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People still being killed over land disputes in Brazil to make way for agriculture, RT13 hears

History of land ownership made Brazil vulnerable to speculators

This article is powered by EU Food Law

The killing of around 50 people in Brazil every year is associated with land expansion in the Amazon regions, a conference on sustainable soy production heard this week.

This is despite efforts being made at all levels to stop the displacement of people and deforestation which is carried out to clear land for food production.

But land ownership in Brazil has always been problematic, even before food commodities arrived, Tiago Reis of the Université catholique de Louvain, told IEG Policy.

Reis, a speaker at the RT13 conference, the name for this year’s gathering of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), said the approach to land ownership over the past 500 years has been for people to move into the countryside, develop it for themselves, and then claim it as theirs.

“The private ownership of land is very controversial. Sometimes the government sells it for a cheap price, sometimes people invade public land and then claim it years later. So before these commodities came, there was already a problem,” Reis said.

Whilst there has always been disputes over land ownership, those disputes became more violent when agricultural commodities entered the scene because the disputed land then became more valuable.

“Companies then became specialised in grabbing these lands to sell later. It became a business for them. They would sell the land for 500 times what they bought it for,” Reis said.

With rising land values, many funds from the US and Europe started to invest in the companies that took over the land, unaware of the risks of the investment or not wanting to know how the land was gained.

“The private ownership of land is very controversial. Sometimes the government sells it for a cheap price, sometimes people invade public land and then claim it years later. So before these commodities came, there was already a problem" - Tiago Reis

“Under the traditional pattern of occupation, people just lived on pieces of land but in the last 20 years, these lands have become very valuable. The specialist companies became expert at grabbing and selling the land, but they also had to expel the people,” Reis explained.

The Amazon has much more land and fewer people so it is easier for these groups to grab and sell land, he said.

“But in the Brazilian Cerrado, where agricultural companies are now moving, we are seeing social problems because there are many people living there,” Reis said. “They are killed or expelled.”

As a consequence, rural people are being pushed into cities, and into poverty.

“The companies that buy the land there claim they have bought the land from the government, even if the people have been living there for that last 20 years. And sometimes the people resist and do not want to leave and are killed or they don’t resist and end up in a poor slum, with no education,” Reis said.

Reis said that the agricultural sector has not accepted responsibility for the suffering of the rural people, with the sector arguing that it was the land speculator that had cleared the area beforehand.

However, the gap between clearance and the arrival of an agricultural company is narrowing. “Speculators are hearing of plans by agricultural companies of their intentions to move a silo into a particular area, to build a facility there.

“They know the land around the facility will be very valuable when the facility is built so the speculator buys it up and clears the people off,” Reis said.

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