Following fire, rural community in Tocantins fights to reorganize community farm

By Rafael Oliveira

Cassava, beans, rice, pumpkin, corn, potato, okra, gherkins, parsley… the list of food produced by the Tauá rural community is long and varied.  Everybody is involved in the planting and harvesting work: young people, women and men divide up the tasks and put their hands to the earth to ensure there is plenty at home.

Located in the municipality of Barra do Ouro, approximately 380 km from Palmas, the state capital of Tocantins, the Tauá Community is formed of 80 families.  The town is in a highly desirable region for agribusiness, in particular for planting the soy and eucalyptus monocultures that have taken over from livestock.  In 2018, the land was undergoing a process for the regulation and creation of a settlement, but this was blocked by the federal government.

Despite difficulties in getting their lands recognized, approximately four years ago some of the group decided to get organized and start a community farm, run principally through collective work.  The main crop is cassava, which, after harvest, is transformed into puba flour.  “We used this mode of organization to ensure greater unity between the families – there are currently about 15, but the aim is to involve others who aren’t yet participating,” declares Valdineis Pereira dos Santos, one of the group’s leaders.

The strategy was effective and has inspired new initiatives. “We were producing a lot of food on our lands and on the community farm” remembers Dona Silene Pereira da Silva, who has lived in the community for five years. “But there was nowhere to sell our products”.

Dona Silene and some other women suggested that the community set up a rural market in the town. No sooner said than done: they asked the municipality for authorization and set up their stalls in Barra do Ouro’s main street.  “We started slowly, but the townspeople saw how healthy our food is and its high quality.  And other friends saw our success and began to bring their products,” she explains.

In the middle of September 2019, the Tauá suffered a blow they are still reeling from.  A large fire destroyed approximately 60% of their community farm and the building in which the families milled their flour.  Arson was suspected.  For years, the community has suffered from violent attacks by land grabbers who produce soy in the region and who have burnt and knocked down the families’ houses, blocked access roads and stopped school transport from entering the community, to prevent children and adolescents attending school.

As well as financial losses, the fire led to the suspension of the fortnightly market in the town. “It was so sad to see the fire consuming everything we had planted and almost reaching our friends’ homes.  There are people here who spent more than five days fighting the fire to stop it spreading any further.  Today, my dream is to go straight back to work with my husband and neighbours and revive our market,” says 29-year-old Antônia Pereira da Silva.  Through a project developed by the Tauá Community, which relied on support from the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) and HEKS/EPER, as well as cooperation from the Araguaia-Tocantins Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra: CPT), the families now have access to basic items to reconstruct the flour house and replant the fields, including seeds, a cassava grating machine, water tanks, tiles, timber, a sealing machine to pack the flour, and other materials.

The flour house is being restructured to start immediately.  The cassava seed planting, on the other hand, will take place over the year, depending on the dry and rainy seasons characteristic of the region.  “All of this is a blessing, it’s a door that God is opening for us.  It makes us hopeful, having the flour house working, so we can earn a little money.  It’ll be so good, it’ll be great,” says Dona Silene, smiling.

By Rafael Oliveira

Web series (R)Existence in the Cerrado

The Cerrado is one of the largest and most important biomes in Brazil, with a biodiversity covering 23% of the national territory and supporting a range of indigenous and quilombola communities.  The biome suffers from deforestation, principally caused by the agricultural sector and exacerbated by outbreaks of fire.  According to a report published in the Brasil de Fato newspaper, on 2 August 2020 there were 12 thousand outbreaks of fire in the biome.

In the coming months, the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE), with support from HEKS/EPER, invites supporters to find out about the history of struggle and resistance of the people who live in the #cerrados in Brazil.  CESE’s communication channels will broadcast a weekly web series telling the stories of the communities and people whose lives were partially destroyed in 2019 by the fires in their territories, but who have found the strength to rebuild their houses, replant their fields and reorganize their work and daily activities.

The series will be broadcast on CESE’s communication channels in September and October 2020 and at:
Campanha Nacional em Defesa do Cerrado (National Campaign in Defence of the Cerrado) 


Images taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.