Kaila McCulloch and Louise Giblin have recently returned from a field trip organised in association with the University of Strathclyde and Sao Paulo Univeristy, to share experiences and “show solidarity with Brazil”. Kaila is the vice-chairwoman of the Shetland branch of Unison and of the union’s Scotland International Committee and Louise a member of the international committee and international officer with Unison Sepa. The union supported the trip. Here Kaila and Louise share their experiences and write about the hardships faced by many workers in the agricultural industry.
After three flights, 33 hours and 9,884 kilometres we arrived in Sao Paulo, followed by a five-hour drive inland to Araraquara to meet with the other delegates.
There we had our first meeting to discuss the progress of the From Land to the Plate project and “generation of energy and food” projects to be developed in two settlements with Unison, University of Strathclyde and Sao Paulo University.
The next day we had a trip to Piracicaba, where we had a guided tour of the Higher School of Agriculture at the University of Sao Paulo. This being the oldest University in Sao Paulo, the campus extends to 3,825 hectares.
The institute has been dedicated to agriculture, environmental, biological and applied social science for more than 100 years, we were invited to visit the laboratory and meet with the students.
After lunch we were taken to visit an “occupation camp” where 200 families were housed. Occupations are places (communities) that the government does not recognise. Occupants have no rights relative to a title to the land they are claiming.
The houses are built from very basic, non permanent materials. It was incredible to see what the community were growing and producing. They sell their produce in local markets.
While travelling around this area in Brazil we passed through miles upon miles of sugar cane and eucalyptus plantations.
These areas would have previously been covered by indigenous tropical Atlantic forest, which would have had more biodiversity than the Amazon Rainforest.
The following day we visited a well established settlement again in the state of Sao Paulo, called Parque das Hortencias. It is recognised by the state and the community living there have legal entitlement to the land.
The buildings are constructed with more permanent materials, such as brick and concrete tiles. We had a tour of the village and watched the local women cook jams, which are sold in the local markets.
Here also stood the remains of a coffee growers/traders’ house; there was evidence of where the slaves would have been shackled in the basement of the house, which was harrowing to see.
We then took a trip out into the fields where we met with corn workers who take the husks off the corn which are then used to make cigarettes. The working conditions were extremely dangerous, with the men sitting in front of open rotating blades, with no safety equipment.
The sun was hot and there was no shaded rest area or water provided for these workers. The noise levels of the conveyor belt were incredibly loud.
After sitting next to the conveyor for around five minutes our ears were ringing.
The next place we visited was a “settlement” called Descalvado. Forty-two families live there (140 people). There are no main roads that run to these places, just dirt tracks and no public transport is provided for the community, which can make life hard as it is quite a distance to the nearest town.
There is, however, a school bus to transport the children to and from school. There are many challenges faced by these isolated communities, lack of infrastructure being one, but also the land itself. Having previously been used as a eucalyptus plantation, old tree stumps cover the land, meaning cultivating it is difficult and the land is very acidic.
There is a strong woman’s association involved in the leadership of this community, working hard to support and progress the sustainability of this settlement. Even though this settlement has only been occupied for eight years there is a vast array of crops being grown.
A third of the crops produced are dedicated to be sold to the schools. Although the schools are supposed to give a month’s notice of the vegetables required, in reality they only learn a week in advance. That makes it difficult for them to plan what is needed.
This community was incredibly grateful of our solidarity; we are hoping we can build strong links all the way from Scotland.
Our final field trip saw us visiting another settlement, called Corrego RICO. This community started in 1998, the women’s association has grown to become the strongest part of the community.
They strive for equality between the men and the women, which has meant a rise in work for the women. The community is incredibly productive, growing, papaya, banana, orange, lime, manioc, courgettes, artichoke, cabbage, marrow, peppers, and potatoes.
They grow, roast and grind their own coffee and the women produce jams, jellies and sweets to sell. They have a community kitchen that is well used.
This settlement is 100 per cent organic and protecting the environment is at the top of the agenda. This community is a credit to Brazil and how successful agrarian reform can be.
Professor Larissa Bombardi then gave her presentation about the use of chemicals that are being used in the agri industry and the devastating effects these toxins are having on the land and the people who work and depend on it.
She showed maps with the areas/numbers of people reported to have had toxication from the chemicals, plus the deaths that have occurred.
The villagers cooked us a huge feast of organic grown vegetables, along with their fresh juices and jelly puddings. The day was concluded with cups of exceptionally strong coffee, which put us in good spirits for our five-hour journey back to Sao Paulo.
This field trip has shown us the positive impacts of agrarian reform, allowing landless people and unemployed labourers the ability to access and cultivate land to sustain their families and communities.
It has also demonstrated the positive input unions are having with these fragile rural communities. We are delighted to now have established strong links with this project and look forward to sharing experience and knowledge.
We feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to visit Brazil and meet the many communities in Araraquara.
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Brazil’s use of agrochemicals constitutes 20 per cent of global use.
A programme has been launched, From the Land to the Plate, in order to provide affordable, healthy food to working class communities. This means local schools buy the produce, making a link between rural areas and the city.
Our role was to research and identify a project with the possibility of a sustainable bid to the Unison International Development Fund.
• Louise works for Sepa, has an MSc in Environmental Management and has a significant background in water regulation and in broader environmental protection.
• Kaila has a BSc in Sustainable Rural Development, works as a valuer for the Orkney and Shetland Joint Valuation Board, and is directly involved in land/property tax issues.