The Dilemma of Agrarian Reform in Brazil's Agribusiness

Monday, January 7, 2013

BrJoao Pedri Stedukeazilian society faces, in the rural milieu, distinct problems needing different solutions. We have serious problems and emergencies that require urgent action. There are about 150,000 families of landless laborers living under black tarps, camping, fighting for the rights that are in the Constitution to have land to work. For this problem, the government needs to do a real joint effort among the various agencies and settle the families in lands that exist in abundance throughout the country.  Remember that Brazil uses for agriculture only 10% of its total area.

There in the Northeast over 200,000 hectares are being prepared in irrigation projects, with millions of dollars of public funds, the government only offers land to businesses from the South to produce for export. Now, the president pledged during the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, on January 25, 2012, which would give priority to the settlement of the landless in these projects. Only then would it be possible to put more than 100,000 families on 2 irrigated hectares per family.

We have over 4 million poor, rural families who are receiving Bolsa Família in order to not starve. This is necessary, but it is palliative and should be temporary. The only way to get them out of poverty is to enable work in agriculture and the vicinity, which a broad reform program could solve. For neither the cities nor the agribusiness will give quality employment to these people.

We have millions of peasants, workers, exposed to all kinds of exploitation, from semi-slavery work to inadequate exposure to poisons that the foreman tells you will pass; it requires government intervention to create proper working conditions, income and life. Including ensuring freedom of trade union organization.

There is in Brazilian society a structure of land ownership, production and income in rural hegemony by agribusiness model that is creating very serious structural problems for the future. Consider: 85% of all land in Brazil is best used only for soybean/corn, pasture, and sugar cane. Only 10% of landowners, farmers who have areas in excess of 500 hectares, control 85% of the total value of agricultural production, allocating it, without any added value for exports. Agribusiness holds back the Brazilian economy. We are producers of raw materials, sold and appropriated by only 50 corporations that control prices, the rate of profit and the world market. If farmers had class consciousness, they would realize that they are also puppets of transnational corporations,

The production matrix imposed by the agribusiness model is socially unjust, as more people are unemployed each year, and replaced by machines and poisons. It is economically unfeasible, since it depends on import, recorded, every year, of 23 million tons of chemical fertilizers which come from China, Uzbekistan, Ukraine etc. It is totally dependent on the financial capital that needs to invest every year: 120 billion reais [60 billion dollars] so it can grow. And subject to foreign groups that control the seeds, agricultural inputs, prices, markets and which keep most of the profit from agricultural production. This dependency creates distortions of all kinds: in 2012 in the Northeast lacked corn for the poultry, but Cargill, which controls the market, exported 2 million tons of Brazilian corn to the United States. And the government must have read in the newspapers, as I ...  On the other hand, black beans we import from China, to keep our eating habits.

This model is unsustainable for the environment, since it is the practice of monoculture and destruction of all existing biodiversity in nature, using pesticides so irresponsibly. And that unbalances the ecosystem, poisons the soil, water, rain and food. The result is that Brazil accounts for only 5% of global agricultural production, but consumes 20% of all poisons in the world. The National Cancer Institute (INCA) revealed that every year there are 400,000 new cases of cancer; a majority of the cases originating in food contaminated by pesticides. And 40% of them will die. This is the toll that agribusiness multinationals are collecting from all Brazilians! And beware: the cancer can strike anyone, regardless of their position and bank account.

A policy of land reform is not just a simple land distribution to the poor. This can be done on an emergency basis to solve local social problems. Although by no means is this in the government’s self-interest. At the current stage of capitalism, land reform is the construction of a new production model in Brazilian agriculture. Beginning with the necessary democratization of land ownership and reorganization of agricultural production will come other parameters. In August 2012, 33 social movements met, those active in the countryside since Contag [Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura – National Confederation of Agricultural Workers], which is the oldest, MST, Via Campesina, to the movement of fishermen, quilombolas, etc.., and built a platform of unitary proposals for changes. It is necessary that agriculture is reorganized to produce, in the first place, healthy food for the domestic market and for the whole population. And it is necessary and possible, to create public policies that guarantee the encouragement of a diversified agriculture in each biome, producing with agro-ecology techniques. And the government needs to ensure the purchase of this production by Conab [Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento - National Supply Company].

Conab needs to be transformed in large public supply company, which guarantees the market for small farmers and delivered domestically controlled prices. Today we have programs like embryonic PAA Program (advance purchase) and the mandatory 30% of school meals be purchased from local farmers. But that is now within the reach of only 300 thousand small farmers and is far from the existing 4 million.

The government needs to put more resources in agricultural research for food and not just serve multinationals such as Embrapa [Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária - Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research] is doing, where only 10% of research features are for food from family farmers. Create a large investment program in alternative technologies, agricultural mechanization for small units and small agribusinesses in the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Create a large deployment program for small and medium agribusinesses in the form of cooperatives, for small farmers, in all communities and municipalities in Brazil, may have their agricultural industries, adding value and creating markets for local products. BNDES [Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social - National Bank for Economic and Social Development], instead of following funding projects with large companies and billionaires' concentrators’ income, should create a great program for small and medium agribusinesses in all Brazilian municipalities.

Also present concrete proposals to the government for an effective program of promotion of agro-ecology and a national program of reforestation of degraded areas, mountains and river banks in small production units under the control of rural women. It would be an inexpensive program and help solve the problems of families and of Brazilian society for the rebalancing of the environment.

Unfortunately, there is no motivation on the government to seriously address these issues. On the one hand, they are blinded by the dumb success of agribusiness exports, which has nothing to do with national project, and on the other hand, there is a contingent of obsequious technocrats that surround the ministers with no experience of real life, that only analyze under an electoral bias or by whether it is expensive or cheap ... .  Lately, they invented that settling families would be very expensive, it is first necessary to solve the problems of those who already have the land and the landless can wait. Wait for what? The Bolsa Família, domestic work, migrate to São Paulo?

President Dilma, as you read Carta Capital, I hope you read this article, because hardly any “yes-men” around you would place this clipping of the day.

By João Pedro Stedile
National Coordination of the MST
In Carta Capital