An installment of the “Food Voices” series focusing on the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil.
WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers.
Francisco Mendes Coelho is a farmer from Canadê in the state of Ceará in Brazil. He is an active member of the MST—the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil. The MST settles landless families throughout Brazil on reclaimed land, which they call settlements. Francisco has lived on the New Life Settlement since his parents joined it in 1996. He continues working with the MST to settle land, organize communities, and educate people. Below are his statements.
One of the things that most motivates us to struggle for land is to have human dignity and to say ‘I am one of the landless.’ Not the landless portrayed in the media, but a landless person with dignity, respect, work, and with a basic education. This is what motivates us to struggle, so that more people can have this quality of life.
We do this for the greater good, but this struggle is not easy. It hurts to leave my family. We are often arrested by the police, and the media often tries to slander us, saying that we are not a legal movement, that the movement is full of vagabonds and bandits, but we have to show that this is not true, that we are doing this for the greater good. Our goal is not only to attain land, but also rights that are sanctified in the constitution and that today are denied to us workers. Without a doubt, we do this for the greater good and I believe that it is possible to change things.
When we speak about food sovereignty, it is not enough to simply have a government program such as Zero Hunger, in which every family will have enough food to feed itself three times per day. When we talk about sovereignty, we have to consider who is producing, how they are producing, and how the production is undertaken to stop hunger and thirst. In this way, we have a mode of production related to values, such as not polluting or poisoning the land, a clean and sustainable production, and work that is not slave labor. Our cause is to do away with the large landholdings, the latifundios, but today the latifundios are not only on the land. There is the latifundio of education, latifundio of the media, the latifundio that oppresses us. It is necessary to discuss a model that can include indigenous, mulatto, black, and quilombola [descendants of escaped African slaves] people on agrarian reform settlements, and to raise the question of unity of the working classes so that we can have a common objective.
Our concerns are the questions of climate, the planet and water. These are concerns for the whole world, not just Brazil. We have to think about a new way of living, a new way of producing and a new way of eating. Without a doubt, we have to think about how the model that exists today is backwards and doesn’t work anymore. The high consumption – today each family has two or three cars. The movement is saying it is not possible anymore for the entire world to live from this model, and we hope to build relations that consider the planet, the environment, and a better way to produce. We talk a lot about how what is happening today is a collapse, but we have to think about a new way of living on the planet. The MST youth is strong in discussing these new ways of living on the planet. This is our principal dream to build for the working class in Brazil and throughout the world.