Last month in Brazil, the government of Michel Temer announced that it would pass a law allowing foreign companies and individuals to buy and own large amounts farmland.
In 2010, Brazil restricted the sale of farmland to foreign investors in order to protect Brazilian farmers and communities, but Temer is set to undo those protections.
The parallels with the political situation in the United States are striking. Several weeks ago, legislation was proposed in the House of Representatives to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land in the West, most likely for mining and energy extraction. Though this legislation was subsequently withdrawn over public outcry, selling off public lands is a key demand of many Republicans, and the issue will likely arise again.
And just a month ago, President Trump issued an executive memo encouraging completion of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines across farm country and the plains in the Midwest. Trump’s memo is seen as an attack on the growing movement sparked by indigenous peoples’ opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
As a direct result of that order, the US Army granted the permit needed for the Dakota Access pipeline, reversing the Obama Administration’s order requiring an environmental review. The Water Protectors were forced out of their camps late last week, ending the direct resistance to the construction of the pipeline, though the fight to protect the water now moves to the courts and to other communities fighting pipelines and their funders.
President Trump also signed an executive order pushing for a rollback of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation, which emerged after the financial crisis to protect people from predatory investors and to protect Wall Street from its own greed.
One of the potential impacts of this rollback is a lack of oversight in international investments, especially investing in farmland in other countries. American pension funds in particular have been buying up farmland around the world, eager to control access to the world’s food and raw materials because, essentially, the world is growing more populous but farmland is only growing scarcer: pension fund TIAA describes farmland as possessing solid economic and investing “fundamentals”.
ActionAid has been tracking the case of TIAA, which has been accused of buying land that was stolen from peasants in Brazil, of all places. Who wants to fund their retirement through grabbing the farms of peasants and their families?
Like Trump, Temer assumed the Presidency without a clear mandate. Temer came to power by orchestrating the impeachment of Worker’s Party leader and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff under what many Brazilians and international observers felt were extreme circumstances and amounted to an abuse of power.
Brazil’s move to allow foreign investors to buy farmland puts small-scale farmers and peasants in a very dangerous situation. Peasants in Brazil have been working for decades to reclaim land for small-scale, community-based, ecological farming, but investors are only interested in large-scale chemical agribusiness ventures that remove peasants from the land and produce cash crops and biofuels instead of food for communities.
Brazil’s proposed law would set aside 10% of land for peasants, but farmers’ movements and their allies see this as a joke and an insult to peasant communities. Allowing foreign investors to buy up land is a way to legalize land grabbing and dispossessing peasants of their livelihood.
Michel Temer’s government has been criticized for being made up entirely of White men (another similarity with the Trump administration). Some of the most consistent policy from the government has been hostility to peasants’ movements, as the police have raided the office and detained members of farmers’ organizations. This move to sell off Brazil’s farmland is another step in this direction.
Oil and gas companies, agribusiness monopolies, and now the financial sector are pushing an extreme agenda to destroy protections for people and the planet.
Now that the Brazilian government is opening their farmland to investors, we can be sure that land grabbing and human rights violations will only accelerate, and it seems like the United States is following suit. We know that the oil and gas companies, the agribusiness monopolies, and now the financial sector have taken over these governments and are pushing an extreme agenda to destroy any and all protections for people and the planet.
As people of conscience, we need to connect the dots, oppose this agenda, and support the groups on the frontlines building a progressive alternative to extraction and theft.