In recent years Brazil has enjoyed a reputation for economic vitality and democratic stability. While there is no doubt that there have been improvements from the catastrophic inflation of the 1990s and the military dictatorship of the 60s, 70s and 80s, Brazil still, sadly, ranks high in social and economic inequalities and human rights abuses.

Widespread rural poverty is increasing and the number of landless families is growing. In Brazil, two percent of the population owns 42 percent of the land, much of which lies idle or underutilized or is used for export production that does little to support local economies. A huge peasant population remains landless and lacks access to even the most basic resources.

The land and water rights of indigenous peoples, forest dwellers, Afro-descendents (Quilombolas), and peasants are threatened by international agribusinesses. Grassroots’ partners in Brazil have worked to defend resource rights of local communities through organizing, legal assistance and educational projects. For instance, the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP) and the Association of Settlement Areas of Maranhão State (ASSEMA) are developing low-cost local solutions that, if funded, could increase food production and the resilience of impoverished communities to the effects of climate change.

Our partners seek to increase food production primarily for domestic consumption of millions of people with minimal environmental impact. However, instead of fully supporting grassroots initiatives that provide water and the possibility of a sustainable livelihood for all, policy makers continue to push large infrastructure projects like dams and giant irrigation canal systems. These mega projects benefit export-oriented agribusinesses at a high environmental cost.

Brazilian social movements like the Landless Workers Movement (MST) work to speed up land reform and make land ownership a reality for more people. Their success is an example for rural peoples around the world, having settled 350,000 families on land the size of Massachusetts. They are themselves part of a larger movement along with slum dwellers, indigenous peoples, rural women’s organizations, Afro-Brazilians and trade unionists to create a more inclusive and equitable economy in Brazil. As Latin America’s largest economy and part of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) group of emerging countries, Brazil plays a vital role in international trade agreements, particularly in areas of agriculture policies and at the level of the World Trade Organization. Strengthening Brazilian social movements to advocate for policies that benefit Brazil’s impoverished majority is crucial to ensuring that Brazil plays a constructive role at that level.

Grassroots International's Brazil program, begun in 1998, supports vibrant social change movements and organizations in Brazil working for land rights, sustainable livelihoods, agroecology, and the democratization of access to resources. Our support remains essential today in view of increasing human rights abuses against landless organizations, decreased governmental support to land reform and the potential for social movements to influence official Brazilian positions in international bodies creating global trade rules.