Seminar discusses aspects of land racism, sometimes nebulous, but always violent

The agricultural census published in 2017 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE) was the first to include race within data about the land.  This ‘innovation’ confirmed something we have known for a long time: the explicit face of land racism in Brazil.  Only 7.8% of Brazilian producers self-declared as black and 1% as indigenous; while white producers accounted for 45%.

But the history of land racism, the stark racial inequality in the distribution of Brazilian land, is even more profound.  It is complex and affects the dignity of traditional peoples and communities, and black populations, nebulously, but always violently.  This was one of the issues addressed at the 2nd Virtual Seminar on Racism and Food Systems, held by CESE, in partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute.

Tatiana Gomes, grassroots legal advisor at the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra: CPT), was invited to talk at the seminar and provided several examples. Access to credit was one of the points she brought up, pointing out that those who have historically obtained credit from banks in Brazil are white employers and that this has been accessed on the backs of black bodies.

“Enslaved people were capitalized income.  When this stopped, they were replaced by land.  Why is so much land grabbed and why are so many people killed for land in Brazil? Is it for crops? No. Grabbed land guarantees millions of dollars in credit. Small plots from agrarian reform, no.  This is one manifestation of the system of privileges engineered by racism, which privileges whiteness,” Tatiana declared.

She explained that when racism is institutionalized it is conscious, since there are rational decisions behind everything that limits people’s rights. “What ‘justifies’ the decision to close a public school that serves a specific quilombola community? Behind this act is a decision that was considered and aimed at limiting these people’s rights,” she said.

Tatiana also reminded us that, under the Constitution, places of worship are guaranteed tax exemption benefits and that churches enjoy this right.  However there are cases where Candomblé worship houses are regularly charged Urban Building and Land Tax (Propriedade Predial e Territorial Urbana: IPTU) and Rural Land Tax (Propriedade Territorial Rural: ITR).  “No evangelical or catholic churches have been subject to this”.


The dignity of the peoples

When narrated by people who experience these conflicts on a daily basis, the history of the violence of racism takes on an even more dramatic form.  The report from Maria Rosalina dos Santos, from the State Coordination Office for the Quilombola Communities of Piauí (Coordenação Estadual das Comunidades Quilombolas do Piauí: CECOQ), describes the non-entitlement of lands as one of the cruellest manifestations of racism, since it keeps traditional peoples and communities in eternal vulnerability.

“When the land is not entitled, there is absolutely no guarantee that the people will be able to remain on their land or even attain quality of life; there is no decent housing.  You don’t have drinking water, you aren’t able to grow crops, to support yourself.  You live in constant insecurity. At any moment an invader could enter in the name of development and start on deforestation, monoculture plantations, poisoning,” she said.

Rosana Sampaio, from the Centre for Production, Research and Training in the Cerrado (Centro de Produção, Pesquisa e Capacitação do Cerrado: CEPPEC) describes how, in Mato Grosso do Sul, even the settlements are turning to soybeans. “The pandemic brought such asphyxiation to the families that they have ended up surrendering to monoculture projects. And they are losing their spaces, their stories, their production roots. This worries me, because we are at a moment in time when everyone is crying out to breathe clean air and we see something growing at such a rate that it is poisoning the air,” she reported.

Alessandra de Arruda, from Takiná – the Organization for the Indigenous Women of Mato Grosso (Organização de Mulheres Indígenas de Mato Grosso), voiced her concerns about the advance of agribusiness into indigenous territories. “The agribusiness view is that indigenous territories are not productive.  I see racism in this.  We have always been productive and with great diversity”.

Elizete Carvalho, from the Collective of Women for the Cerrrado (Coletivo de Mulheres pelo Cerrado), notes that traditional peoples and communities not only want to resist, but to exist, with their ways of life and culture. “We produce riches. We have a way of life that is also important for the conservation of other peoples.  We confront racism and continue in the fight, taking the hands of others, so that we can continue to exist.”


Other issues

The 2nd Virtual Seminar on Racism and Food Systems was held over two days (29 and 30 March).The impact of racism on the territories and on food production within the communities was also discussed, with contributions from Fran Paula, a quilombola and agricultural engineer from the NGO Fase in Mato Grosso.

The meetings were also marked by very poetic moments led by women from traditional communities. Over the two days, approximately 80 people participated in the seminar, from different states and biomes, but facing similar challenges.

Antônio Dimas Galvão, CESE’s Project and Training Coordinator, emphasised that such moments play an essential part in supporting this struggle in the biomes.  “Exchanging experiences is so important.  CESE is with you.  Our role is to try and strengthen your political struggles.  We know that monoculture, large-scale production using poisons, is not the solution. We have to strengthen those who respect biodiversity, the diverse communities, without harming the environment.