Introduction and social impacts. In the high


In the same year that the Berlin Wall fell
and the first direct election took place in Brazil after 20 years of military
dictatorship, Harriet Friedmann and Philip McMicheal presented an article with the
food regime concept. Using a world-historical background, the authors
introduced a new approach to analyse the connections between agro-food systems
and state politics, and the part of the agricultural sector in the development
of global capitalism. For providing an overall understanding of these intricate
relations, Food Regime Theory is still broadly applied to examine world food
trade (Pritchard, 2009). Friedmann & McMichael (1989) distinguished two food regimes since 1870, both of them are identified
as a period of stability in the relationship between the global political order
and food production and demand, although each one has its specific features.

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Brazil has become a more relevant piece in
the world food system after the 1970s, decade that marks the end of the second
food regime, as consequence of the agriculture and economic policies adopted by
the country in mid-1960s (Valdes et al., 2016). The
country joined others third world states and adopted the high input demand and
specialized model from the American agriculture (McMichael, 1998). The
Brazilian agriculture sector has increased under, as Patel (2013)
defined, the long Green Revolution. In 2012 it was the second largest food
exporter country (FAO, 2015).

Nevertheless the Brazilian agribusiness
growth has its collateral effects, great environmental and social impacts. In
the high social inequality of the Brazilian society (OECD, 2016), the
difference to access the means offer by agricultural development programs has
aggravated the unfairness in land distribution (Pearse, 1980). The
deforested area in Amazon in the 2000s increased 400% when compared with the  1970s index (Martinelli & Filoso, 2009). In 2015 the
country was the second largest pesticides buyer in the world (FAO, 2017). Since
2009 it has been the largest global pesticides consumer per capita,
additionally several pesticides that have already been banned in most developed
countries are still allowed in Brazil (Londres, 2011).

The increasing global awareness over the threats
from the modernisation era has lead, according Beck (1996), to a
transition from industrial to risk society, where there is self-confrontation
with the costs of the institutionalized production models. Since the publication
of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring
in 1962, voices opposing the agricultural model and its disastrous consequences
have arisen (Costa et al., 2017). A
set of different social movements emerged as a response to the agro-food system
developed during the Second Food Regime, among them the International
Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was founded in 1972, its
activities are define organic farming standards and regulate certification
services. The institution describes organic agriculture as “a production system
that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on
ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions,
rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines
tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote
fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved” (IFOAM, n.d.)

Since 1980s the agroecological movement has
flourished in Latin America, especially in Brazil. Agroecology is defined as
both a science and a set of alternative agricultural practices that goes beyond
organic farming systems, for promoting polycultures and agroforestry. After
almost 20 years later, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), a Brazilian social
movement that struggles for more equity in land ownership, adopted the agroecology
into its praxis and became a significant organic producer (Altieri & Toledo, 2011).

Including the perspective of the Food
Regime Theory, this essay firstly draws the development of the Brazilian
agriculture and the formation of MST, and then it describes the arousal of the
organic farming movement in Brazil and the adoption of alternative agricultural
practices by the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement.

joining the game and the MST rise

The performance of the Brazilian economic
sector is strongly based on the agriculture sector, being its main exported
goods sugar, soybean and meats (FAO, 2015), each
of them related with the two previous food regimes, though it is the second one
that had largely influenced the actual country’s economic structure.

The first food regime has as its main
player the British Empire. It is characterized for the colonial system that
lasted until the beginning of the World War I, and the need for new territories
to increase the production of agricultural commodities, providing cheap food
for the growing working class in the industrialized European centres. While in
the second food regime U.S. emerged as principal actor providing food aid after
World War II, as a result of a domestic policy to deal with the surpluses that
were an outcome of the subsidies for the agricultural sector focus on exports (Pritchard, 2009). Being
the surplus also a consequence of another characteristic of this regime, the
intensification in the agro-food systems due the agro-industrialization and the
development of Green Revolution technologies (McMichael, 2009).

Before the Industrial Revolution Brazilian
sugar dominated the world trade, but after 1700s the Portugal’s colony lost its
place to the tropical British colonies, that became the main suppliers of this
source of calorie to the wage-earning population in the industrialized countries
(Simonsen, 2005). Hence Brazil had not a relevant part in the First Food Regime as England
had ensured the control over a main stimulant commodity that, according Mintz (1985), for
enhancing the labour class efficiency contributed significantly in the formation
of the capitalist economy. In Brazil a significant expansion of land cover with
sugarcane crops started in mid-1970s with the incentive government program ProÁlcool and after 2000s, with the
biofuel trend, when the sugarcane industry and crop area increased in a
unparalleled rate (Martinelli & Filoso, 2009). In 2007, Brazil was the world’s leading sugar and ethanol producer
and accounted for around 40% of world sugar trade (OEDC-FAO, 2007).

Another set of impressive figures appeared
when analysing soybean and meat production in the country, in the beginning of
the 1960s the soybean area was less than 1 million hectare, whereas in 2007 the
area reached 20 million ha, comparing the same period the total soya production
increased more than 20000% and the total cattle heads fourfold (Martinelli and Filoso, 2009). These numbers show the bequest of the Second Food Regime, after
World War II meat became the centre of the Western diet, being soy a vital
input to its mass production. After the oil crisis in 1973, the process of
internationalization of the intensive meat complex created in U.S., which
integrated animal and grain producers, was intensified through the Latin
America countries (Friedmann & McMichael, 1989).

The Brazilian agriculture showed two significant phases of
growth, one took place in the 1970s and the other after the 1990s until now. The
latter period is characterized for macroeconomics reforms based on neoliberal
policies and an intensive integration on the international market, with Brazil
entering the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations and the establishment
of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUL). In the former period, the country was
harvesting the results of adopting the Green Revolutions technologies. The
implicit reasons of the success in modernazing the agricultural sector during
this time are the government subsidies and the authoritarism of the Brazilian
state, the country was ruled by a military dictatorcship from 1964 until 1985 (Patel, 2013).

It was during the first years of the totalitary regime that
the current structure of land distribuition in Brazil was shaped, although the
high concentration of land ownership come since the colonial times (Sauer & Leite, 2012). The high-yielding varieties require irrigation and fertilizers in order to have a good crop performance, therefore affluent
farmers, with easier access to state financing and high quality lands, obtained
greater results than smallholder farmers. The profits of the successful
cultivators led to an increasing demand for land, forcing out poor peasants
from their proprieties, aggravating the inequality in the land distribution in
the country. Between the beginning of agricultural modernization and the 1980s,
the rural migration reached around 25 million Brazilians (Perz, 2000).

In the earlier years of the re-democratization
process, aroused in Brazil an organized social movement claiming for a fairer
land distribution, Movimento dos
Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra or Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) (Branford & Rocha, 2003). Its official foundation was in 1984, when peasants and rural
workers from different Brazilian states decided join forces in their struggle
for land, after a series of independent estates occupations in the end of the
1970s (Karriem, 2009). The
pressure created for the movement, occupying non-productive land throughout the
national territory, led different governments to implement agrarian reforms
resulting in almost 1 million families settled over 88 million hectares (McMichael, 2009).

The MST campaign become broader in the
1990s, when the movement had joined forces with the international peasant movement
Via Campesina, and started to contest
the agribusiness model that, besides increasing land concentration, overlooks
the impacts on the environment and promotes food export instead of guarantee
domestic food supply. Both confront the WTO, for its biased negotiations, and
the transnational agri-food corporations, for having control over, among other
things, seeds distribution (Karriem, 2009).

McMichael analysed
the role of social movements on his formulation of a possible emergence new
food regime “This conception pivots on the original notion of a food regime
embodying a historical conjuncture comprising contradictory principles. Just as
the dynamics of the previous regimes centred on tensions between opposing
geo-political principles – colonial/national relations in the ?rst,
national/transnational relations in the second, so the corporate food regime
embodies a central contradiction between a ‘world agriculture’ (food from
nowhere) and a place-based form of agro-ecology (food from somewhere). In
addition, this formulation focuses attention on the politics of dispossession
of the world’s small farmers, ?sher-folk and pastoralists, including a
counter-mobilisation in the name of ‘food sovereignty’ against the modernist
narrative that views peasants as residual.” (2009, p. 147). The same
author emphasises that the classification of the current agri-food system and
political economy in a third food regime is still being debated among different

In Brazil, at the same time that MST was
being formed, a crescent wakefulness about the by-products of the agricultural
model created in the Second Food Regime, such as deforestation, soil erosion,
food contaminated with toxic residues, and the influence of world counterculture
activists result in the diffusion of alternative agricultural practices, among
them the organic agriculture and agroecology (Costa et al., 2017). However
it was only in the mid-1990s, with the beginning of the neoliberal era in the
country, that MST had included the ecological factor in its practices (Borsatto & Carmo, 2013). The movement found
in agroecology a more sustainable production system and a way of bringing
dignity to the peasants in the land reform settlements (Karriem, 2009).

and the evolution of organics in Brazil

The change in the MST political guideline is
presenting interesting and significant results. The movement was pioneer in
Latin America with the agroecological seeds network BioNatur that in 2007
produced 7 tons of organic seed including more than 90 varieties of plants (MST, 2017). In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO) decided to divulge through the MERCOSUL countries a success experience of
an organic cotton crop in a settlement from the Northeast region (Brasil, 2015). According
to IRGA, Rio Grande do Sul Rice Institute,
a set of MST settlements in the country southern region is the largest
organic rice producer in Latin America in 2017 (PROCERGS, n.d.).

The continuous expansion of the organic
sector is a trend worldwide, between 2000 and 2015 the global market for its
products has quadruplicate (Willer & Lernoud, 2017). Brazil follows the same tendency, the number of organic farms has
double in 2016 when compared with 2013 (Brasil, 2016). Despite
the country has the largest market for organic products in Latin America, its
growth is slow due to the economic and political crises and it has only 0.3%
the total agricultural area with organic production (Willer & Lernoud, 2017). In the first consumer research for this market in Brazil, it was
verified that in average just 15% of the urban population bought at least one
organic product lately (Organis, 2017).

Although associations, cooperatives and
non-government organizations of the Brazilian green movement have been advocating
and practicing alternative agriculture systems since the 1970s, it was only after
Rio-92 that the debated about regulation for organic products started at the federal
level. In 2003 the obligatory conditions to produce and sell organic goods in
the country were established by a national law and six years later the government
released the Brazilian seal for organic products (Sambuichi et al., 2017).

In order to reduce the costs involved in
the certification process and favour family farming and smallholder farmers to get
in the organic sector, the Brazilian system adopted three different control
mechanisms to its products: the third part certification based on external
audit, the participatory guarantee system (PGS) and the direct sell (Sambuichi et al., 2017). The PGS was adopted by IFOAM in 2004 and it is built on trust relations
between the producers and consumers, the guarantee is regulated by the
participants farmers (Luttikholt, 2007),
while the direct sell mechanism is specific to family farms that are in a Social
Control Organization (OSC) registered at the Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA). In
this system the organic family farming products have to be trade direct with
the final consumer (Sambuichi et al., 2017).

Along with the beginning of debates about
the organic sector in the country, the government started implementing a series
of different nationwide programs to support the family farming and also
alternative agricultural practices, based on a set of guidelines provided by FAO
together with the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform
(INCRA)(Sambuichi et al., 2017). Nowadays 75% of the Brazilian organic producers are smallholder
farmers as a result of the combined benefits provide by the National Program to
Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF), the National Plan of Agroecology and
Organic Production (Planapo) and the National Technical Assistance Program and
Rural Extension in Family farming and Agrarian Reform (Pronater) (Brasil, 2016).

Despite the public policies to promote the
organic sector, the rise of this market in Brazil is mainly due to privileged
consumers since its products’ prices are still much higher than the
conventional ones (Organis, 2017). Nevertheless
this is a trend seen globally when it comes to green products. In her proposition
of a possible third food regime, Friedmann (2005) suggests
that transnational supermarkets companies, grounded on some of the environmental
and health movements’ requests, guide a rearrangement on food supply chain that
foster a differentiation between consumers who can pay for fresh, green and
healthy food and the ones who cannot.

In order to increase the access to organic
products and to support the smallholder farmers from the settlements, the MST
is creating different channels to commercialize its production throughout the
country, besides the farmers markets. Its focus is reaching the final consumer
and providing organic food for lower prices. The movement has opened two stores
in two cities, one in São Paulo in 2016 and the other in Belo Horizonte one
year later. In Porto Alegre it is possible to buy food from local settlements using
a smartphone app. Clients can order weekly, on an e-commerce, baskets with
organic food produced by settlers in farms near Curitiba (MST, 2017).

The conversion to agroecology on settlements
is an ongoing process. At the beginning, the MTS centred its agricultural project
on highly productivity, specialized, vertically integrated and collectivized
model. The Cooperative System of Settlers (SCA) was created, but after a while
its cooperatives went into crisis, for depending on transnational corporates to
acquire external inputs and to sell its production. Paradoxically, following
the bases created in Second Food Regime, the movement disseminated in its
settlements a production system that had been the cause of the expropriation of
peasants in an earlier moment. In this circumstance, it was initiated the
discussion of an alternative way of production that goes beyond the economical
aspect and considers also the ecological and social dimensions, where the
peasant and its knowledge are considered essential elements in the engine for production
(Borsatto &
Carmo, 2013).

Since the 2000s the movement has established
in its education system alternative agricultural practices. There are more than
2000 public schools in the settlements following MST’s educational model, based
on educator Paulo Freire’s works, which promotes the critical thinking among
the students (Schwendler & Thompson, 2017). In addition to
the basic instruction, some initiatives were created focusing on the settlers,
such as formation centres providing sustainable farming courses and the
Agroecology Journey, an annual forum to debate and exchange experiences among
the different settlements (Borsatto et al., 2007)

José Lutzemberger was one of the first
voices in Brazil opposing the agricultural model adopted during the Green
Revolution and its impacts in the country. In the 1970s he founded an
environmental NGO and published the book End
of the future? Brazilian Ecological Manifesto. The Brazilian environmental
activist was instructor of organic farming practices to MST settlers until his
death in 2002. The farmers’ position in the current agro-food system was
described by him to Branford, “The
modern farmer is only a tractor-driver or a poison-sprayer. He is only a tiny
cog in an enormous and highly complicated techno-bureaucratic structure that
begins in the oil?elds, goes through the whole chemical industry and the huge
agri-business industry—I’d rather call it the food manipulating, denaturing and
contaminating industry—and ends up in the supermarkets.” (2003, p. 158). In
the same work, Lutzemberger claimed the role of the Landless Rural
Workers’ Movement in challenging the conventional agricultural structure, “The MST was an emergency movement, set up by desperate rural
labourers who had lost their livelihoods. Now that they are back on the land
and farming their own plots, they have begun to realize that they have to question
the whole basis of modern farming. It’s encouraging but not enough. The MST
needs to be at the forefront of efforts to forge a much broader alliance to
stand up to destructive modern farming.” (2003, p. 157).


The awaking forces of social movements,
contesting the legacy of the Second Food Regime, has emerged around the world as
defined by Beck a ‘kind of self-confrontation of the consequences of modernization’
(1996, p. 28) when the
threats caused by it could not be more ignored and control. After adopting the
current agricultural model, MST realized that it was economic and environmental
unsustainable. Since mid-1990s the movement has widened its struggle and embraced
also the cause of the agroecology, institutionalising the sustainable practices
in its lands, promoting a more appropriate and independent production system to
its settlements (Altieri & Toledo, 2011).

The MST fight for land continues since the
disparity in its distribution is still high. According to the last Brazilian
agricultural census in 2006, 43% of the total rural area is occupied for less
than 1% of the total number of farms (IBGE, 2009). Since
2008, after the food crisis, the concentration of land ownership in the country
has been aggravated with the increasing of investments in farmland for
transnational corporate (Wilkinson et al., 2012). However, the agrarian reform has decelerated in Brazil since
2000s, when a government decree prohibits the expropriation of lands that were
invaded by the MST (Sauer & Leite, 2012).

The conversion of the MST settlements into
agroecological praxis is evolving and it could contribute to turn the green
food accessible to more Brazilians, however this challenge becomes even greater
in the face of the recent political and economic crises. When the main goal is
recover the economy, social and environmental issues become less important, for
instance in 2016 the budget of the National Plan of Agroecology and Organic
Production was reduced (Sambuichi et al., 2017).

The Brazil capability to overcome the
crisis and integrate socio economic development with environmental preservation,
by effective implementing the already existing programs and expanding them, could
be an example to other developing countries (Martinelli et al., 2010). In the scenario of climate change, the great Brazilian
biodiversity can have a main role into global food security, providing
agricultural varieties that can be adapted to the new climatic conditions (Martinelli & Filoso, 2009). Therefore, the sustainable development of the Brazilian
agriculture will not only impact its own society but people all over the world.