Brazil Has The World’S Most Unequal
Brazil has the world’s most unequal land distribution and an increasing number of landless people. This triggered the rise of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). The MST aims to change this issue by providing those who have nothing with a new way of life, through the process of agrarian reform. This is the change in laws in relation to land ownership. Land that is not being used productively should be distributed equally. Therefore, the importance of land rights in Brazil are recognised as a central issue and thus, the MST took full action to acquire the land they deserve. The MST was “the most dramatic and far-reaching social change of the second half of this century” (Notes Staff, 2003). This quote from Eric Hobsbawm illustrates the importance of power and how dominating this movement was.
Land in Brazil was owned by the Latifundio government and consisted of rich landowners who were politically powerful and avoided land reform. This undermined the population, however, the introduction of agrarian reform ended this unfair system. As a result, 300,000 poor people on over 21 million hectares of land were relocated (Kingsnorth, 2003), and Brazil’s land distribution was expanding further which allowed more people to have a larger and equal area of land. For example, in Itapeva, 17,000 hectares of land is allocated to settlers (Kingsnorth, 2003). People can farm the land, produce crops and food, which can then be sold on to earn money, and thus, improve their overall standard of living.
Globalization is the increase in international integration of trade and cultures in a country from around the world and is making land struggles in Brazil worse. It gives settlers no choice but to abandon the land and work in cities. Furthermore, migration to the city is encouraged unintentionally due to 60% of the land not being of functional use (Kingsnorth, 2003). One of the main causes of poverty is the loss of land. Family farms declined by a fifth by 1995, and the 25 million peasants employed in agriculture fell from 23 to 18 million (Branford and Rocha, 2002). As a result, there was an increase in unemployment and starvation as people lived on the bare minimum. This was a serious problem in slum areas. Land loss is the epi centre for the problems mentioned above which had a range of knock on effects.
The MST had implemented new land strategies, however, setbacks occurred. The Police took legal action by evicting the settlers, leaving them with no land rights. As a result, they had to rearrange themselves in new vulnerable locations where conditions were worse. In areas where poverty and starvation was rife, land that was used to produce food for the local population was instead used to produce commercial crops for the inhabitants own satisfaction. The MST chose unproductive areas of land that was favourable to easy access of water, fertile land and legal ownership. It is estimated that 53% of the world’s population is rural and the number of people living in rural areas will outnumber those living in cities within a decade (Kingsnorth, 2003).
Brazil benefited from the land rights that had been implemented. For example, a Bionatur organic seed company was set up and seeds were produced and sold on to farmers. Over 50 families grew a diverse range of more than 20 seeds which were sold internationally and nationally (Kingsnorth, 2003). Moreover, exporting crops like soya, had a significant impact on Brazil’s future. In 1999, $56 billion was made as a result of soya exports (Vergara-Camus, 2009). These are just two examples of how important the land rights in Brazil were, and thus illustrates a successful future ahead for the inhabitants and the economy.
Another area facing land right problems is Mexico. On New Year’s Day in 1994, The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was accepted. NAFTA removed tariffs on goods produced and sold in North America. This allowed businesses to buy land belonging to indigenous people and therefore, this put a strain on local farmers as they couldn’t compete with larger companies. As a result, the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberscion Nacional (EZLN) rebelled against local and national authorities as they felt NAFTA threatened the land rights. The EZLN was described as, “an uprising as big as the revolution that shook the world between 1890 and 1920. BEWARE” (Notes Staff, 2003). This quote from the Asian Vice-president indicates that something severe had occurred, and the capitalisation of ‘BEWARE’ further emphasises that this uprising was about to make its mark on history. A ‘man of mystery’ named Marcos, was the leader of the EZLN and fought for the land rights of the rural population. Over 3000 people from 40 different continents arrived in Chiapas in response to his influential words (Notes Staff, 2003). The EZLN consists of 3000 to 4000 indigenous, young peasants who took over the town of San Cristobal de las.
In Chiapas indigenous communities lived on the most isolated and marginal lands. High levels of poverty and a lack of health care and education dominated the population. The Zapatista rising was a direct result of these conditions. In the 1950’s the reduction in land size could no longer support the population and they were forced into the jungle region. Red clay soils dominated this area but they lost their fertility within one to three crop cycles and thus, this area of land was unreliable.
In 1992, Article 27 was eliminated from the Mexican constitution, consequently, land reform was abolished and because of this, receiving ejido status was nonexistent. Ejidos is an area of communal land that can be used for agriculture and individual use. Mexican’s that worked on the land experienced mass clearance, and their right to forest, water and pasture was taken away from them. However, the introduction of ejidos allowed for a less polarised agrarian structure, a diverse form of production and persistence of the peasant economy.
On the plus side, the jungle is full of biological diversity and is resource rich, this provides good soils for a variety of production methods. For example, Mexico is the top producer of coffee in the country, growing 36% of the total coffee production (Notes Staff, 2003). Mut Vitz is a coffee cooperative and it consists of 600 families from 26 communities (‘Zapatismo’, 2016). This emphasizes the community spirit and this industry has provided employment opportunities for the inhabitants in which they can positively move forward and improve their standards of living. However, the coffee industry used up the only fertile land in the area; this meant the indigenous people farmed the thin, rocky soils on the steep slopes of the highlands. Moreover, the drop in the price of coffee made land struggles between the peasants and the state worse.
Those that had migrated to find work due to unreliable land characteristics and high unemployment, brought home two beneficial essentials; money and knowledge. The introduction of fertilizers and herbicides capitalized their agriculture, and this improved technology had resulted in transformations, changing both the highlands and social relations within indigenous communities. In the 1990’s, the purchasing and stockpiling of food crops, as well as maintaining guaranteed prices, allowed farmers land rights to be protected. However, this sector was conquered by cheap labour and low wages which contrasted with the high price of products being sold elsewhere.
To conclude, the struggles of land in Chiapas and Brazil are largely due to their unstable economic situations and the restructuring and modernization of agriculture. This coincided with a decrease in agricultural products, unemployment and privatization of land rights. The importance of the land right issues have been addressed and revisited, and have been effective in terms of achieving the land rights they deserve, exemplified by successful schemes.