Wed Dec 06, 2023
December 06, 2023

Agribusiness: Recolonization, Violence, and Persecution in the Brazilian Countryside

The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has become the victim of a despicable campaign of persecution by landowners. The “ruralist” [landowners] bench of the National Congress is preparing a Parliamentary Commission of Investigation (PCI) against the movement. It’s an attack by the landowners against this fight, but it affects all the movements fighting for agrarian reform, indigenous peoples, those who live in quilombo settlements, and peasants. Fighting is a right, not a crime. The MST is fighting for agrarian reform and peasant agriculture. Those who should be investigated are the representatives of agribusiness. They are the ones who are committing crimes, engaging in violence, and stealing land from small farmers through fraud and land grabbing. Many are in Congress passing laws in favor of land theft and against indigenous and quilombola populations and the environment.

By: Jefferson Choma

Attacks are also coming from the ministry.

Once again, the landowners continue to occupy the ministries of the PT government and attack the movement, as did the Minister of Agriculture and the soybean grower Carlos Fávaro. Fávaro made a strange comparison of MST actions during Red April to the coup acts of the Bolsonaristas on January 8. He also made it clear that he supports the PCI (Produce Conserve Include) strategy. 

“The National Congress has the prerogative to install a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate when it considers that there is something wrong in society,” stated April 27.

Fávaro’s statements must be fiercely disputed. The ministry is responsible for authorizing the release of 166 agro-toxic products until April 30. He is an ally of the ruralist bench and supports the demands of agribusiness.

PT ministers also attacked the landless, like Alexandre Padilha of Institutional Relations and Paulo Teixeira of Agrarian Development, who threatened the movement, affirming that “the vacating of land invaded in recent days is a condition for the government to continue with the agrarian reform program.”

Defending the MST

It is necessary to defend the MST and all the rural movements from the attacks of the ruralists and land occupations as a legitimate instrument of pressure for agrarian reform. It is necessary to investigate and punish the crimes of agribusiness; they are the actual land invaders. The settlements present today were won with this method of struggle. Agriculture must be nationalized and put under the control of the workers.

MST leadership needs to break with the government

In 2002, Lula said he would carry out agrarian reform “with the stroke of a pen.” But the PT governed for 14 years with the agricultural sector and did very little for the landless, who continued to be the target of landowners’ violence. One cannot treat this government as an ally or say that Carlos Fávaro is a “serious man,” as leader of the MST, João Pedro Stédile, did. 

We warn the activists of the MST: this government is not “ours.” The leadership of the MST needs to break ties with the government for the landless to fight and defeat agribusiness to win the agrarian reform and economic support necessary for the thousands of peasants.

Neocolonial: Brazilian agribusiness is an expression of the country’s economic decline.

Agribusiness is an expression of Brazilian decadence, of the efforts to turn the economy into one based on providing primary resources to other countries. This causes deindustrialization and turns Brazil into a mere exporter of raw materials, minerals, and agricultural products.

Since 1980, the reduction in the share of the industrial sector in the formation of the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been brutal. In 1985, industry represented 47.9% of GDP; in 2013, 24.8%; and in 2019, 22%. Agribusiness accounted for 47.6% of Brazil’s total exports in 2022.

In 2020, approximately 60% of Brazilian soybeans were purchased by China, which, in return, provided us with industrialized products such as masks and respirators, which we were unable to manufacture domestically during the pandemic.

Lula has never hidden his support for agribusiness. In 2010, in a speech at a graduation ceremony for new diplomats, he stated that “commodities are becoming more valuable than so-called manufactured products.” Now in his third term, Lula continues to defend the sector. At the 27th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP-27, Lula said “agribusiness will be a strategic ally in the search for a regenerative and sustainable agriculture.” The problem, however, is that defending a sustainable agribusiness is unsustainable due to the very nature of this agricultural model.

Agribusiness is land theft and violence.

Most large agribusiness “producers” have appropriated public lands, especially in the Amazon biome and Cerrado ecoregion. In Brazil, there are several types of public lands. Public land for which there is no official record of an owner needs to be identified as such because currently it is known where this land is, and therefore, it has not even been integrated into the public patrimony. These total about 141.5 million hectares and are preferred by agricultural thieves, who fraudulently register them in some corrupt Land Registry Office. This process is known as “land-grabbing”.

Another method of land theft happens with federal and state lands, about 263 million hectares (approximately 30% of the national territory), which is divided between Indigenous Lands and Reserves, Quilombo settlements, and Conservation Units. These lands are also targeted by landowners, who invade indigenous lands and national parks, cause fires, deforest, and hire gunmen to expel indigenous people and peasants.

After “clearing the land” they wait for a government that will allow them to legalize land theft, as it happened with the approval of Law 11.952 during the Lula administration in 2009. This law permitted the issuance of land titles for public areas in the Amazon that had been illegally occupied and deforested until December 2004, in areas of up to 1,500 hectares. The same happened with Provisional Measure [MP] 759 in the government of Michel Temer, which increased the region eligible for regularization to 2,500 hectares and legalized the appropriation of public lands invaded until December 2011.

Agriculture means fires and deforestation.

A survey of the area burned by fires in Brazil shows that, between 1985 and 2022, 185.7 million hectares were burned, which is equivalent to 21.8% of the national territory. This extension is comparable to the sum of Colombia and Chile, according to MapBiomas data.

The Cerrado and the Amazon accounted for about 86% of the area burned in Brazil. It is important to remember that even under Lula, deforestation in the Amazon tripled in March 2023, with almost the equivalent of a thousand soccer fields destroyed per day.

The Cerrado, on average, had a larger burned area bigger than Scotland each year. In the case of the Amazon, it was almost one Ireland per year (6.8 million hectares). But the most devastation happened in Pantanal, which had 51% of its territory consumed by fire during this period. This biome suffered the invasion of agriculture and had the largest fire ever recorded in Brazil.

Agriculture also means drought. More than 70% of the water consumed in Brazil is used in agriculture. In 30 years, the country has lost 1.5 million hectares of water surface, according to MapBiomas data. In the Pantanal alone, the loss of water area was 81.7%.

Agriculture means hunger

But how can we produce food without the agricultural sector that carries the country on its back? This is a colossal lie, repeated daily by the media, by agribusiness, and by Lula—a true agribusiness mantra.

The truth is that agribusiness does not produce any food. On the contrary, it threatens the country’s food security. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (BIGS) has compiled data regarding beans and rice. Since 2006, the area planted with rice in the country has been reduced by almost half, decreasing by 44%; while that of beans decreased by 32%. In the same period, soybean acreage nearly doubled by 86%, while corn acreage increased by 66%, which are two of the most essential commodities sold on the international market.

Small farmers guarantee a good part of the rice and beans to supply the Brazilian market. They are responsible for producing 70% of the food consumed nationwide. According to the 2006 Agricultural Census, the sector produces 87% of yuca, 70% of beans, 46% of corn, 38% of coffee, 34% of rice, and 21% of wheat from Brazil. In livestock, it is responsible for 60% of milk production, 59% of the pig herd, 50% of poultry farming, and 30% of the country’s cattle. These are the facts; this is the reality.

Agribusiness means slave labor

Agribusiness is an example of the uneven and combined development of the process of expansion of capitalism in Brazil. Agribusiness combines the finest technology of so-called precision agriculture with the old agrarian concentration, violence, employing few people, and even using modern slave labor.

The growth of agribusiness boosted slave labor in the country. According to the Ministry of Labor, between 2003 and 2014, agribusiness was the absolute champion in using slave labor.

Not only do we have “wine slaves,” as in the wineries of Rio Grande do Sul, but also enslaved people working in wood, meat, soybeans, cotton, coffee, orange juice, mate, sisal, and sugar industries. 

Agribusiness is backed by public money

In a report published by Oxfam, 4,013 owners owe almost $1 billion. A select group of 729 owners has a debt of $200 million. The debt of this class is always ignored by the governments of the day. The Temer government, for example, edited MP 733 for landowners to pay off the debt with bonds between 60% and 95%.

Agribusiness puts poison on your table

During the Bolsonaro administration, Brazil approved the use of 2,170 new pesticides. Since January of this year, 166 more have been used. Of the previously approved products, 1,056, the equivalent of 49%, is banned in the European Union. We are becoming a depository of chemical waste from the large companies that manufacture these products.

The increase in pesticides directly accompanies the expansion of commodity crops. Professor Larissa Mies Bombardi of Geography at the University of São Paulo (USP) stated that while the soybean cultivation area increased by 53.95% between 2010 and 2019, the use of pesticides grew 71.46% in the same period. The researcher points out that the area cultivated with soybean in Brazil is equivalent to the entire area of Germany.

The fight for land and agribusiness

The struggle for land in Brazil demands three fundamental tasks. The first is to support the fight for a radical agrarian reform under workers’ control. Likewise, it is necessary to advance the demarcation of all the Indigenous Lands and the ownership of the Quilombo territories. The second task is the nationalization of agribusiness, without compensating landowners and completely revolutionizing the country’s agricultural model. The third task is a complete transformation in credit policy and consequently, in the nation’s financial structure. This is necessary in order to provide small producers with the required conditions for production. Without nationalizing big agribusiness, from large-scale production to large commercial chains, it will be impossible to take the products of small farmers to the cities.

This program is what the peasants, residents of quilombos, and indigenous people need, as well as the workers and the majority of the people in the cities. But this is far from the objectives of the Lula government, which continues to govern for agribusiness.

Article published in, 10/5/2023.-

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