The ROOT Report – Stories From the Frontlines: Farmers in Brazil Step Up to Meet Critical COVID-19 Needs





WhyHunger has been in touch with our partners across the country and the globe to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their communities and what they’re doing to help. What we’ve heard has been both heartbreaking and inspiring—further demonstrating the critical role of grassroots organizations as first responders in their communities. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of these partners in our Root Report series.

As COVID-19 surges across the globe, Brazil now has the most confirmed cases in Latin America, leaving over 209 million Brazilians at home, sick, or without federal support as the pandemic rages on. The Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) in Portuguese, is showing its solidarity with other working families and filling in the gaps left by their government and healthcare systems.

The MST was born in 1984 after groups of families began to occupy unused land in rural parts of Brazil. The Brazilian constitution is clear that land should be used for the highest public good, and so MST works to identify and settle on underutilized land, gain legal title to it, and bring it to productive use. In the past three decades, the MST has reclaimed over 18 million acres of land for 1.5 million farmers who are now producing fresh produce, grains and animals for consumers in Brazil and abroad. Today, they work in partnership with local governments in 23 of Brazil’s 26 states to run 170 community health clinics, 100 agricultural cooperatives, 66 food processing factories and 1,900 farmer associations.

Now, the MST has directed critical energy and resources to fight COVID-19 and its accompanying social and economic fallout. Over the last few months, the MST has had a huge impact on their communities by:

  • Donating over 600 tons of fresh produce to hospitals and poor neighborhoods
  • Transforming six urban cafes into soup kitchens for people experiencing homelessness
  • Converting a training school into a field hospital staffed in part by its 130 affiliated doctors
  • Organizing workers to produce rubbing alcohol, soap and face masks to support local clinics and hospitals
  • Distributing COVID-19 education and prevention materials

In addition to this direct support, the MST has also launched “Drawing During Quarantine,” a project that aims to unite people at home through art. All over Brazil, people are participating, sharing drawings of their homes, their land, and images of hope for a brighter future. To follow the movement and see some of the drawings that have been created, follow MST on Instagram at @movimentosemterra.

During a time of deep uncertainty and vulnerability, the MST’s community-led approach to tackling COVID-19 is powerful. From providing hundreds of tons of fresh produce to educating communities for prevention, they are building capacity to care for the most vulnerable.

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