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4. Brazil

Foto: Dirce Ostroski

Brazil produces some 90 million tons of grain every year. According to
the 1996 Agricultural Census, there are 25 million hectares of idle lands (up to four years without being farmed), which represents about 60% of all farmland.

Brazil has one of the most perverse and concentrated structures of landholding in the world, with a GINI coefficient of almost 0.9. This level of the index, which is close to absolute concentration is the result of a model of agriculture that excludes the poor majority, and which was particularly exacerbated in the Green Revolution years in the 1960s and 70s.

According the 1996 Census, Brazil had some 4.8 million farms, which occupied 353.6 million hectares. Of this total, minifundios (micro-size farms) and properties of less than 100 hectares accounted for 89.1% of the farms, but had only 20% of the farmland.

At the other extreme, latifundios (mega-farms) of more than 1,000 hectares accounted for just 1% of all farms, but held 45% of farmland. Of these super-sized estates, more than 35,000 were characterized as unproductive, and occupied some 166 million hectares.

Between 1970 and 1996 the proportion of farms with less than 100 hectares hardly changed - from 90.8% to 89.3% - yet the area they held dropped by 20%. Meanwhile the latifundios grew from 0.7% to 1% of all farms, and the area they held grew from 39.5% to 45% of all farmland.

Neoliberalism in the Countryside

In 1998, at the beginning of his second term in office, the government of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso inaugurated a "new agrarian policy" called the New Rural World. The three premises of this new policy marked a clear break from his first term in office. The first difference was the reduction of agrarian policy to a simple formula of compensation. Following the logic of the international financial agencies, agrarian reform was transformed into an instrument of rural poverty alleviation. The democratization of access to land became a mere mechanism of alleviation, a palliative. It was not seen as a way to redistribute assets, nor as a way to innovate new models of rural development (not even when the prevalence of extreme poverty is seen as an obstacle to the current development model).

The second key element was the decentralization of all actions related to the administration of land. This is a very fundamental aspect of the current policy package, and represents a process of "defederalization" because it delegates authority that formerly was exclusively the domain of the federal government. All of the programs, projects and proposed policies for the rural sector took as their reference point this need to decentralize, establishing a supposed relationship between decentralization, democracy and efficiency.

This decentralization, however, did not signify democratization nor greater participation by affected people and families. Rather it represented a delegation of authority to state and municipal governments, which are closer to and more susceptible to the political influence of the rural oligarchy who exercise political power over vast sectors of the State. This decentralization, therefore, instead of being a solution (or more efficient and agile) it is in fact a way of impeding agrarian reform.

World Bank-supported programs and projects like the Cédula da Terra ("Ticket to Land"), Land Bank, and Land Credit, proved to be mechanisms that permitted the consolidation of this "defederalization or decentralization, in fact leading to the reduction and eventual destruction of agrarian reform. They allow the transfer of responsibility not so much - as they were supposed to - to state and municipal governments, but in reality to the market, and thus right into the hands of the large landlords. As a result, the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) lost its reason for being, justifying budget slashing and strengthening the model of the reduction of the State and the privatization of its responsibilities.

The third key element in the New Rural World was the commodification of the historic demands by the landless. This commodification took diverse forms, though the imposition of the "market-led land reform" model was the most explicit reference in this process.

All of these characteristics are in agreement with the guidelines and policies established by the World Bank for "poverty alleviation" programs. In fact the whole direction of economic development in Brazil followed these formulas.

World Bank Policies

The Cédula da Terra program came about as sort of 'sharecropping' arrangement between the Bank and the Brazilian government via Loan Agreement 4147-BR. Initially conceived as a pilot project, the Cédula da Terra was announced officially in 1996, and implemented the following year in five states in the Northeast of Brazil: Ceará, Maranhão, Pernambuco, Bahia and the northern part of Minas Gerais. These states were chosen because of the enormous problems of extreme poverty that they present.

The Cédula da Terra project consisted basically of the creation of a line of credit for purchasing land by the landless or near landless. The landless had to form associations and legally incorporate, and the associations would purchase land directly from the landlords. The associations had to apply for credit from the local bank, indicating the land they wished to buy. Once the bank and the technical unit of the government approved their proposal, the bank would pay the landlord directly.

Although this was a pilot project, in 1999 it essentially went national with the Land Bank, created by the government in the same mold. Despite having promised financial support for this new program, the World Bank decided to finance a different project, the Land Credit program (a third project created in 2001). This switch reflected the pressure and criticism received from social movements, and national and international NGOs. In the end, however, the Land Credit program had the same characteristics and objectives as the Cédula da Terra and the Land Bank, in reality being nothing than a name change by the government in order to keep receiving World Bank resources.

All of these programs are conceived and implemented based on the needs of the market, especially with regard to land acquisition. That means that only land that is for sale can be acquired. Beyond the fact that many areas of Brazil have at best incipient land markets, the small amounts budgeted for land purchases inevitably led to buying the cheapest and poorest quality land. Rather than the price of land being driven down in the bargaining process, the reality is that the small amount of land on offer and the lack of funds forced the purchase of the cheapest plots, far from markets and with low soil fertility.

The few resources available for land purchasing limited the implementation of these programs to less dynamic regions with less valuable land, and with serious production constraints. These constraints limited the productivity of the new farms, and made it very hard for the "beneficiaries" to pay off the debts acquired by purchasing the land.

The "beneficiary" families had little or no influence in key decisions, like the selection of plots to be bought, or in the bargaining process. In general, these negotiations over price were handled by local government officials, who made all the important decisions.

The Position of Social Movements

Grassroots movements in Brazil heavily criticized the World Bank proposal of "market-led agrarian reform." Their critiques were based on their very different viewpoints, and included questions about the real capacity of the market to democratize access to land and about the true objectives of these policies.
According to these critiques, the Cédula da Terra program was designed to move the land issue out of the terrain of politics and into the terrain of the market. The buying and selling mechanism is supposed to remove the conflictive nature from the struggle for land, and politically isolate the movements that are fighting for a genuine agrarian reform.

According to the World Bank, this project would permit the "pacification" of the countryside. Instead of getting involved in conflicts (land occupations an demands for land reform), landless families should bargain, peacefully and directly, with the landlords. Of course the landlords loved this program because they were paid in cash (instead of 20 year discounted bonds under the old land reform) for their least productive lands.

Added to this, the Cédula da Terra, Land Bank and Land Credit programs all promoted the on-going process of decentralization, helping the federal government in its attempt to transfer the costs of agrarian reform to state and municipal budgets. According to this logic, the Cédula da Terra project was implemented by the states and the costs were passed on to the beneficiary families, thus marking a great contribution to the federal budget by the Ministry of Agrarian Development. The reduction in costs has permitted the dismantling of INCRA, which has few functions in the land market context.

The resources of Cédula da Terra were in fact an instrument designed to cut off the movements that struggle for land from their social bases. The availability of credits to buy land-together with rhetoric about "peaceful" land reform, without the need for land occupations-was supposed to demobilize those people who dreamed of a patch of land to call their own. These goals were carried over into the Land Bank and Land Credit programs, always with support from the World Bank.

Today, the administration of president Lula is willing to continue implementing a market-based land policy with support from the World Bank. At the same time, the Via Campesina in Brazil has announced its strong opposition to those policies.

Text based on NETO, Manuel Domingos - The "new" Brazilian rural world
SAUER, Sérgio - World Bak land policies in Brazil: a study on the "Cédula" project


5. Colombia

6. Guatemala

7. India

8. Mexico

9. South Africa

10. Thailand

11. Zimbabwe

12. Positions of Via Campesina

13. Bibliography

14. Table of Contents