Brazils Landless Workers Movement MSTReclaiming Land for the Poor

Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST) emerged in reaction to the evictions, expropriations, and displacements in Brazil during the dictatorial period of 1979 to 1983. MST is made up of diverse landless peasant organizations demanding the right to live and grow their own food on unused lands. Through "occupations" of idle land, MST has settled more than a million people on fifteen million acres and forced agrarian reform to the top of the national political agenda. Brazil's government has formally recognized MST's rights to farm these lands. MST's 500 independent production cooperatives process, market, and distribute farm products while actively promoting organic farming methods. Their three credit unions have thousands of members.

Typical occupations consist of 1,000-3,000 families who turn idle land into productive farms. They sell their produce in the marketplaces of the local towns and buy their supplies from local merchants. Not surprisingly, those towns with nearby MST settlements are better off economically than other similar towns, and many mayors now actually petition the MST to carry out occupations near their towns. MST has succeeded in reducing malnutrition, joblessness, and poverty in its settlements while increasing literacy rates. The success story of MST in Brazil has been an inspiration to many similar movements in other countries.

The examples in this section represent a small but typical sample of the thousands of small farmers, citizen groups, and land-based peoples retaking control of their most basic needs, providing their own communities and families with access to fresh, healthy, nutritious local foods grown under conditions that they can understand and control, and in which they can have confidence. We could certainly fill a book with such examples. What is most important for our purposes here is that these are just the tip of an iceberg.

This burgeoning movement also finds expression as internal protests within bureaucracies such as the WTO that have been sustaining the opposite model; one that has been destroying the earth and communities of people who depend on it. With the poor nations of the world now aligned with poor peoples of the world, even within the wealthiest countries, there is an awakening on these matters that cannot be squelched.

In any case, as already discussed, industrialized agriculture challenges the inherent limits of nature and exacerbates a multitude of horrific global problems. Now, with the advent of climate change, and the growing shortage of cheap energy, it is only a question of time before true reform becomes inevitable, and we return much closer to the kinds of local systems that have been undermined or snuffed out. Meanwhile, we can all work toward changing and/or eliminating the most oppressive of the current bureaucratic rules, meant to sustain a system that will not survive for long.

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