State-sponsored settlements appeared to have started in Santa Catarina, when a provincial law in 1835 created two settlements in the Itajaí Valley. As of 1849, significant private settlement projects were carried out with the creation of the settlements of Santa Cruz (1849) and Santo Angelo (1855) in Rio Grande do Sul, as well as in the mountain region, which in the 1850s was divided into small lots by private enterprise. This period was marked by the German settlements of Sao Leopoldo and Blumeanu in the Province of Santa Catarina, and small German, Polish and Italian settlements being founded around Curitiba, Paraná, between 1870 and 1880. The most intense phase of immigration to Brazil covered the period 1887-1934, when the country absorbed over four million people from various countries of Europe and Asia. In spite of the movement to the São Paulo coffee plantations, many immigrants also headed for settlements in the south. The immigrant stream was made up, in decreasing order, of Portuguese, Italians, Spaniards, French, Germans, Arabs, Japanese and others.
A publicity campaign launched throughout Italy resulted in intense immigration, above all to the State of São Paulo. Some of the Italian migrants settled in Rio Grande do Sul, where, together with German migrants, they initiated in 1875 a rapid process of land occupation in the Serra region. Their presence actively contributed to the introduction of new techniques and new cropping patterns, as well as new forms of social relations in the rural areas.
The incentive to Japanese immigration increased when the Italian government stopped recruitment and provided free transportation for its workers travelling to São Paulo. Japanese immigration as of 1908 was aimed chiefly at São Paulo (partially to the Amazon region, where two major settlements were created in Amapá and in Rondonia).
Parallel with these successful initiatives, other experiences, particularly in the Northeast with German migrants (Bahia and Pernambuco) failed. These failures are commonly attributed to the difficult agro-climatic conditions of this semi-arid region (the sertao, characterized by poor soils and severe, cyclical and often protracted drought). Another theory is that they were blocked by the dominant feudalistic land pattern in the region associated with crops - such as sugar cane - in the very large estates. The powerful landowners opposed these newcomers for two reasons: a) they were not available for employment in the big estates as labourers, and, b) their acquaintance with the family farming activities could have been a "model" for the labourers and sharecroppers, thus contributing to the shortage of manpower in the region. In the mid-1920's, internal migration of nationals became the norm, introducing another phase of occupancy and settlement.
The creation in 1938 of the Land and Settlement Division (DTC), linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, which created the National Agricultural Settlements, represented a first systematic attempt at settlement in Brazil. National Agricultural Settlements were installed in several states, such as Ceres in Goiás, Dourados in Mato Grosso, Barra do Corda in Maranhao, Monte Alegre in Pará, Bela Vista in Amazonas, General Osório in Paraná, among others.
DTC was replaced in 1954 by the National Immigration and Settlement Institute (INIC), also linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, setting itself up as a technical agency suitably structured to carry out settlement activities. When pressure towards an agrarian reform process became difficult to control, INIC was replaced (in 1962) by an Agrarian Policy Authority (SUPRA).
This period was characterized by a fundamental restructuring, mainly attributable to government policy and its interventions on behalf of industry. The import-substitution model discriminated against agriculture in general and especially in the North East. This meant that already disadvantaged regions were even worse off than before, especially as manufacturing growth was centred in São Paulo and other southern states. Although the political climate did not favour landless people, during the two Vargas periods some attempts were made to broach the agrarian question. The force of the reaction of the landowner bloc through their Rural Society movement provoked the entry (in the mid-50s) of a new interlocutor in the discussion: the Roman Catholic Church. D. Helder Camara organized the first Conference of the Northeast Bishops. President Kubitschek promised that their conclusions would be included in the Plan of Goals that his government was preparing. This eventuated with Goal 31, known as North East Operation.
The debate over the North East Operation was dominated by the Rural Society movement (on the right), which was against any effort to improve the situation in the agricultural sector. On the other hand, the Operation was accused of a typical economistic rationality far from meeting the real needs of the Northeastern people. A special role was played by Dr. J. de Castro, who at a Conference in Rio de Janeiro argued that the real problem of North East region was not drought but feudalism and that the Operation was going to fail because it was not facing this problem.
Even if the Operation failed, it should be considered in the framework of Kubitschek's strategy, which was aimed at shifting the focus of the problem from the real question - the disparity between different classes - to one of geographical disparity, which was more acceptable to the ruling elite.
By the end of the 1950s, land conflicts were developing rapidly, receiving major support not from the Communist Party - which was quite moderate in this issue - but from the Ligas Camponesas (Peasants Leagues), particularly dynamic in the North East. Their proposal was quite extreme, supporting an agrarian reform "na lei ou na marra" to give land to landless people. By 1962 this movement had already lost its attraction, in favour of the better organized Communist Party and of the Popular Action (AP) movement, together with the more radical sectors of the Church. AP did not have a clearly defined programme, but it was perceived as the most authentic representatives of the farmers, and therefore played an important role when the CONTAG federation was created in 1963.
Divided internally into these different components, the peasants movement at the beginning of the 1960s was in a very paradoxical situation: the struggle for land - as well the international pressure in favour of agrarian reform - was intensifying, but it was totally unable to transform these pressures into coherent policy proposals. On their side, the landowners were strong enough to counter any demand from the peasant sector, but not capable of adapting to the changing conditions of the 60's, thus re-opening the floor to the military forces which decided to put an end to democratic government in October 1964.
In the early 60s the Cuban example fuelled peasant militancy and generated threats of agrarian rebellions in many countries. In reply, the Punta del Este Conference of the Organisation of American States launched in 1961 at a land reform strategy on a continental scale. The Brazilian internal "rapports de force" between big landowners, landless people and petty bourgeoisie moved very little, and a first draft of this Bill was elaborated in 1961, but never approved.
Under the military regime, the social and economic contradictions of the agrarian structure became very clear, as did the need to develop the forces of production in agriculture by putting idle lands into production, encouraging the reorganization of pre-capitalist estates on a capitalist basis and inducing their modernization.
This was not at all a step toward an agrarian reform process, although it might have appeared so from Article 1 of the Bill:
"... this Law governs rights and obligations regarding rural property, for the purpose of carrying out Agrarian Reform and furthering Agricultural Policies".In fact, the economic purpose of this measure was intended to strengthen the new model chosen by the government, without really changing the class structure in agriculture.
In order to carry out the Land Statute, the Law created the Brazilian Institute for Agrarian Reform (IBRA) and the National Institute for Agricultural Development (INDA). During the IBRA period, large-scale rural cadastral surveys were carried out, with a view to becoming better acquainted with the realities of land tenure in Brazil and to provide a basis for levying the Rural Land Tax (ITR), an indirect instrument with which to strive for a more social use of the land. (In practice, this never happened and today the question of levying this tax is still on the floor). Very few expropriations were carried out in order to solve the more severe land disputes, and some support was given to rural cooperatives and associations. The direct implication of the modernization policies implemented during this period was the emergence of a labour surplus in agriculture, resulting in both a reduction in employment in the larger estates as well as in the small farming sector.
As a way of responding to this new contradiction, in 1971, IBRA and INDA were merged into INCRA (National Institute for Rural Settlement and Agrarian Reform) as an autonomous federal government entity. With the advent of INCRA, the focus definitively shifted from agrarian reform to new settlements. New areas came into the occupation process (particularly along Transamazon, Cuiabá-Santarém and Cuiabá-Porto Velho). Discrimination was stepped up on land along the agricultural frontiers, which had previously been traditionally sparsely occupied, and which then began to receive massive new migratory waves.
This period saw further concentration of agricultural growth and income in the South and South East. In these regions, export crops displaced food crops and agriculture became increasingly modernised. This process was associated with consolidation and concentration of land holdings and the transformation of the rural labour market from one dominated by tenancy arrangements to one based on seasonal wage labour. The transformation of agriculture had important consequences for farm size and income distribution (food crops were traditionally associated with small farmer production). The shift towards export agriculture therefore helps to explain the declining overall importance of small farms in agricultural production.
In 1979 and 1980 a series of external shocks battered the Brazilian economy. Their impact was compounded by the crop failures of 1978 and 1979. Real economic growth fell from 9 percent on an annual basis in the 70s to 2.7 percent; the standard of living was deteriorating, and inflation accelerated. Although 58 Settlement Projects covering an area of almost three million ha were created in only in the Amazon region to control migration from rural areas, rural-urban migration accelerated to record levels, creating an enormous additional burden on urban centres. This underscored the urgency of addressing rural poverty to stem this migration and to prevent the conversion of rural into urban poverty. In this context the military regime finally relinquished power in 1985.
"Without possibility of access to land, the [rural] worker cannot improve his living conditions. He cannot introduce new techniques, or change cropping patterns aiming at improving productivity. Without accessing land, he cannot have access to credit, technical assistance, improved marketing conditions. The experience of those countries which already passed through a successful agrarian reform process shows that a modification of land pattern, allied with an efficient agrarian policy, is favourable both for rural workers as well for the State."On that basis, the first National Plan of Agrarian Reform (1985-89) was formulated and launched. This Plan established a target of 1,400,000 families to be settled over a period of five years. This was certainly unrealistic, but it expressed a clear political will in favour of the re-establishment of the process. In addition, the country went through serious economic difficulties, provoked by the high debt burden left behind by the military regime: six adjustment programmes between 1986 and 1994 failed, and associated austerity programs cut back investment for rural development, further exacerbating the plight of the rural poor.
By 1989, the Federal Government had settled 83,625 families in 515 new Settlements. These settlements occupied 4.71 millions ha, slightly more than 10 percent of that proposed in 1985. Although the expropriation process and settlement did not meet the targets of the original programme, it left society an important experience which is crucial for the understanding of the agrarian issue today.
The following Collor government was characterized by a totally inexpressive fulfilment with just 19,000 ha expropriated. With the substitution of the President of the Republic (Itamar Franco) the process began again and more than 2,000 families were settled within 99 Settlement Projects covering almost 1,5 million ha.
Land conflicts - a direct consequence of the extremely unequal distribution of land, which past policies failed to deal with - have become increasingly serious recently. The violence of these conflicts is growing, as reflected by the media every day - the last butchery occurred in Pará mid-April; as an immediate reaction, the Minister of Agriculture was asked to resign and a new Ministry of Agrarian Reform was created). Some of the forces supporting Cardoso's government are aware of the dramatic situation, and are working for the elaboration of a new politically viable framework for the agrarian reform.
In the present government, agrarian reform is no longer seen as an exclusive task of the Ministry of Agriculture through INCRA; a new vision is slowly forming, involving several Ministries - from Justice to Education, from Finance and Planning to Ministry of Labour - with the direct participation of the Office of the Presidency.
With the increasing number of settlements realized, the target now is to settle, by the end of the century, 100,000 families a year. This, as expressed by the President of INCRA himself, is both a modest and very promising target, because, if it is true that the magnitude of the problem is much higher, in practice settlements have never exceeded the average of 20,000 families per year.
It is important to underline that, apart from supporting this process, the present government seems really interested in supporting the overall family farming sector, in an integrated way. This was since the beginning one of the key points of our perspective, which we illustrate herewith.
The extremely unequal land distribution profile represents the most serious ethical reason to be in favour of a more equitable distribution of natural resources.
We pragmatically recognize that Brazilian agriculture works as a modern sector under the dynamics of agroindustry and financial activities. It must be observed, therefore, that it will not be possible to reverse this situation through an agrarian reform, simply by substituting the modern large scale production units by small family farm production.
The discussion on agrarian reform inevitably raises the issue of relationships between settlers and the more general family farming sector. In the past, there was the common way of thinking that settlers were a different type of farmer that should be supported forever. This paternalistic way is no longer viable and it seems much more appropriate and coherent to consider the settlers as part of the family farming sector. This has several implications on the methodological as well operational side; some of them have already started to be considered by the government, others are in the process.
Other factors which should be taken into consideration are the political rapports de force within Brazil's Congress as well as in the country. The Democratic Union of Ruralists (UDR), with 170 members in Congress, endorses landowner interests and opposes proposals in favour of an agrarian reform process. These allies were quite important in the process which culminated in the election of President Cardoso. On the other hand, there is the Landless Movement (MST), supported by the Workers Party (PT), encouraging land occupations throughout the country with a maximalist vision of the problem. In the middle there are other small forces which are trying to elaborate a new way of looking at the agrarian reform process. It is in conjunction with them that FAO organized its technical support during this period.
With all these aspects in mind, the question, therefore, is the following: what type of agrarian reform would be possible in these present conditions? The basic elements of our strategy are the following:
Although the economic viability of the settlement projects (FAO/UNDP/BRA/87/022 "Major Socio-Economic Indicators") has been demonstrated, there is no political room for a wider process of agrarian reform; therefore we support partial agrarian reform process in selected areas of the country.
The agrarian reform should be anticipated by a fundamental shift of agricultural policy (eliminating subsidies to large farmers and special tax and credit incentives for products; ITR should be implemented) as well as by new Institutional arrangements, giving more responsibility to decentralized, Municipal and State level agencies; the details of these guidelines are presently under elaboration within UTF/BRA/036/BRA)
Policies to promote land markets should be envisaged in a differentiated manner according to the socioeconomic and land tenure characteristics of the participants (small, medium, and large owners). ITR should facilitate the control of land speculation. Adequate credit for land schemes should be implemented to favour small peasants' participation in land markets. In this respect, the FAO land markets programme and the Universidade estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) are presently analysing the topic of access to land markets by small peasants. A joint publication with recommendations on the topic will be published in June 1996.
The beneficiaries of this process should be conceived from the beginning as part of the family farming sector, thus implementing Settlement Projects viable in both social as well economic terms. These Projects should effectively end after an inception period during which farmer household is supported in its effort to become independent. After that period the Settlement Agency (possibly at State/Municipal level) should be in a position to recover at least part of the cost and to withdraw from the settlement in order to liberate human as well financial resources to initiate other Projects.
The last is certainly the most controversial, but it seems clear that under present conditions there is no other feasible way of proceeding. This process implies a New Deal between the State and citizens, based upon the recognition of the necessity of State intervention (as decentralized as possible, with support from NGOs and Universities) in favour of less privileged people - not only farmers but also migrants under the new process of urban-rural migration from the favelas to the countryside. This support should be conceived in terms of effective, not paternalistic, policies directed towards the different segments of society. On the other hand, the Deal demands from the landless people and their organizations an effort to understand the rapports de force existing in the country, as well the limited resources available for the process, thus shifting from a pure demanding logic towards a constructive one.
The necessity of linking settlement policies with the more general family farming policy requires the development of new methodological approaches for the diagnosis of settlements and the different agrarian systems and, moreover, to formulate specific and appropriate recommendations for agrarian policy for these settlements. This is, according to us, the area where technical assistance could play a concrete role, and effectively it is in line with this major issue that we elaborated our strategies through the latest three interventions in the Pontal de Paranapanema (Sao Paulo State), in the Maranhao settlements in the North and in the macro-economic regions of the country with the more comprehensive UTF/BRA/036/BRA.