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Brazilian referendum seeks limits to land concentration
By Saulo Araujo
December 16th, 2010
Members of the Brazilian National Forum for Agrarian Reform and Justice announced this week the results of a non-binding referendum about whether the Brazilian government should limit the concentration of land held by individuals and businesses. Voters in 23 states and the capital overwhelmingly agreed that land holdings should be limited.
The ballot posed two questions:
§ Do you agree that large land holdings in Brazil should be limited? (95.5 percent of voters said “Yes” while only 3.5 percent said “No.”)
§ Do you agree that the limiting of land held by any individual or entity in Brazil would increase production of healthy food and improve the living conditions in rural and urban areas? (94 percent voted yes, while just 4.3 percent said no.)
Well over half a million people nationwide participated in the referendum.
The initiative provided an opportunity for land rights activists to educate voters about the growing problem of landlessness caused by the expansion of agribusinesses into peasant and indigenous communities and their lands. Organizers believe that they successfully fostered discussions about landlessness, including the voices of peasant and indigenous communities which are often neglected in policy-making decisions. In comparison to similar initiatives, such as the National Referendum on the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), the National Referendum on Land Holding provided an educational opportunity about the efficient use of resources by small-scale agriculture in comparison to agribusinesses.
According Prof. Ariovaldo Umbelino, from São Paulo University, Brazil has 200 million hectares of unproductive land and 500 million hectares of vacant public land. In the official announcement of final results, Lourenço Canuto mentions that land holding in Brazil is becoming increasingly concentrated.
“Limiting the size of land holdings is important because, while agribusinesses employ [on average] 1.4 worker per hectare, small farms employ 17 people.” Prof. Ariovaldo Umbelino.
The National Forum for Agrarian Reform was formed by 46 organizations including the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, the National Confederation of Agriculture Workers and Grassroots International’s partners and allies the Landless Workers Movement and Jubilee South-Brazil.
Due to the success of the initiative, organizers have decided to collect signatures to introduce a law in the National Congress establishing limits to land holding in Brazil. If approved, the law would affect between 42,000 - 50,000 farms, corresponding approximately to 100 million hectares (or almost 250 million acres).