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CESE training addresses relationships between race, gender, territory and food systems in the Cerrado

 

Traditional communities in Brazil are responsible for the kind of food production that conserves the socio-biodiversity of the biomes. In the Cerrado, the diversity of managed plants, clearing land, local production arrangements, the transmission of knowledge, planting and consumption all express a community’s relationship with its territory and the conditions required to remain in it. This is the historical result of resistance to the colonial pattern of power, which continues to exist through the current, predatory and highly exclusionary development model.

Over hundreds of years, quilombolas, indigenous people, extractivists, coconut breakers, riverside dwellers and a range of other peoples have created their own forms of organization and interaction with these spaces and resisted society’s oppressive structures and inequalities.

To expand on a debate that recognizes the extent to which violence in the territories is intricately connected to the intersections of gender and race, and to reassert the importance of the forms of production that traditional communities apply, with their knowledge about political, social and environmental balance, in partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute, CESE ran another training session: Racism, Gender, Territory and Food Systems in the Cerrado.

The activity took place in person in Brasilia (in the Federal District), was attended by ten organizations and groups from the Cerrado and was divided into three important sessions – the Meeting, the Exchange and the Workshop on Drafting Projects.

Activities opened with a ceremonial rite including African fabrics, flags, blouses and publications, symbols brought by the participants to express their experiences and the trajectory of their struggles. In an environment of collective identity, exchanges about the challenges and strategies to confront the current political situation provided recognition of the coordinated struggle to confront the ways in which chauvinism, racism and other violence have structured the territories.

Listening to reports from her training companions, Ana Patrícia do Nascimento, member of the Black Rural Quilombo Community Ribeirão da Mutuca, perceived the commonalities between people who suffer and resist the same oppressions: “We have been in our communities for thousands of years, living and producing in communion with nature, guaranteeing our families’ livelihoods and the preservation of our territories. The struggle is the same for those who live in quilombos, in villages and by the rivers,” she declared, also providing an analysis of the economic, racial, cultural and even religious aspects that interfere in the dynamics of the communities: “It is always a white, rich, Christian man who wants to encircle us and impose his rules.”

In the same way, Jânio Avalo, from the Guarani Kaiowá people of Mato Grosso do Sul, talked about indigenous resistance against the historical process of the colonialization and massacre of indigenous peoples: “This moment brings us self-knowledge about the nation’s history. It reinforces our fight for rights and helps us see that we are not alone. These are similar struggles against invisibility, genocide, but also with a great deal of strength, resistance and existence.”

 

The Quilombola Community of Mesquita Exchange

Cassava, corn, oranges, sugarcane, vegetables, greens, seedlings and medicinal plants are all examples of the Quilombola Community of Mesquita’s crops and produce. The territory is located at the border between the Federal District and Goiás, is 276 years old and houses approximately 800 families. During the training, the group had an opportunity to experience local culture and to discuss the history of the community’s struggle and its main challenges.

Until the foundation and the whole process of constructing Brasilia, the community lived without external interference. A large number of families were dedicated to agriculture, raising animals and making traditional guava jam, marmalade and cassava flour. Now, the territory is under threat from intense property speculation and soybean monoculture in the region. Sandra Braga, local leader and representative of the National Commission for the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Coordenação Nacional de Articulação de Quilombos: CONAQ), received the training participants and explained the community’s way of life and daily challenges: “With urbanization, plots and condominiums are unofficially built, without respecting the environment. They are deforesting and polluting the water. There are large-scale landowners within Mesquita, planting soybeans and using an absurd amount of pesticide,” she reported.

Immersion in the community’s situation enabled Jânio Guarani Kaiowá to reflect on his territory and the food insecurity caused by the violence and oppression from gunmen and those involved in the large-scale production of soybeans, sugarcane and livestock for export. “Food, for us, is sacred. And the sacred is being disrespected and violated by the poisoning of monocultures. They are trying to prevent us from producing healthy food, from planting to survive and for our autonomy.”

However, preserving the Cerrado has always been one of the roles performed by quilombolas, with the reforestation of fruit plants from the biomes, the use of organic manure and the control of pests with infusions and natural products. It is in their very way of life, in their harmonious relationship with the environment, in their customs, in their food and in the history of the families of Mesquita and in all the traditional communities in the Cerrado to fight for their right to remain in their territory. “We continue in resistance for our territory and our cultural identity,” Sandra declared.

 

Workshop on Drafting Projects

As well as discussing how power structures affect the lives of the traditional peoples and communities in the Cerrado and in response to a request from participants, the meeting also provided support in the form of a workshop in how to draft projects. This part of the training aimed to empower the groups in how to use appropriate tools and access resources through CESE’s Small Projects Programme and other funding streams.

“I left the training session with so much learning, which I will share with the collective. As a partner, CESE not only values the struggle, but also helps to strengthen the movement. They are encouraging us to run projects so that we can expand our partnerships,” said Raimunda Nonata, Babassu Coconut Breaker.

For Mirelly Ythielly Ferreira, a young person from Bico do Papagaio in Tocantins, this was one of the highlights of the training. “The whole training process was very enriching for me, but what interested me most was the workshop on drafting projects. It was the first contact I’ve had with this content and I think it’s very important for our autonomy. All young people should have access to it. I will take everything I learnt back to my community,” she declared, as a representative of the Working Group of Young Rural People (Grupo de Trabalho das Juventudes Rurais) in Bico.