Maria José dos Santos, Farmer

Maria José dos Santos and her husband, José Barbosa Soares, farm grains, fruits and nuts. They fight to maintain their territories and protect their culture. Maria and José are active in their community and are members of APAPAIS: Associação dos Pequenos Agricultores e Pescadores Assenta dos do Imóvel Sabiaguaba – Association of Small Farmers and Fishermen in the Area of Sabiaguaba.

Maria worries about losing her land. If a farmer does not own the land, he must rent it and if he rents it, then half the profits go to the landowner. When Maria was a child, her father did not own their land. Maria recalls, “When it was time to make the flour, he had to do all the work and he had about 12 people helping him. When he finished the work, he paid all the people, and then half of what was left went to the landowner. He produced a lot, but at the end, he got very little. It was terrible.”

Although Maria and her husband own the land they farm, land ownership still comes with threats. Ownership papers are often forged and wealthy businessmen will simply attempt to kick people off the land. In response, small-scale farmers joined forces to create an association. If one piece of land or one owner is challenged, then, the entire association goes to court; it is a long battle.

Maria is in court again, fighting for her land. What keeps her going? She responds:

“The love we have for the land, where we live, where we were born and raised keeps us going. The taste of the cashews and the fish. The music, the bands. There are a lot of good things we do here. Freedom, calm quiet. We are fighting to allow our children to continue what we are doing. One of the tactics we use is the training of new leaders. That is why we have the cultural center to prepare the youth and the new leaders, so they can know their culture, their history and they can make their life options. When they really know what they are doing here, they don’t leave us.

“We have food sovereignty when we have a culture where we don’t buy products from outside. If we could, we would be completely self-sufficient. Each day we try to find new projects and new tactics so we can be more self-sufficient and not bring products that have chemicals into our community. We know that the fishing and the farming is what sustain our people. That is our history and culture. It is the work that guarantees our survival.”

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