Framing the Debate in Brazil

ILC initiated the Framing the Debate series in response to the clear need to facilitate a deeper understanding of the key topics at the centre of current land governance debates.

Framing the Debate comprises regionally or nationally focused thematic papers relating to on-going and emerging land-related debates. A single publication may treat a wide range of land governance issues or focus on a specific theme. This publication commissions renowned land experts to share their perspectives on key issues, while acknowledging and fairly discussing
other views.

This paper examines the paradoxes of land governance in Brazil by putting them into their historical context, highlighting in particular the continuing subordination of peasant farmers’ interests to those of large landholders. It traces the development of the country’s regional divisions and systems of land-holding back to colonial times, when Portuguese settlers began dividing up the territory. It describes the emergence of large-scale plantation agriculture producing commodities for export, and the evolution of the latifundios into today’s transnational agribusiness monocultures, which are swallowing up more and more land.

Despite various changes of government and sporadic attempts at land reform over the years, large-scale agrarian capitalism has generally enjoyed the support of Brazil’s political classes, to the detriment of small-scale peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, and others who, despite producing much of the country’s food, are being increasingly marginalised and deprived of their land and traditional ways of life. The paper looks in detail at this phenomenon in each of Brazil’s regions and also examines trends such as land grabbing by foreign interests, the growing demand for agrofuels, rural-urban migration, and impacts on the environment. Throughout, it poses the essential question: how can Brazil’s vast territory be governed to meet the interests of all, and not just a privileged few?