Brazil’s FAO Conference on Land Reform Lacked Representativity

    The Second International Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Conference, organized by the United Nation’s FAO was held in Porto Alegre, the capital of Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, from March 7-10.

    At the same time, social movements organized a parallel conference called Land, Territory and Dignity Forum. The conferences debated two very different models of agrarian reform and agricultural production.

    On one side were the policies the World Bank hopes to implement in various points around the world which through credit programs transforms land into merchandise. On the other side is the vision of social movements which defends policies of development that insure food security, that address concentration of land, and put land at the service of people.

    One thing notable about the FAO conference was the absence of member countries – only 81 of 188 were represented, and not one head of state. Not even President Lula appeared.

    According to Via Campesina International, the conference was hastily put together, without giving time for representatives to meet in their own countries about the issues.

    "This conference, because of the lack of participation from government officials and the enormous difficulties we had to organize a serious participation of civil society, cannot be a moment to finalize international commitments about a subject so important. We demand that this conference be only a first step in the process," said Heny Saragih, international coordinator of Via Campesina.

    The conference was also marked by several protests from various social movements – the MST (Movement of rural workers Without Land), Contag (Confederation of Agricultural Workers), Fetraf (Federation of Workers of Family Farms) and Via Campesina.

    "We are showing the world that agrarian reform is not happening in Brazil, that the official numbers from the government are not real, and that there is no way to change the land structures in a reconciliatory way with agribusiness," said MST state coordinator, Adelar Pretto.

    Carmem Helena Ferreira of Contag stated, "We are worried about where the official conference is going. We don’t know what is going to come out of it, especially given the weight that agribusiness carries in regard to capital."

    The Land Bank, or the Bank’s Land?

    Many who received credit from the World Bank’s program, "Banco da Terra" (Land Bank), have asked who is really benefiting from the program.

    For example, in 2002, 33 families were settled through the Banco da Terra in Rio Grande do Sul. Three years later, these same families have already returned to urban life looking for various ways to sustain themselves in the informal sector.

    Leonardo Decrescenzo, one of those settled, commented that all of the families are in debt, confronting problems with water shortages and lack of schools for their kids.

    "We just don’t have what is necessary. If we ask to borrow farm machinery from the city during low season, they tell us no. They make it difficult for us at every turn. This indicates a weakness of the Banco da Terra program," said the farmer.

    Decrescenzo gave his testimony at a ceremony which released the results of a new study done by Popular Research Land Network, which investigated World Bank agrarian reform programs in Brazil. Below are some results of the study

    35% of the families did not choose the land they bought
    41% did not participate in the negotiations for the land
    48% declared that the lands they bought were not fertile
    36% did not know in how many payments the loan was divided
    54% did not have access to the contracts
    81% did not know what interest rates would be charged
    36% did not receive any financial help to begin production
    74% did not have water for production
    86% did not have regular technical assistance, 48% did not have any
    76% do not have health posts
    72% do not have ambulance services
    48% do not have access to schools or nurseries
    47% say that they do not earn enough to sustain themselves, 19% say they do not even have enough to eat

    According to Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Social Network of Justice and Human Rights, such facts show that land credit programs based on the policies of the World Bank are not viable.

    "The Land Bank is not viable because it is against constitutional agrarian reform…The program does not ensure the conditions necessary for producing on the land, while it favors large landholdings. It should be stopped."

    This article appeared originally in Brasil de Fato – www.brasildefato.com.br.

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