Mozambique and Brazil join together

5 July 2006 - 4:34pm
News

Mozambique is today one of the poorest countries in the world and the majority of its people survive through small-scale farming. However without any governmental support and with inadequate infrastructure, many Mozambicans, particularly in the south, are unable to grow enough food on their land.

Agroecology explained

Agroecology is the technique of using ecological methods in agriculture. Today's farming methods tend to use vast fields for one crop only (monoculture), decrease biodiversity through the use of pesticides and other chemicals, and overuse soil leading to erosion and depletion of nutrients.

 

In contrast, agroecology can be thought of as organic food with a political tag. Apart from being the most sustainable method for growing food and maintaining plant and resource diversity, it also questions the currently accepted model of intensive agriculture. This method means that small scale famers buy whole ranges of products from big companies such as modified seeds, pesticides and agrochemical fertiliser. These can devastate the environment and often cost as much as small farmers earn from their crops, condemning them to vicious debt cycles. Agroecology puts control over resources firmly back in the hands of small scale farmers.

The MST is building a mass movement that embraces these techniques, both in a practical and political sense, and in the process is fighting hunger and improving the environment. War on Want is supporting the MST in rolling out a mass programme of education and awareness raising in these techiques.

 

War on Want supports farmers' organisations in both of these countries - the Landless People's Movement in Brazil (MST), and União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC, or the National Peasant Movement) in Mozambique. In June 2006 we took UNAC over to Brazil to meet with the MST and other organisations to exchange information about their situation, explore improvements in agricultural methods and learn about how to influence policies for small scale farmers.

In particular, UNAC were interested in learning about "agroecology" (see box), or sustainable agriculture, which the MST has been taking on ever since they realised that the companies selling modified seeds, pesticides and fertilisers are indebting farmers while reaping extortionate profits.

Three UNAC leaders travelled over to Recife on the north-eastern coast of Brazil to participate in the Brazilian National Conference on Agroecology. This event was attended by over 1,500 people from all over Brazil, the majority of which were small-scale farmers. All have been developing a different approach to growing food: instead of using the earth as an endless resource, the soil must be looked after. This means not using pesticides, or using modified seeds which the soil cannot support.

After the conference, UNAC travelled deep inside the state of Pernambuco to see MST's camps and settlements. Just outside Recife, vast amounts of land are used for sugarcane plantations, owned by large landowners that sell to global corporations. Small-scale farmers have been squeezed out and have no land to grow their own food. They visited a small MST camp that has occupied a part of the plantations ? the only alternative to going hungry or begging in the cities. 150 families live here, but in August last year the landowner decided to evict them. The camp was surrounded for two days by the army, and the residents forced to leave. The houses and school were destroyed. Most of the residents had to move to the vast favelas surrounding Caruaru living in crowded, polluted and desperate conditions. They had no choice but to return:

"I cried a lot when we were expelled.", says Marlene, "We were moved around many places over the year ? from a church, to the slums, to the side of the road. My children couldn't sleep from the noise of the passing trucks. But I am so happy to be back here. We've been given courses in co-operation and we are able to sell produce on the local markets"

So in March this year they set up the camp once more. In just two months they've built a school, planted crops, and built small houses from black plastic and wood. But their future is once again in jeopardy as they are threatened with eviction by the end of June. But the MST won't give up.

If this camp becomes a permanent settlement, it means that they can apply for government funding and their land rights are secured. They will be able to get basic services such as electricity to the camp. Jessina, a leader in the camp, explained more:

"Our suffering has been great. We are excluded by society. The majority of us are old and have no pension. We don't want a lot ? just a piece of land to plant on. We continue to be slaves but we want dignity ? we have the right to live. The land we are on is owned by a man who doesn't know how much land he has! We work together as a community and we want our children to grow up in a safe place."

 

Later, Luis Muchanga from UNAC explained how the situation in Mozambique differs:

"It is not a question of land. In general a Mozambican will farm 1.5 hectares, but could as easily have 10. But the government does not support us. We have no access to credit and we cannot cultivate more. We are only able to produce food for eight months of the year."

UNAC visited more camps and settlements, discussed farming techniques and learnt how to conserve better the little rainwater they receive.

"It is amazing how similar it is here", explains Luis, "the food, soil, and climate is so like home that I wouldn't know I wasn't in Mozambique if it wasn't for the people."

In addition, they were interested in how the MST have organised themselves to demand changes in government policy and to get what they've been promised. At the end of the trip, Augusto Mafigo was asked about how the exchange went:

"We learnt a lot ? better methods of how to prepare soil and to use water more effectively - to make the maximum use of our land. When we get back we will tell people about the information we have learnt and broaden our existing programmes and we will be able to do more. We will emphasise agroecology and increase our diversity of crops and farm without using chemicals. But most important is how the MST functions ? how they mobilise communities to get what they want. We will take this back with us. Our main problem is to convince the government that they need to provide credit for us. The land in Mozambique is public ? but access to land is not enough"

? Find out more about our partner MST in Brazil ? Find out more about our partner UNAC in Mozambique

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