government rejected the proposal to expropriate 36 million hectares
in order to
distribute land to one million families, at a cost of R$ 24 billion,
claiming that there would not be sufficient funds and it lowered the
goal to 400 thousand families. However
the government increased the goal of the primary surplus with the
IMF to more than R$56.9 billion.
in the Current Policy that Prevent Agrarian Reform
Plínio de Arruda Sampaio and Marcelo Resende
is regrettable that in the 21st century, in the year
2004, one still has to argue the importance of agrarian reform.
Public opinion surveys have already made clear the manifest desire
of Brazilian society to carry out full and thorough agrarian reform.
An agrarian reform that promotes the redistribution of lands as the
Brazilian Constitution specifies. This is contrary to what is
suggested by some sectors who are betting on the isolation and
burial of land reform.
need a land reform that promotes the breaking up of more than 70
thousand latifúndios, represented in only 1.6% of the total of
4,238.4 million properties, occupying 43.6% of the total area
registered by INCRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform). This
concentration of land persists since the colonial period.
need an agrarian reform that promotes the democratization of land to
create work, with less investment than in the majority of existing
economic activities. This is fundamental for a country that,
according to the census data from IBGE, had 8.537 million unemployed
people in May 2003.
need an agrarian reform that promotes the break up of land
concentration to implement a new and vigorous process of
strengthening peasant agriculture, based on the production of
healthy low cost foods, especially for a third of the population
that survives below the poverty line.
need an agrarian reform that promotes the break up of land
concentration to get the programs against hunger and misery
functioning, such as Zero Hunger, that for now focuses its activity
only on social service programs. This project should make it a
priority to purchase food directly from the small farmers to furnish
the institutional market, providing income directly to the
is also a clear perception in society that agrarian reform should be
accompanied by important instruments of technical assistance,
training, commercialization, credit, infrastructure, in a way that
substantially improves the quality of life of men and women in the
countryside and in the cities.
arguments in favor of breaking up the concentration of land in this
country are numerous. But the central question is the need for a
profound change in the agrarian structure, of which agrarian reform
is only one part. However, all efforts must be centered on
confronting the latifúndio (large land holdings).
Brazilian latifúndio has been supported through five centuries of
colonization, slavery, “coronelism” and currently in
agribusiness. This is combined with slave work, with landing strips
for narcotrafficking, and with the killings of rural workers.
starting point to turn this situation around must be the break up of
the large concentrations of land, by means of expropriations.
According to INCRA, between 1992 and 1998, the area occupied by
properties larger than 2,000 hectares was increased by 56 million
hectares, which represents three times more than the 18 million
hectares that the Cardoso government claims to have expropriated
during six years. At the same time, data from the IBGE from 1995 to
1999 indicates the approximate emigration of 4.2 million people from
the rural area. Besides the lack of government support for small
farming, the concentration of land is also responsible for this
are the obstacles for an effective implementation of agrarian reform
these obstacles cannot be attributed to the more than 400,000
families in settlements who resist in their small plots, without
sufficient support from the government. The government itself
recognizes that, on average, more than 80% of the settlements do not
have basic infrastructure (water, roads, electric power and
technical assistance). Responsibility for the lack of success of
agrarian reform also cannot be attributed to the 200 thousand
families who are waiting on average more than six years (in a shack
covered in plastic sheeting to protect against the scalding sun),
for the possibility of being settled by a program of agrarian
the inauguration of the current Workers Party government, there was
an expectation that a full and thorough agrarian reform would be
implemented. It is important to remember the many congressmen who,
in much more adverse correlation of forces, succeeded in defending
agrarian reform and preventing legislative steps backward that could
strengthen the latifúndio. For example, during the Cardoso
government, the Workers Party brought a direct action of
unconstitutionality about the provisional measure that prevents the
expropriation of occupied lands. Unfortunately, in the current
administration, the provisional measure remains.
argument that there is no correlation of forces in Congress to
approve measures to improve agrarian legislation is not justified.
Congress could, for example, present a bill that prevents the
landowners from avoiding the notification of inspections, as was the
case of the Southal latifúndio, of 13,222 hectares in the
municipality of São Gabriel, in Rio Grande do Sul.
Or even presenting a bill so that the judiciary does not
postpone any more implementation of settlements, after a stated
period of 48 hours, from the evidence of the beginning of the
payment to the former land owners.
could still present a bill that corrects the distortions of the
elevated values of compensations for former landowners. The first
distortion consists of the update of the agrarian debt bonds (TDA)
by 6% per year. What the Constitution determines is not the
conversion of the value of the property into financial bonds, which
would be a prize to the former landowners. It determines the
preservation of the real value of the property. The landowner at
fault, who is not fulfilling the social function of the property, is
not selling land to INCRA, but is being punished (expropriated with
compensation) for not fulfilling the law.
second distortion consists in the payment of compensatory
interest. Until recently this tax was 6% per year. However, after
the re-edition of the Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADIN –
2332/2002) this percentage became 12% per year over the difference
between the price offered by INCRA and the price fixed by the judge.
This is the case of the Annoni Fazenda, in Rio Grande do Sul, in
which the value of expropriation in April 1986 was the equivalent of
R$392 thousand. Today the value of expropriation increased by the
compensatory tax is up to R$491 million.
the corrections in the agrarian legislation, administrative
corrections need to be made in the Executive branch. For example,
the government could revise the table that establishes the
productivity indexes, dated from the 70’s.
inspection by INCRA takes on average nine months, if there is no
juridical obstacle, which in general is not the case. According to
the government, the impediment to carrying out agrarian reform
resides in the lack of structure of INCRA. Even if we recognize this
problem, as an inheritance of previous administrations, the
deficiencies of the administrative machinery can be resolved with
challenge placed before the Executive branch consists in the
settlement of famlies in the states with the greatest social tension
(Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco
and Paraíba). The Cardoso government said that it had settled
600,000 families. However, of these, 70% are found in the states of
legal Amazônia, and another part in remote regions of the
Northeast. In these regions, as a function of the lack of
infrastructure and of devaluation of the land, the latifundio owners
are often interested in expropriation. The current government
appears to follow the same logic. This explains why, of the 70,000
families that the government claims to have settled up to August
2004, the MST says that only 5,440 were in their encampments.
argument spread about is that because of the rural exodus and
“modernization” of the countryside, there are no more landless
people. This theory creates the impression that the 200 thousand
families encamped along the highways are merely making a political
statement. This view is held inside the government, and was
expressed by the decision to no longer provide basic food baskets to
the families in the encampments, because this would “represent
their proliferation.” However, these families are victims of the
government’s failure to comply with the Constitution, which
specifies the expropriation of lands that are not fulfilling a
social function. It is not believable that some family would like to
stay in an encampment only to receive a basic food basket. Moreover,
the basic human right to food must be fulfilled, even in situations
argument presented is that agrarian reform needs to be rethought
because of the high cost of settling a family on the land. The
initial proposal of the National Plan for Agrarian Reform, handed to
the government in December of last year, suggests the expropriation
of 36 million hectares, in four years, with the goal of distributing
land to one million families at a cost of R$ 24 billion, with 11
billion going to compensating the former landowners, and 13 billion
going to the settlement of the beneficiaries. The government
rejected this proposal, claiming that the funds were insufficient,
and it lowered the goal. In the meantime, the government
increased the goal of the primary surplus with the IMF
(International Monetary Fund) to more than R$56.9 billions.
These funds would be sufficient not only to settle one
million families but also to provide water, electricity, and roads
to the existing settlements.
policy of financial deregulation was also deepened by this
government, through a measure by the Central Bank that allows the
sending of remittances outside the country without the sender
needing to be identified. The whole investment budget of the federal
government for this year (2004) is not even R$13 billion. On the
other hand, a survey carried out in 2003 shows that the balance in
foreign applications was R$240 billion (Estado de Minas, October 4,
are also those who defend the nonexistence of unproductive latifúndios
in Brazil. However, according to data from the INCRA, based on
declarations of the landowners themselves, reveals that 70% of the
properties of more than 2 thousand hectares are unproductive,
representing 120 thousand hectares. Of the 600 million hectares of
cultivatable land, 172 million hectares are considered as “vacant
lands,” that is to say, public lands.
are still those who defend the so-called “market agrarian
reform”, currently implemented in Brazil with the support of the
World Bank. This policy is based on financing for the acquisition of
lands, in which the landowner receives the payment on sight and the
landless contract a 20-year debt. This policy does not promote the
break up of large concentrations of land. The Public Ministry has
received accusations of irregularity in these projects. However, a
full evaluation of the program has not been presented by the
finally, there are those who defend the maintenance of the structure
of concentrated land holdings as a strategy for the expansion of
agricultural activities for export, or “commodities”. These
claim that expropriating latifúndios in areas where agribusiness
rules is irresponsible. However, the boasting about agribusiness
hides the perversities of this policy, for example:
a sum of agricultural credit of R$7 billion was designated for
family farming in 2004, agribusiness received R$39 billion. In 2003,
of the credit allotted to family farmers, around R$1 billion was not
the countryside is being modernized with machines and inputs, the
major producer of cotton in the country, the mayor of Acreúna (GO),
dismissed two thousand workers in May of 2004, as a consequence of
acquiring 18 harvesters (Agência Folha, 09/12/2004).
addition to receiving public credit, the agribusiness sector has
access to the financing of multilateral institutions such as the
World Bank, which approved, in September of 2003, a loan of US$ 30
million for the Maggi group to increase the cultivation of soy in
the east of Mato Grosso (Folha de São Paulo, September 25, 2004).
government’s policies have been adjusted to attract international
financial capital. For example, the government makes a big effort to
approve the so-called “PPP”
(Private-Public Partnerships). On the other hand, the same
force is not exerted to guarantee the homologation of the Raposa
Serra do Sol indigenous land.
order to change this situation, we need major changes in
governmental policies. It’s like the Chinese proverb, in which the
master points his finger to the moon and his student, instead of
seeing the moon, can only perceive the finger. No change will occur
in the agrarian and land structure of this country if there is no
change in the economic model.
Plínio de Arruda Sampaio is the president of the Brazilian
Association of Agrarian Reform (ABRA). He was a Congress
(1985-1991), and an advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture
Resende is the former president of INCRA (National Institute for
Agrarian Reform), and a member of the Social Network for Justice and