilian government, while the renegotiation of debts of family farmers in the banks is delayed.

The National Agroecology Plan should have been announced at Rio +20, but until now has not. How important is this plan?

What has been presented so far will not solve the problem of family farming. The proposal has no ability to ensure that agroecology becomes an agricultural policy to combat all the negative effects of agribusiness. As it was presented so far, the plan will not cause major changes in the countryside. We need more structuring plans. The government called the motion to discuss the plan, made a pre-release from the President’s office and was present at the Rio +20 to clean up its act because of the fiasco with the changes in the Forest Code. The plan is too timid to confront the model of Brazilian agriculture, which now consumes 20% of all poison the world. The plan is inadequate for an agriculture that, according to the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), has produced cancer through agricultural labor and due to the consumption of poisoned food. Moreover, the release of GMOs is advancing evermore.

The government tries to make agribusiness and agro-ecological model coexist. Is it possible for these two agricultural models to exist together?

It's impossible. Agribusiness uses GMOs and pesticides, concentrates land and expels small farmers to produce for export. It is impossible, from a practical standpoint, for the coexistence of two modes of production. From the standpoint of political and economic, we cannot have a policy with few investments in the agro-ecology and large transfers to the agribusiness shark.