João Pedro Stedile: “The struggle for land is to solve the problem of feeding the people”

The national leader of the MST explains why the Popular Agrarian Reform is important for the whole society

Daniel Lamir and Monyse Ravena
Translated by Internationalist 360°

In an interview for Brazil from Fato Pernambuco, João Pedro Stedile, national leader of the MST, spoke about agroecology, popular agrarian reform and the escalation of violence in the countryside.

Brazil de Fato: In the crisis situation that Brazil is experiencing, there is a great increase in agrarian conflicts. What is the relationship between the moment of political crisis we are experiencing with this increase in violence in the countryside?

João Pedro Stedile: The increase in rural violence against rural workers has been happening mainly on the agricultural frontier, that is, in those states where agribusiness tries to expand and the population now living in that region is a more dispersed and fragile population in general;  poor squatters, indigenous populations or quilombos. Why does violence increase against them? First, because agribusiness wants to expand their farms, targeting populations that are struggling to survive. Secondly, because with the political coup that the right imposed, ruralist deputies think they can do what they want. There is a sense of impunity leading to  lynchings, assassinations, using  every form of aggression and violence to solve  issues that before they could not do outside a  count of law.

How does this escalation of violence in the countryside influence society in general?

I believe that the population that is disorganized and watches a lot of  TV suffers from its  negative influence, in the sense that here in Brazil all the politicians are equal, which  creates a skepticism. But the majority of the population that works in a factory,  commerce,  banks, that participates in the social life of in   more active way, realizes that the coup government is corrupt. They  realize that the coup was against the working class, not against Dilma, and that is why we have been witnessing a growing number of mobilizations. It started with youth demonstrations, then March 8 with the women, then the mobilization on March 15, the General Strike on April 28, the 200,000 people who went to Brasilia, the artists calling for cultural acts of rebellion on Sundays and the General Strike on June 30 … so I think there is a willingness to fight in the population, I do not see discouragement. This struggle is definitely intensifying.

How does the popular agrarian reform advocated by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) contribute to the development of agroecology?

For a long time, the vision we had of agrarian reform was an idealistic vision, that it was enough to divide the land so that the peasants would be able to meet their basic needs. But what we have learned in recent years, and especially in the last decade, is that the peasants’ mission is not just to have land to work with for their family. The land is to produce healthy food for the whole population. The way we make healthy food  is by adopting the techniques of agroecology, which which seeks to produce food without using poison, in balance with nature.

The MST has expanded every year the experience of agro-ecological fairs in several cities of the country. Why has the movement bet on this strategy?

Fortunately, stimulated by the MST, as by other movements, and by society in general, who understood the message, we have in Brazil today the multiplication of markets in cities that offer healthy foods and at the same time opportunity to dialogue with society. I think this is the best way for us to promote the concept of popular agrarian reform”. The struggle for land is not just to solve the problem of peasants. The struggle for land is to solve the problem of feeding all people. The population knows that if it depends only on the supermarket and agribusiness, it will be poisoned. So the population is discovering that the way to have healthier food is to go to agroecology fairs and buy cheap food free of pesticides.