"More than 90
percent of the settlers we interviewed were involved
in a conflict for the land that they work. These conflicts are
what create the conditions necessary for the landowner to
cede the area. Without pressure from these movements, land
reform does not move forward as there are a thousand obstacles."
Without the fight for the land there would be no agrarian reform in Brazil.
Thanks to settlements throughout the country, rural workers while still poor
can have better access to health and education services.
In monoculture zones as
the ones in which sugarcane is the only crop, settlements help diversify the
culture, specially growing vegetables and fruits that are sold in the local
market. In turn, these settled workers with the money they make are able to
buy consumer goods like TVs and refrigerators.
These are some of the
findings of the study coordinated by Leonilde Medeiros, Sérgio Leite,
Moacir Palmeira, Beatriz Heredia, all professors at Rio’s Universidade Federal
Rural and by Rosângela Cintrão, a researcher.
Sociologist Leonilde Medeiros
talks in this interview about hers and her colleagues’ work that resulted
in the newly published book Impacto dos Assentamentos: um estudo sobre
o meio rural brasileiro (The Impacts of Settlements: A Study of Brazilian
The word "settlement"
(in Portuguese, assentamento) connotes a very specific context in Brazil.
Generally, this is an area of land for which a group of people, who previously
were landless, struggled. First the people occupy the land, and then hopefully
gain title to it after a period of time. The process is difficult and often
Can you explain to
us how your study of Brazilian rural life was conducted?
The idea for the study
began when we saw that there was much research done on settlements, but not
much on what all of it means. Actually, we did two studies. In the first one,
we studied six statesRio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro,
Sergipe, Mato Grosso and Acre, from 2000-2001. We worked with settlements
created between 1985 and 1997. The other study was about the impact of these
What were the conclusions
of the studies?
The first thing that was
impressive was that the settlements generate jobs. Each of them creates an
average of three jobs per family. It is important to highlight here that the
jobs created are not field or farm jobs; rather they are jobs like clerks
at small markets located on the settlement. Another interesting fact is that
80 percent of the settlers came from the region where the settlement is located
and were rural workers.
So the common understanding
that settlements are made up of people from the cities is a misconception?
Well, many of those who
have rural roots are people who did spend some time in the city, looking for
a job, but then decided to return to the rural life.
What changed in the
life of the settlers?
We tried to compare the
situation of settlers before and after becoming part of a settlement, seeing
if their life improved or not in relation to health, education, communication,
living conditions, access to food, possession of household goods, etc.
The greater part of those
interviewed felt their life improved. Even though their current situation
is very precarious, compared to their former lives, there is a significant
improvement. They have houses, food which often comes from the actual settlement,
better access to education and health.
They are able to afford
appliances such as refrigerators and televisions. This led us to conclude
that the settlements have a very important role in the insertion of families
in the marketplace as well as in the social arena. These are families who
before becoming part of a settlement led extremely precarious lives and had
no alternatives for working.
Of those interviewed,
87 percent have no more than a fourth grade education, and a great majority
of these still cannot read and write. Before, they could not enter into the
workplace because they did not even have the minimum requirements or training
What was the age range
of those you interviewed?
Most were between the
ages of 40 and 60. Normally, a typical nuclear family occupies one piece of
property. However, once the family was well-established on the lot, then other
relatives began to show upin-laws, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
etc.people who were also coming from precarious living situations….
What else would you
highlight in your studies?
More than 90 percent of
the settlers we interviewed were involved in a conflict for the land that
they work. We came to the conclusion that these conflicts are what create
the conditions necessary for the landowner to cede the area, and that these
conflicts create other settlements. That is, there is a conflict, the land
is ceded, the neighbors in the area see what happened, and then they go after
another piece of land.
So the MST (Movement
of Rural Workers Without Land) is doing the right thing?
Yes. Truthfully, without
pressure from these movements, land reform does not move forward as there
are a thousand obstacles to hurdle if you go through bureaucratic channels.
Another thing to say here is that settlements often happen as a result of
some crisis. For example, in the sugarcane country of the Northeast, the sugar
industry went through hard times, and many factories were shut down. People
then began occupations.
Any other thing you
There is tremendous agricultural
diversity on the land of the settlements. Areas which were once single crop
fields become areas which enrich local food markets. Some products, such as
beans, manioc, and corn are cultivated on every settlement. There is also
always some small animal-raising.
They grow these products
because they easily sell in the local market. In the sugarcane region of Pernambuco,
there has been a multiplication of street fairs as a result of production
from settlements. So, this diversity is significant in boosting local trade
Why is this production
not officially recognized?
It does not appear in
the national statistics because most of the produce is sold in the informal
sectorin street fairs, small markets, etc. Also, the great majority
of settlers have never had access to certain farming practices, like receiving
credit from the government. But there is no denying that their production
has become an important factor in local economies.
Mário Augusto Jakobskind is a Brazilian journalist. This interview
appeared originally in Portuguese in the newspaper Brasil de Fato –
You can contact the author writing to email@example.com.