"Dilma government abandons agrarian reform", declares Alexandre Conceição
By Iris Pacheco of the MST's website
The Dilma government is responsible for the worst figures of land expropriation of the last 20 years. In 2012, only 28 rural estates met the decreed target. No real estate has been expropriated thus far in 2013. During the first term of this year, social movements in the countryside undertook several days of action with combined and specific agendas, bringing the urgent necessity of Agrarian Reform to the attention of the Brazilian government.
According to Alexandre Conceição, National Co-ordinator of the MST, the goverment has abandoned Agrarian Reform, eschewing its constitutional obligation. Conceição also declared that the MST will, in the next phase, intensify its action against the influx of foreign capital and undertake the occupation of unproductive real estate. At the same time, it will forge alliances to consolidate the construction of the popular Agrarian Reform project, which is a necessity to change the agricultural model of the country.
Below is an interview given to the MST's website: The government remains silent on the question of Agrarian Reform. What is your assessment of this stance?
The Dilma regime abandoned Agrarian Reform. By doing this, they are not just being cowardly but committing a constitutional violation that has held out since its establishment and critically deteriorated during the last period. The government's stance on this leaves it clear to see that they acted for the benefit of the large landlords and their alliance with commercial farming.
Why did the government not expropriate real estate for Agrarian Reform?
Because the government counts on agribusiness as a means of rural development. We have been holding talks with the government but with no concrete results. In this country there are, according to Incra statistics, currently 180 million hectares classified as large, unproductive property. The regime does not intervene to promote democratization of the land.
We have not achieved anything because the central nucleus of government does not want to know about Agrarian Reform. On a daily basis, new procedures and committees are invented that further impede the process. Agrarian Reform depends on expropriation of large, unproductive property, as the Constitution denotes.
How much of public resources does the government designate for farmers and agricultural estate owners?
R$ 21 billion were made available in the 2013/14 Safra Plan for household farming. This equates to 16.6% more than the R$18 billion that was assigned to the sector last year.
For commercial farming however, R$136 billion was allocated. This is ten times the sum allocated to household farming, which accounts for 70% of food production and generates nine jobs per hectare. Besides this, agribusiness, which is completely in the red, delays arrears with the Brazilian government, while the household farmers late with repayments are forced to renegotiate with the banks.
Are the productivity indexes still a hindrance to the process?
The productivity index of Brazil has not been updated since 1975 and continues to be one of the worst in Latin America. In this 38-year period, the countryside has witnessed many changes and it is inconceivable to equate current agricultural production with that of 1975. The regime has not had the courage to review the issue of the indexes, which would undoubtedly free up Agrarian Reform in the country.
How is the ineffectiveness of Agrarian Reform reflected in the countryside?
It is reflected in rural violence. Besides being ineffective, it is a government composed of agricultural estate-owners and, for this reason, it refuses to engage with rural people and expropriate land for Agrarian Reform. Without advances in the democratization of the land, the Movement will intensify its fight and occupy the large estates to counter the aggression towards the people of the countryside. In this aspect, the Judiciary becomes the principal conspirator with the estate owner. It is eager to criminalize the Landless while exempting estate owners from punishment for their crimes.
How do you view the government's discourse regarding the Judiciary obstructing the processing of new areas for settlements in 2013?
Besides guaranteeing impunity of conflicts in the countryside, the judicial power holds on to the processes for the creation of new decrees for expropriation of these areas. Of the current 523 cases of Agrarian Reform in the country, 234 are paralyzed. Therefore, the duty of the Dilma administration is to work in a coherent manner with the Judiciary in order to resolve the impasses that leave the areas in a juridical situation that can go for years without resolution.
What is the importance of Agrarian Reform for society?
Currently, 85% of agricultural land in Brazil cultivates soya while household farms are responsible for 70% of the food for internal consumption, despite only having 15% of the country's agricultural land. Commercial farming is solely a way of appropriating the profit obtained by agricultural trade without resolving the problems of the people. In fact, it makes these problems worse, primarily due to the widespread use of pesticides and GM foods in the country. These have been affecting the health of the Brazilian people, and represent a model that does not work for Brazil. We need a method that guarantees the production of healthy nutrition for Brazilian society for a reasonable price. This will create employment and a healthy way of life for the rural population that is not marginalized in the large, urban centres. Besides this, it will allow techniques to be developed that will increase productivity and production without destroying the planet's biodiversity. The means of implementing this model is the project of Popular Agrarian Reform that promotes large-scale expropriation of unproductive areas, using agroecology as a base for the development of the countryside.
At this juncture, how does the Movement intend to act in the next phase?
The MST will continue fighting and occupying unproductive estates to combat monoculture and the influx of foreign capital on Brazilian agriculture. The government needs to tackle the issue of chronic debt and become involved with the country's land index instead of investing in appeasement programmes that do not promote Agrarian Reform. In the meantime we are going to create links that consolidate the construction of Popular Agrarian Reform for Brazil and bring about the necessary changes to the country's agricultural model. It is necessary to reorganize the agroindustrial sector based on co-operatives, not large, transnational enterprises. We must also adopt the technological matrix of agroecology, preserve the environment, and halt the exodus of people from the countryside to the big cities.