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6 May 2010

Monocropping of Sugarcane and Counter-Agrarian Reform

Maria Luisa Mendonça

- This article was translated into English by Sheila Rutz, with the support of Global Exchange.

- Maria Luisa Mendonça is a journalist and director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, and is currently pursuing a PHD in Geography at the University of São Paulo (USP).

In contrast with the propaganda of the agro-industrial complex as a symbol of “development” and “efficiency,” the land ownership and agricultural model of this sector creates serious social and economic inequalities, besides being highly dependent on public resources. Some of chief consequences of this policy are environmental degradation, concentration of income, and unemployment in rural.

The debate on the production of agro-energy involves a wide range of themes, centered on the agricultural and economic model adopted by peripheral countries and in a process of “recycling” in the discourse that defines the geopolitics of central countries. In this context, the Brazilian government assumes a protagonist role in defense of the expansion of monocropping for the production of agroenergy. Currently, the priority of Brazilian foreign policy is to guarantee access to markets for agrofuels, principally in the European Union, Japan, and the United States, in addition to encouraging other countries in the Southern Hemisphere to adopt this production model, by means of technology transfer agreements.

Opting for an agricultural model that prioritizes monocropping for export is based on the idea that implementation of full agrarian reform would not be significant for rural development in Brazil. As Manuel Correia de Andrade observed, the processes of rural exodus are based on the image of urban centers as the chief generators of income and economic opportunities.

In his book A Terra e o Homem no Nordeste, Manuel Correia de Andrade refers to the expression “cidade inchada” (swollen city) coined by Gilberto Freyre to describe this process, and to point out that “considerable increase in population, without a corresponding increase in employment possibilities, is more of a swelling than it is a growth.” He explains: “We believe that one of the causes which most contributes to aggravating this problem is the dominant land ownership structure which has been in place since colonization” (ANDRADE, 2005, P. 62). However, the major regions in which natural resources are concentrated—such as water, land, minerals, and biodiversity—are in the rural environment and have come to be the center of the principal political and economic disputes, both nationally and worldwide. Multilateral financial agencies, large national and transnational firms, and governments dispute geopolitical control of regions rich in strategic resources, both agricultural and mineral energy-related.

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