Agrarian reform policy in Brazil

Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira
Sunday 11 July 2010 by LRAN

Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira is Tenured Professor of Agrarian Geography at University of Sao Paulo – FFLCH – USP.

“No country, no matter how large, is justified in having someone who own more than 30,000 acres of land! Two million hectares of land! This cannot be justified anywhere in the world! Only in Brazil. Because we have a cowardly president, who remains dependent on the rural right-wing caucus to provide a few votes.” (Luis Inácio Lula da Silva –Caros Amigos Magazine– November 2000).


In the countryside there are more than 100,000 families in encampments. More than 800,000 are enrolled in agrarian reform programs. Therefore, there are currently more than a million families waiting for agrarian reform. Studies estimate an additional 2.5 to 6.1 million families would be interested. For this reason, the landless workers in Brazil are definitely on the political agenda. They are conscious of their constitutional rights and are going to struggle. Thus, there is a landless workers’ movement in Brazilian society that is greater than those that make up the other social movements. For this reason, they will not stop growing.

The roots of modern capitalist development in Brazil are in its character as a country where a great deal of wealth is generated by landowners who do not produce anything on their land. This means that the concentration of the private ownership of land acts as a process to concentrate wealth and capital. The situation developed mainly through the fusion of the capitalist and the landowner into one and the same person. Although this process had its origin in slavery, and in particular in the passage from slave work to free work, it was in the second half of the 20th century that this fusion increased significantly. Thus the so-called modernization of agriculture did not transform latifundio owners into capitalist businessmen, but on the contrary, transformed industrial and urban capitalists, especially in the Center-South region of the country, into latifundio owners. The policy of fiscal incentives by the Superintendency of Development for the Amazon (SUDAM) under the military governments was one of the tools of economic policy that made this fusion possible. The landowners possess areas in Brazil of dimensions never before registered in the history of humanity.

According to the statistics recorded by the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), in 1967 in total terms, Brazil had 3,638,931 rural properties. Of these, 1.4% (50,945) were classified as large properties (more than 1000 hectares) and took up 48.9% (176, 091,002 hectares) of the total area of 360,104,300 hectares. In 1978, the total number of properties was 3,071,085 and large properties represented 1.8% (56,546), occupying 57% (246,023,591 hectares) of the total area of 419,901,870 hectares. At the opposite end were small properties with an area less than 100 hectares. In 1967 they represented 86.4% (3,144,036) in number, but occupied an area of only 18.7% (67,339,504 hectares). In 1978, they represented 83.8% (2,581,838 hectares) occupying 14.8% (59,939,629 hectares) of the total area.

Thus the modernization of agriculture has been accompanied by a growing concentration of land ownership. This means that between 1967 and 1978, the big estates in Brazil grew in area by 69,939,589 hectares and the small properties lost 7,399,875 hectares.

Not even the growing struggle for land in the 1980s affected INCRA’s statistics, which in 1992 continued to reveal the concentrated character of land in Brazil. In this year, the results continued to indicate that in Brazil there were 3,114,898 rural properties and among these, 43,956 properties (2.4%) had an area greater than 1,000 hectares and occupied 165,756,665 hectares (50%) of a total area of 331,364,012 hectares. At the same time, another 2,628,819 properties (84.4%), with an area smaller than 100 hectares occupied only 59,283,651 hectares (17.9%). Besides this, studies revealed that if INCRA enforced the provisions of Law 8.629 of 1993, they would have 115,054,000 hectares (20% of the total area) classified as large unproductive properties.

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