Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines

AGRICULTURE: FAO and Brazil Resuscitate Agrarian Reform

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 6 2006 (IPS) - The second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), taking place this week in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, will be dusting off long-buried issues. The first edition took place 27 years ago in Rome.

The second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), taking place this week in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, will be dusting off long-buried issues. The first edition took place 27 years ago in Rome.

The aim is to revive the debate on issues that have been frozen for years by the predominant neo-liberal free-market agenda and structural adjustment programmes that excluded public policies on land reform and rural development, Caio França, a special adviser to Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development, told IPS.

Although ICARRD is a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conference, it will have a strong Brazilian flavour, not only because this country is hosting it, but also due to the role Brazil has played in breathing new life into these issues.

Besides carrying out a unique land reform process, Brazil has given a new boost to the fight against hunger and extreme poverty through a series of national programmes and international initiatives undertaken by the left-leaning government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former trade unionist.

Brazil has been implementing land redistribution efforts since the 1980s. And in the last 10 years, more than 600,000 landless rural families have been settled on small farms of their own.


The Lula administration has also expanded the availability of credit and technical assistance to small family farms, while helping to put in place the conditions to allow farmers and their families to stay in the countryside, sell their produce, and receive education.

Nevertheless, movements of landless farmers complain that the agrarian reform process is moving ahead at too slow a pace, given the fact that there are still more than four million landless rural families in Brazil, a country of 184 million where land ownership is highly concentrated.

A “combination of developments” gave rise to the organisation of the second ICARRD, as an important step towards reestablishing the urgent need to “democratise access to land” and promote rural development, said França.

Global conferences on food and sustainable development, the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 and Brazil’s experiences have put hunger and related questions at the centre of the international agenda, he said.

But while many countries have begun to express concern over these issues, “few have responded to the challenge with effective public policies,” he maintained.

There are still 852 million people suffering from hunger in the world today, three-quarters of whom live in rural areas and depend on access to land and other natural resources for their survival, according to FAO.

Brazilian Vice President José Alencar, as well as government ministers from a number of countries, were taking part in the conference’s opening ceremony Monday. The discussions and debates will run Tuesday through Friday.

The question of land reform has taken on new characteristics since the first ICARRD, said França, who pointed out that in today’s new context, the main objective is to ensure access to land for small farmers, a problem that also affects countries in Europe and that is increasingly felt in Latin America with the emergence of stronger social movements and widely varied responses from governments.

The issue is also closely linked to international trade rules, as has been “dramatically” demonstrated by experiences in Africa following disastrous plunges in the prices of agricultural commodities like cotton, he added.

It is his hope, and that of the Brazilian government, that this second ICARRD will adopt a final declaration and plan of action that “incorporate the best of previous world conferences on food and the environment,” and define concepts, principles, priorities and guidelines for effective rural development.

But even more important will be the follow-up measures and the national and international programmes adopted as a result of the conference, he noted.

The Tuesday through Friday discussions will focus on five key themes: policies and experiences that have improved access to resources for the poorest sectors; local capacity building; new development opportunities for rural communities; how to combine agrarian reform, social justice and sustainable development; and food sovereignty.

Via Campesina, a global civil society network with numerous member organisations in Brazil, will actively participate in the conference, along with similar movements like the Brazilian Confederation of Agricultural Workers and the Federation of Workers in Family Agriculture, both of which are linked to local trade union federations.

At a camp set up in a centrally located park in Porto Alegre, some 5,000 peasant farmers will gather to discuss their problems and demands as part of a parallel event held by civil society organisations. The participants will adopt a declaration that will be presented to the ICARRD on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Mar. 8, International Women’s Day, rural activists will stage a march to the conference venue, the Catholic University campus, announced Paulo Facioni, a Via Campesina coordinator in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, of which Porto Alegre is the capital.

The “symbol of agribusiness” denounced by this march will be the pulp industry, which controls vast areas of land in the central-eastern states of Espírito Santo and Bahia and is seeking to undertake major projects in Rio Grande do Sul, Facioni told IPS. The production of wood pulp or cellulose, the raw material for making paper, poses a threat to the food sovereignty defended by small farmers, since pulp and paper companies “take land away from agriculture” by buying up huge tracts to plant fast-growing pulp trees like eucalyptus, he explained.

“People can’t eat eucalyptus trees or wood,” stressed Facioni, who is also a leader of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), which heads the fight for faster agrarian reform in Brazil.

The FAO’s decision to organise this conference is “praiseworthy,” but the way in which it addresses agricultural, agrarian and food security issues is unsatisfactory, said Facioni.

The Brazilian government has also failed to live up to its promises of effective agrarian reform that would radically change the realities of rural Brazil and the concentration of land ownership in a few hands, he stressed. Nevertheless, the discussions to be held in Porto Alegre this week are important, because they could pave the way to greater advances in this process, he added.

 
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AGRICULTURE: FAO and Brazil Resuscitate Agrarian Reform

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 6 2006 (IPS) - The second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), taking place this week in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, will be dusting off long-buried issues. The first edition took place 27 years ago in Rome.
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