Brazil: Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) and Brazilian state government partner with China

The idea is to bring to the northeastern state of Brazil machines that will help in the expansion of family farming
The expectation is that, in November, 25 machines will arrive from China to be tested in Apodi (state of Rio Grande do Norte). Photo: Lucas Weber/Brasil de Fato

By Gabriela Moncau
From Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (Brazil)

A partnership involving the Nordeste Consortium through the government of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte, the International Association for Popular Cooperation (AICP), the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the China Agricultural University and the China Association of Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers (CAAMM) should bring to Brazil 25 machines for peasant agriculture.

The arrival of a delegation of 14 representatives from the Chinese university to Brazil between last Monday, July 10th, and this Tuesday, July 18th, is the latest chapter in an exchange of knowledge and technology between entities from both the countries. The relationship narrowed for about a year and a half.

With the aim of getting to know the reality of Brazilian family farming, the Chinese delegation visited the Florestan Fernandes National School, within the MST, and then a group went to the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, and another to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the south of the country. In the Northeast, they visited MST production units in the municipality of Prado (state of Bahia) and the Egídio Brunetto Popular School of Agroecology and Agroforestry. In the South, they passed through the movement’s organic rice production chain cooperatives.

Then, members of the China Agricultural University – which leads the international cooperation platform B&R International Institute of Agricultural Equipment Innovation and Intelligent Agriculture – went to the state of Rio Grande do Norte. There, they visited the city of Apodi, which will host the demonstration unit where agricultural machines of different models should arrive and be tested in November.

“The headquarters will be in the municipality of Apodi (state of Rio Grande do Norte), but it will also be possible for these machines to be tested in other regions of Northeast Brazil, spaces belonging to cooperatives, agrarian reform settlements and training centers. The idea is that within a period of two years the quality, adaptability capacity with implements that already exist here in Brazil and the conditions with peasant agriculture will be tested”, explains Luiz Zarref, AICP researcher.

The Asian delegation ends the trip in the capital of Brazil, with a meeting on cooperation projects with the University of Brasília. “They will also be received by members of the federal government responsible for the agricultural mechanization agenda, bioinputs and genetic diversification from seeds to food”, says Zarref.

Inequality in access to mechanization

“This cooperation process is aimed at overcoming a historical gap in Brazil with regard to the process of mechanization and access to technologies through agrarian reform”, evaluates Débora Nunes, from the MST’s national directorate.

Among family farming producers in Brazil, 88% work manually, with only the help of animals in the production process. The data are from the last Agricultural Census, released in 2017.

According to the survey, in the Northeast, inequality in access to technology is more pronounced. The region concentrates around 50% of family farming in the entire country. Only 1.5% of these peasants work with machinery.

“Mechanization brings results that involve other dimensions of life. It is also a fundamental factor for us to face the debate on rural succession itself. Our young people want to stay in the countryside, indeed. But they want to remain in the countryside with conditions of access to education and work”, explains Nunes. “It is a generation that has access to other technologies and wants to see this also being applied in the production process”, she adds.

Exchange with China

In September 2022, when Chinese and Brazilian authorities signed the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in agricultural mechanization and energy, this partnership formally began.

The exchanges had already started throughout the pandemic, with joint webinars that were attended by Chinese professors such as Yang Minli and Wang Fengde. Among the themes, the history of agricultural mechanization and the development of this industry in China.

The agreement was signed between the Northeast Consortium, which represents the nine states in the region, the international innovation platform of the China Agricultural University and the China Association of Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers. The latter is an industrial organization formed by the main manufacturers of agricultural machinery in the Asian country.

The connection was facilitated by AICP, a non-profit organization created by popular movements in Latin America, Africa and Asia with the aim of combating hunger, promoting technical training and technological exchange for agroecology.  

The partnership was reinforced on Chinese soil by João Pedro Stedile, leader of the MST, and the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Norte, Fátima Bezerra (Workers’ Party), when they visited the country together with President Lula’s entourage (Workers’ Party) in April.

Factories installation in Brazil

The expectation, according to the AICP, is that, as a result of this process, factories that produce machines for peasant agriculture will be installed in Brazil.

“After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, agricultural mechanization developed rapidly”, explains a document from the International Association for Popular Cooperation. “Currently there are more than 1,600 agricultural machinery companies that provide technical support and equipment to guarantee food safety”, says the entity.

“The intention is linked to that of the Lula government itself, which is in this process of resuming national industrialization. Our objective is that, with this approximation of Chinese technology, factories from there will be attracted to Brazil”, defends Zarref.

Edição: Leandro Melito

Translation: Lucas Peresin