Where does the food we eat in Brazil come from? What are the disputes that are behind each healthy food so that it arrives – or not – on the population’s table?
Unlike the flashy advertisements that say that “agro is pop” and produces “the wealth of Brazil”, agribusiness – whose area occupied and whose profit only grows – rarely grows food. The sector generates commodities: products in the raw state, of agricultural origin or mineral extraction used to manufacture other products. Most of it is for export and the flagship is transgenic soy.
Only the harvest of exported grains in 2021 and 2022 – which were mainly corn and soybeans – reached 271 million tons. No wonder, agribusiness started the year 2023 with a record profit of US$ 8.69 billion, according to the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea). Meanwhile, 33.1 million Brazilians are starving in the country.
Commodity does not fill the belly, but its production occupies, in an increasing way, most of the Brazilian lands. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), of the total cropland in the country, three quarters are destined to the cultivation of soy, sugarcane and corn.
The crossing of data from the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (Funai) and the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) carried out by Keeping an Eye on the Ruralists shows how this advance of the frontiers of agribusiness happens, recurrently illegally and violently. Around 96,000 hectares of farms overlapping Indigenous Lands, for example, belong to just 42 politicians and their families. The stolen land area is equivalent to the sum of the urban regions of Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
Meanwhile, most of the healthy food we consume is grown by small farmers. Despite losing space, 76.8% of rural establishments in the country are family farms.
The wages of these peasants are far from the surplus of billions achieved by agro at the beginning of the year. A survey by the Forestry and Agricultural Management and Certification Institute (Imaflora) reveals that the income of 82% of these establishments is just under two minimum wages.
Still, much is done and produced. The Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) has become the largest producer of organic rice in Latin America. It is one of many organizations and communities – such as indigenous, quilombola and riverside communities – that apply agroecological experiences in food production.
Social role of the land
In a country where less than 1% of agricultural properties correspond to almost half of all rural areas, experiences like these are only possible through organization and popular pressure.
The 130-hectare territory in Valinhos (SP) occupied by the MST in 2019 is one of many examples. The previously idle area was named Camp Marielle Vive. There, 450 families plant vegetables, bananas, cassava, turmeric, among other crops, in a collective garden covering a thousand square meters. They live, however, under the shadow of eviction. The area is claimed by Fazenda Eldorado Empreendimentos Imobiliários.
What the movement argues in this and in all the occupations it does is that that land, before, did not fulfill its social function. The Federal Constitution provides, in article 186, that an area fulfills this obligation when it uses the land in a rational and adequate way, uses natural resources in a way that preserves the environment and respects dignified work relationships.
When any of these requirements are not respected, the Constitution determines that “it is incumbent upon the Union to expropriate for social interest, for the purposes of agrarian reform”. Popular movements occupy these territories, therefore, to demand that the law be complied with.
This scenario of open dispute over the fate of land forms the background of who and what is cultivated in Brazil. This is why – and the BdF explains – that food, land and struggle are inseparable.
Editing: Rodrigo Chagas