A street fair is much more than an arena for trading: it is an arena for exchange. It speaks of farming produce in a specific place, of its cultural aspects, and is loaded with ancestry. It includes knowledge that is passed from generation to generation, with a great deal of affection and the sense of struggle. This was the face of the “Virtual Street Fair with the Bartering of Learning and Good Agro-ecological and Anti-racist Practices”.
Held on the mornings of 17 and 18 May, the Virtual Fair was a moment to exhibit objects that held some meaning for members of organizations that participated in the “Strengthening Cerrado organizations to tackle racism” project, run by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) in partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute.
The fair is part of the “Food Systems and the Anti-racist Struggle” workshop programme and the items brought by each participant had a specific aim: to answer the question “what do I bring from my experience that helps us to understand or confront racism in our territories and in our experiences of food production?”
For Jackeline Silva, member of the Institute of Black Women (Instituto de Mulheres Negras: IMUNE), it was an image of Saint Benedict the Black. “A symbol that makes manifest and contemplates aspects of faith, of the spiritual. Something that is invisible and strengthens us. He is the saint protector for chefs, for the enslaved. For faith, for struggle and resistance, but also for sharing and communion, something that we have done a lot,” she said.
Laura Silva and Iolanda Silva, quilombolas from Livramento, Mato Grosso, offered up their resistance to ranch owners, deputies and police officers through their slash-and-burn farming. They brought a banana, a typical fruit from their town, handicrafts, black dolls, honey. “Our resistance comes from our farm produce. If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be contributing to our history today,” said Laura.
Young Beatriz Silva, resident of Correntina in Bahia, student and member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens: MAB), brought her school uniform as a symbol. “I study in a farming school whose symbol is the hoe and the pen: the hoe symbolizes our rural way of life and the pen, the theory. Sustainable family farming is a way out.”
As an arena for exchange, the fair was divided into two specific sessions: on the first day, everyone presented what they had brought and on the second they described what they would take from it. Jorge Gonçalves, resident of Maracajú, Mato Grosso do Sul, and member of the National Commission for the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Comissão Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas: CONAQ) said he was taking away many good experiences.
“I felt emotional hearing these young people talking. I see that our struggle is not dying, that it is being born again, even stronger. Confronting the system is difficult, but you have to have a machete in one hand and a hoe on the side: the machete to cut down all the obstacles and the hoe to plant the seeds of the new knowledge you have in your hand,” he declared.
Antônio Souza Silva, quilombola from Esperantina, Piauí, expressed a feeling similar to that of his colleague Jorge. “What I take from here is this collective strength. From the first seminar to the workshops, we have got stronger through all these words. We can see that the struggle has not stopped. And we need to be stronger to carry on.”
That was the fair. An exchange of experiences between black men, black women, quilombola women, indigenous people, riverside and urban dwellers. An exchange of symbols, of knowledge, of survival strategies and experiences that, every day, give them the strength to confront environmental and structural racism; to confront murderous agribusiness, which is increasingly supported by the State itself.
Agro-ecology in indigenous and quilombola territories
The Virtual Fair was only one part of the workshop. On the first day, two people spoke about agro-ecology experiences in their territories. Francinete Medeiros, Countryside Education student, member of the Quilombola Movement of Maranhão (Movimento Quilombola do Maranhão; MOQUIBOM) and MAB Regional Coordinator; and Arildo Cebalio, an indigenous man from the Terena People in Miranda, Mato Grosso do Sul and Coordinator of the Collective of Indigenous Environmental Action for Nature, Agroecology and Sustainability (Coletivo Ambientalista Indígena de Ação para a Natureza, Agroecologia e Sustentabilidade: CAIANAS).
Fran brought an experience from the community in the central-east part of Maranhão. “Our community is a point in the middle of a circle: around us it’s all genetically modified soybeans, eucalyptus and maize. Agri-business has advanced far into our territories but, as a counterpoint to this, we have started to get organized”.
She talked about their experiences with agro-ecological gardens and the predominance of women in this production. “The survival of our communities is in our gardens. Women are protagonists here and we produce rice, beans, broad beans, coconut oil, handicrafts from babassu coconuts,” she noted. Selling handicrafts has been difficult but one strategy they have adopted is a collective quilombola market.
The community where Fran lives is located at the side of a highway. It is there the women have set up their market. “The products are displayed there and the women take turns for their day at the market, being responsible for sales,” she explained, although the pandemic has affected its progress. But one notable factor in her community’s production is discussing anti-racism through their products.
“We always discuss anti-racism in our sales. We are not selling just any product. It is ours, from the quilombola territory. We are bringing our ancestry to the table. Dandara dos Palmares is on our product label. We try to bring our identity to our products, to add value, so that people don’t say, ‘oh I brought it from some quilombo’, but instead they bought a product that is 100% pesticide-free, from the quilombolas, directly from our territory,” she said.
For his part, Arildo said that his experience with agroforestry has given him a path back; agro-ecology has completely changed his way of life. One example he described was the first thought that came to mind when his people obtained the land they now live on. “I will plant beans, manioc, maize. The system of monoculture, that we know about.”
He changed his view through training. Today, he is the Coordinator of CAIANAS, a loyal defender and practitioner of agro-ecology. “The land sustains us in everything. Agro-ecology is a way to give back to the land everything that it does for us.” In terms of this aspect of retribution, he told us stories that he had heard from his elders.
“They went to our streams, took the food from there and today they are dry. Through agro-ecology, we can restore this, bring back these lives. Today I see so many creatures when I’m going home: monkeys, coatis, tapirs, deer. Thank god we have our land, so they can survive too.”
In the end, Arildo provided a message of unity for everyone who participated in the workshop. “I want to join with you, to motivate you, so that you are more and more encouraged and your self-esteem rises up. So you never lower your heads to the criticism that comes from outside. We are from different cultures, but we are all brothers and sisters.”
The “Food Systems and the Anti-racist Struggle” Workshop also brought us news. Neiriel Pires, a young indigenous man from the Terena people in Miranda, Mato Grosso do Sul, was responsible for organizing sessions throughout the meeting as a way of working on and encouraging his leadership, that of the other young people present, and through this, of others unable to participate.
We discovered that the same Jackeline Silva who brought the image of Saint Benedict the Black to the fair is the author of the book Afro Paladar (Afro Palate). In it she denounces the culinary racism manifest in the gourmetization of food: the appropriation of traditional culinary practices and the inclusion of white elements – such as the white man, the Italian chef – for their later enhancement, emptying them of their ancestral content.
For Olga Matos, member of CESE’s Projects and Training Advisory Department, the workshop planted seeds. “How can we think of an agro-ecological fair without seeds? Here we see seeds of every variety. But also the seeds of hope.” For Rosana Fernandes, also from Projects and Training Advisory Department, the words and participation of everyone who attended encourages CESE to fulfil its mission to strengthen social organizations.
The workshop ended on the morning of 19 May with one more conversation about how to prepare projects. This is the second workshop in the “Strengthening Cerrado organizations to tackle racism” project, whose main focus is to confront racism by strengthening the sustainable food systems of quilombola and traditional communities from the Cerrado.