Seminar discusses impacts of and resistance to climate change in the Cerrado

Family farming is the majority rural model in Brazil, but these lands are infinitely smaller than those of agribusiness

In 2006, the Agricultural Census provided a visceral overview of how agribusiness has always benefitted from the Brazilian state. In Tocantins, rural establishments that did not follow the family farming model represented only one quarter of the total number of establishments within the state. However, the area occupied by this minority corresponded to 81.32% of the total number of hectares of all rural establishments. Land belonging to family farmers did not reach even 20%.

The most recent census, carried out in 2017, demonstrated the extent to which agribusiness has advanced: as well as owning larger pieces of land, 30% of rural establishments in Tocantins are now in the hands of agribusiness.  Who the “owners” of these large estates are, and their modus operandi, is no secret.  “Non-family farming” establishments hold infinitely larger lands, although they are smaller in absolute numbers, and the damage this development model has caused the biomes, the traditional peoples and communities who live in them, and the entire world, is extremely serious.

It was Kátia Penha, from the National Commission for the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas: CONAQ),  who shared this information. She was one of the invitees of the Online Seminar “Cerrado and Climate Change: impacts and resistance”, hosted by CESE on 21 and 22 June.

The meeting debated issues such as “What changes have been observed in the water cycles and what are this changes due to (what and who)? Have changes taken place in the cycles for water production and seeds over time? and “What has caused this imbalance?”

Kátia provided data which demonstrated that, despite being the minority in terms of the absolute number of establishments, big agribusiness is among those responsible for the most environmental destruction and for profiting from this devastation.  “The richest 10% emit 50% of the carbon – through agribusiness, livestock enterprises, mining companies and property speculation. In the meantime, a lack of water, floods, fires and the most severe impacts of the pandemic – the consequences of all this destruction, hit the poorest.”

Emílio Apinajé who was also invited to speak at the seminar, talked about the changes her people have observed in the cycles of water in her community.  She cited a company that was installed near to her village which has been cutting down trees to plant soybean and eucalyptus monocultures.  “The poison they spread contaminates the rivers.  This is a concern for the Apinajé people.  The creek is inside our village. It used to be full of water, but its level has been falling for some time now.  Drying up, little by little.”

Kátia emphasized that traditional peoples and communities do not represent a danger to the environment, on the contrary.  “Family farmers also grow crops in these areas, but we don’t attack the land.  We want the Cerrado to stay.  We live at the nexus between human beings, nature and tradition.  We, as peoples, need to understand the Brazilian agricultural system where we are, because the situation is desperate.”

Gecilha Crukoy Krahô is concerned to see rivers steadily drying up and her people losing the right to stay on their land. “Quilombolas, peasant farmers, black people.  Many people who were here ran away, afraid of dying, they left their lands and now they want to come back, but they’re saying we don’t have the right.  How is that we, who are the seeds, the shoots of this land, don’t have the right to it, aren’t able to live and sleep in peace, to make our natural foods?”

She refuses to let go of the ways of life she inherited from her ancestors.  “Within the Cerrado, we need the bakuri, the pequi, the guama, the coconut, all of it.  I want everybody to have a full belly, for their festivities, for their culture, to be satiated.  If all this comes to an end, what will remain?  Will they become saints? Will nobody eat or bathe? I want my grandchildren to bathe, to go into the forest, to catch a bee, an arapuá, to be able to eat.  This is the culture of the elders and I don’t want to abandon the ways of my great-grandparents. I want white people to respect us.”


The Cerrado and Climate Change

The seminar was attended by representatives of organizations from several states.  Not only their ways of life, but the struggles and resistance of these traditional peoples and communities have a lot of similarities. Reports about the changes observed in their territories often arise from the same problems.

Places that are usually either cold or hot have experienced a temperature reversal.  Rivers, streams, creeks, and even springs, are increasingly drying up, victims of an altered climate, and poisoned and infertile soil.  The rains are now unpredictable, which affects the harvest.  People are sick, the forests have been cut down, the animals burnt, while profits for agribusiness are overwhelming these people’s traditions.

As well as Gecilha, Emílio and Kátia, other invitees included: Leosmar Terena, an indigenous biologist with a Master’s Degree in Local Development in the Context of Territoriality; Kátia Gomes, from the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra: MST); Samuel Britto, from the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra: CPT); and geographer and popular educator Andréia Maciel, from the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (Movimento pela Soberania Popular na Mineração: MAM).