One of the pillars of Brazil’s land reform program is the expropriation of unproductive farms so that the land can be used to settle landless rural workers on homesteads. But what exactly is "unproductive"?
The issue is being discussed by the government and an umbrella organization of rural social movements known as the Via Campesina (Country Trail).
Via, as it is called, insists that the government committed itself to updating rural property productive metrics in May 2005 when it put thousands of demonstrators on the Esplanada (Mall) in Brazil’s capital Brasília at the end of an event known as the National March for Land Reform.
The farm productivity indexes presently used by the government’s Land Reform Institute (Incra) were established in 1980, based on data from 1975. Using those metrics, Incra can determine whether or not an area should or should not be expropriated for land reform settlement.
Via argues that since the 1980s there have been enormous advances in productivity and the metrics must be updated to reflect a new reality.
The Ministry of Agrarian Development (where Incra is housed) and Via both believe that with updated productivity metrics many areas now considered productive would be subject to expropriation, especially in areas where land conflicts are endemic, such as the South and Northeast.
The Ministry reports that it has already prepared updated productivity metrics, which are presently being analyzed by the Palácio do Planalto, the presidency.
Meanwhile, João Pedro Stedile, a leader of one of the rural worker movements (the MST, Landless Movement) says the government defaulted because it has still not changed the productivity metrics.
"This was supposed to be taken care of in a couple of weeks. It has been months and months," complains Stedile, adding that he thinks the government is divided on the issue because it is really commanded by the vested interests of financial, industrial and agribusiness elites.
However, other leaders of rural worker groups, such as Francisco Urbano, a former farm worker union president who has been active in the movement since 1961, says productivity is a red herring; that the real problem is that the country had a Land Statute (Estatuto da Terra) which was in effect from 1964 to 1988.
According to Urbano, the Land Statute had provisions that resolved all the problems that are endlessly discussed today. But first there was the 1964 military takeover followed by a twenty-year period when the Land Statute (although it remained in effect) was ignored, and then, the "centrist" 1988 Constitution that superseded and killed it.
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