MST Fair

Producing at risk of eviction, campers take tons of food to the MST Fair in Brazil

In Brazil, 65 thousand MST families are waiting to be regularized as settlers: "to continue producing, we need the land"
Camp Herbert de Souza is part of Quilombo Campo Grande, in the south of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil – MST-MG

By Gabriela Moncau/ Translated by: Lucas Peresin
From Brasil de Fato

The National Agrarian Reform Fair, organized by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), begins this Thursday (11). The event runs until Sunday (14) and should bring together hundreds of thousands of people at Água Branca Park, in São Paulo, Brazil. With 500 tons of healthy food brought to the fair, the MST has been reinforcing, in the speeches of its members, the motto that in order to produce food, land is needed.

The 4th edition of the fair takes place at a time when the National Congress approved the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate occupations by the MST as well as rural militias of farmers organized in the south of Bahia.  

According to the movement, processes like these seek, through criminalization, to deflate public debate and hide the fact that a good part of the healthy food produced in Brazil only reaches the population’s tables because it is grown on land that had to be occupied by organized peasant families.

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) indicate that 78.3% of the entire cultivated area in Brazil is used by agribusiness to produce commodities for export. On the other hand, the production of food for internal consumption – such as cassava, beans and rice, largely cultivated by family farming – occupies only 7.7% of this territory.  

These foods are among those brought by the 1,200 vendors who came to the capital of São Paulo for the Landless Workers’ Movement event. Part of the farmers who produce these items live in camps, that is, occupied territories that are still awaiting state regularization as an agrarian reform settlement. At the same time that they grow food without poison, they have to deal with the ghost of the eviction.

Quilombo coffee

This is the case of Sueli Oliveira, a resident of Marielle Vive Camp, in Valinhos (São Paulo) and Jailson Lima, from Herbert de Souza Camp, in Campo de Meio (Minas Gerais). Both grew up in the countryside. She, in Iporã, in the state of Paraná. He, in Bom Jesus da Lapa, in the state of Bahia.

Now 39 years old, Jailson moved from Northeast Brazil in 2004 to this occupation – one of 11 that make up Quilombo Campo Grande. “I left a place that wasn’t mine to come to a place that, at least for now, thank God, is being ours”, he smiles. “Before, this area was abandoned, there were only a few horses living free”, he recalls. The camp is home to 28 of the 459 families that make up the quilombo.

Organic and agroecological coffee is the main production chain in Quilombo Campo Grande / MST-MG

The area, however, is disputed. There used to be a sugar and alcohol plant, managed by Companhia Agropecuária Irmãos Azevedo (Capia), which was declared bankrupt in 2000. Sixteen years later, however, the company’s judicial recovery plan included the reincorporation of the area.   

Capia’s bankrupt estate includes, in its plan, the leasing of part of this territory to Jodil Agropecuária e Participações Ltda, whose owner is São Paulo businessman João Faria da Silva, known as the “coffee baron”. A dirt road separates the Herbert de Souza Camp from the other large estates belonging to Faria.  

“The eviction injunction is being processed by the Agrarian Court of Minas Gerais. And it is about to be judged”, says Jailson, with concern. “The process continues and we hope that now, with the new government, we can resolve this at once.”

Even with the pending anguish, the families implement in the area one of the most recognized experiences of agroecological transition in the country. In addition to the production of agroecological organic coffee, which is the flagship, vegetables, fruits and grains are also grown, in addition to honey production. All these products are available at the National Agrarian Reform Fair.

The fact that the families are camped and not settled, however, means that they cannot access public policies to promote family farming, nor are they formally represented by MST Peasant Cooperative, which has the Guaií brand and operates in the south of the state of Minas Gerais. . 

“Today we have a large production chain in our areas. We just cannot access the cooperative directly, so most families need to deliver their products to middlemen. There is still this difficulty”, reports Jailson.

“Insecurity surrounds our conscience”

A similar situation is experienced by Sueli and the other 419 families who live in Marielle Vive Camp, the largest MST camp in the state of São Paulo. Located in the interior of São Paulo, it is very close, by ironic coincidence, to the city of Campinas, from where João Faria manages the almost six thousand hectares of land that he owns between Minas Gerais and São Paulo. 

Sueli arrived in Valinhos (São Paulo) at the age of 17, after her family lost their crop in a frost in the state of Paraná and, with no money, gave in to the pressure from the large farms that surrounded their property. They sold the small farm and went to try life in the city. Sueli studied until the fourth grade and then had to dedicate herself to work to help support the household. Widowed at 27, she raised three children by herself.

She was 55 years old and unemployed when, in April 2018, the MST occupied an idle area of 130 hectares. “The first week I was curious, the second I went to see what it was like. When I got there I said: this is my place”. Now that her children were raised, Sueli got back to work on the land, which she had missed so much since childhood.  

“From that day on, I’ve been a militant in the movement, I identify with it a lot, I think it’s a necessary cause and it’s the path we have to fight,” she stresses.

The Marielle Vive Camp emerged a month after the murder of the councilor of the Socialism and Freedom Party / MST-SP

The Marielle Vive Camp has, as the main symbol of its agroecological production, a collective vegetable garden in the shape of a mandala measuring one thousand square meters. In addition, with environmental reforestation work and preservation of springs, around two thousand trees have already been planted in the territory. 

“We already produce a lot here. It is a blessed land, because everything we put in, we take away. Today we already have corn, cassava, sweet potatoes and dragon fruit. And it just doesn’t have more production because of this imminent situation of reintegration. This hurts us a lot”, reports Sueli. The area is claimed by Eldorado Empreendimentos Imobiliários Farm.

In addition to the eviction action that is running in court, the community has already been the target of a cut in the water supply and, in the past, three shooting attacks. “It is very difficult to know that you have your home and that tomorrow you may not have it. So insecurity surrounds our conscience the whole time”, describes the farmer. 

On the other hand, she says, “the people are very excited about the National Agrarian Reform Fair. We are taking vegetables, bananas, manioc, turmeric, paprika. Medicinal products: tinctures, ointments. Handicrafts. We are going to do it well”.

Health, environment and land 

“If we could recommend that our entire Brazilian population eat products like this, that’s what we would want to do, because in addition to representing a symbol of struggle, it’s totally healthy. And for us to continue producing healthy food, free of pesticides, we need the land. Because without the land, there is no way to produce. And the big monoculturists don’t produce food, right? They produce commodities. Nothing that brings healthy food to the people”, argues Sueli.

She and Jailson are part of the 65,000 landless families who live in camps in Brazil, whose demand for regularization as settlers is among the central points of the MST to the Lula government.

Protest by residents of Herbert de Souza Camp against eviction / MST-MG

“We need to resolve the situation in the camps once and for all. And look for mechanisms to pressure the politicians themselves to resolve this. It’s been too long that our families have been suffering, without any help, resisting until today”, says Jailson.  

“It’s a sign”, says the coordinator of the MST in the state of Minas Gerais, “that they are a fighting people, right? Hardworking people, who love the land and who contradict that criminalizing discourse that they are terrorists. We’re talking about movements that organize people, families, who want to fight for a little piece of land”. And they do, Sueli recalls, producing food in times when “hunger knocks on the population’s door”.

Edited by: Thalita Pires