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Brazilian Activist from MST Participates in the Brooklyn Food Conference

May 2009

The Food Sovereignty movement in the United States is well and alive. And thanks to the work of food cooperatives, community supported agriculture (CSA) and local farmers, little by little more neighborhoods and cities are joining this social movement that is reclaiming the right to quality food.

This past weekend, the movement’s strengthen was displayed in Brooklyn, NY, where over 2,000 people met in one of the largest U.S. events for Food Sovereignty this year. 

Participants in the Brooklyn Food Conference represented different places and backgrounds in the U.S. food movement. Event speakers included some of the leading voices in the United States, such as social activist Malik Yakini from Detroit, and Raj Patel, the author of Stuffed and Starved.

Grassroots International’s partner and colleague Debora Nunes, from Brazil’s Landless Movement (MST), also participated as a guest speaker in two workshops: “The Food Sovereignty Movement North and South: People’s control over their own food” and “The perils of a globalized food supply: Trade policy and how to change it.” 

Debora’s presentations were eloquent, articulate and charismatic. She impressed participants with a powerful message of international solidarity and regional integration: “I believe we can have an alternative to free trade that works for everyone in the American continent. Our regional integration should be based on solidarity among the people and our community-based experiences of sustainable living and justice.”

Debora’s participation helped people at Brooklyn’s conference connect the challenges of the food sovereignty in the United States with a global movement. As she said in her presentation, “We are together in this process.” 

I had a chance to speak with Debra during the event. Our interview appears below.

SA: Tell us about your history and involvement with food production. 

Debora Nunes: My father migrated to Alagoas a long time ago with many other people affected by the droughts from [the neighboring state of] Pernambuco to find a job. Later, he migrated to São Paulo city. But life in a larger city was even more difficult for him as he was farther away from home and without much possibility to improve his life. He decided to move back to Alagoas where he settled in the outskirts of the capital Macéio. Our house has a larger space where we have chickens and a garden. My father always loved the idea of growing food and, from an early age, I was surrounded with this idea of food production. In the MST, I work in the Agricultural Development Sector. I work with the MST to provide technical and organizational assistance to settled families’ associations and cooperatives.

SA: Could you describe the Landless Movement in Alagoas?

Debora Nunes: The MST in Alagoas was created in 1987. For some time, the office in Alagoas served as a regional office to the entire Northeast region. Currently, in Alagoas, we have 6,000 people living in encampments and 50,000 families have already acquired their plot of land. Alagoas is the smallest and one of the poorest states of Brazil. With the current expansion of the sugar cane plantations, we are facing an uphill battle in Alagoas. The state Governor himself is a large landowner. So, development policies from both state and federal governments favor the boom of agro-fuels production, leaving peasants without land. The option is to migrate or to resist.

SA: Alagoas is known for its history of popular resistance, particularly the “Quilombo dos Palmares” located in the Northern region of Alagoas. [Quilombos were communities of ex-slaves. They become safe communities for escapees and freed slaves persecuted by the Portuguese Empire and landowners. The Quilombo dos Palmares was the largest Quilombo with over 5,000 people.]

Debora Nunes: The “Quilombo dos Palmares” is one of the symbols of the struggle for land rights in Brazil. But unfortunately, the government is always trying to manipulate the facts and change the history. As a matter of a fact, the area has been targeted with development projects that disrespect the history of resistance of local communities. In practice, they are using a top-down approach of development to intentionally erase our history.

SA: What did you learn from this conference in Brooklyn? 

Debora Nunes: This trip has been wonderful so far. Yesterday I visited community gardens and other inspiring projects that I hope to share with people back home. This conference has been a great experience for me as well. It has been interesting to learn about these initiatives in the United States and participate with people with whom we share the same ideas and views for a more just society.

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