Preparing to go to Brazil

Preparing to go to Brazil

Date: 6 February 2014

I have just printed off my tickets, checked my hostel address for when I arrive and packed a laptop and a camera so I can blog while I’m away. According to the delegates pack I was sent, the weather is going to be really hot, but also really rainy – so I’m still struggling to know what clothes to pack even though my taxi leaves tonight at 3am.

I’m travelling to Brazil to take part in the Landless Workers Movement congress. The Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – often known as the MST), is Brazil’s largest social movement and has been organising and winning land for thousands of people since the 1980s. This year it celebrates its 30th anniversary so their gathering in Brasilia will be a special one.

In 2011 a member of the MST’s national committee, Delwek Matheus, spoke at an event we organised in Manchester: Hunger for Justice: From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty. I interpreted for Delwek during his talk and journey. On the way back to London he told me to get in touch if I were ever to find myself in Brazil. I had never imagined that three years later I’d be preparing to take part in their national congress.

The MST was set up to address the extreme inequality of land ownership in Brazil, and the fact that millions of peasant farmers are unable to make a decent living. Through a process of occupying and reclaiming unproductive land, the MST have been able to set up settlements and win the rights to the land through a clause in the Brazilian constitution.

But the MST isn’t just about land ownership, it’s about building a different society which puts people before profit, and develops a model of agriculture rooted in food sovereignty which respects the environment. The MST places great importance on education and skilling up its members, as well as fighting for gender equality. 

The MST congresses take place every five years and is when the movement ratifies its policies which will guide the MST over the next five years. These policies have been debated locally, then by representatives at the state level, and finally at a national level.

Many of the policies have already been agreed, including the slogan Lutar, construir reforma agrária popular! – Fight, build a people’s agrarian reform!

You can read more about what a ‘people’s agrarian reform’ looks like here but a big part of it is about developing an agricultural model based on agro-ecology, cooperation and ultimately, food sovereignty.

There are about 1.5 million members of the MST, and more than 15,000 of them will be at the Congress which I am going to next week. They represent more than 350,000 families who live in established settlements and 90,000 in camps from across Brazil. The agenda includes sessions on the challenges to women’s participation in building change, the international context of imperialism as well as regional festivities and cultural performances. I’ll be joining about 200 people from outside of Brazil, and so as well as strengthening WDM’s links with the MST, I will hopefully get to know people working on food sovereignty, environmental and land issues from around the world.