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Referendum on Land Holding Used to Educate about Landlessness, Agribusiness

August 2010

As part of a larger campaign to support the right to land, this week Grassroots International provided a $10,000 grant to boost education and organizing around a powerful national referendum in Brazil. The referendum, being organized by social movements for the first week of September, probes public opinion regarding the size of land holdings.

Although non-binding, the referendum provides an opportunity for land rights activists to educate voters about the growing problem of landlessness in the countryside caused by the expansion of agribusinesses in peasant and indigenous communities. The referendum will generate a national debate about the efficient use of resources by small scale agriculture in comparison to agribusinesses.   A second referendum on Climate Change is scheduled for April, 2011 in Brazil, and similar votes will be held on five continents.   Grassroots International funded Jubileu Sur-Brazil, one of the leading organizations in both referendums. Jubileu Sur-Brazil works in coordination with the National Forum of Agrarian Reform and Brazilian Social Movements’ Popular Assembly, which includes several Grassroots International partners and allies (including the Landless Workers Movement [MST], the Movement of People Affected by Dams and the World March of Women).   The September referendum will ask the population – citizens, indigenous people, Afro-descendants and immigrants alike – if Brazil should limit land holding to 35 LU (land units). A land unit (LU) is based multiple factors, including: estimated income generation; soil conditions; existing forest reserves; and the estimated number of hectares necessary to produce enough food to feed a family. Jubileu Sur-Brazil and the National Forum view the referendums as educational opportunities and ways to gather the opinion of working class families about central policy issues.   “In this national survey, we want to reach at least 10 million people, the same number of responses that we had in the survey about the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA),” said Rosilene Wansetto of Jubileu Sur-Brazil.   The referendum highlights the related problems of growing landlessness, expansion of monoculture (single crop) plantations, and foreign-owned farmland in Brazil. The MST estimates that more than 43% of Brazil’s farmland is controlled by 1% (or 50,000 landowners), while 4 million families are landless and unable to grow food for their subsistence.   Jubileu Sur-Brazil directly connects the two referendums on Land Use and Climate Change. The expansion of agribusiness at the expense of highly productive small scale farming is linked to development policies that are causing global warming.   In addition to supporting Jubileu Sur-Brazil, Grassroots International provides critical funding and support to our partners in Brazil and throughout the world engaged in organizing for the human rights to land, water and food. 


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