The reconstruction of the Ministry of Agrarian Development

Image: Revac Film


The construction of the MDA from 2003 to 2016 and proposals for the new national council for sustainable rural development

At the installation of the new National Council for Sustainable Rural Development, a month ago, I tried to summarize the experience I had since the inauguration of the first Council of the MDA (Ministry of Agrarian Development) in 2004, until its closure in 2016, after the coup which overthrew the government of President Dilma Rousseff.

On the other hand, analyzing the situation in this third government of President Lula, I decided to take a bold step and, in the light of 12 years of experience, suggest some ideas about the role that the new Council should assume. I hope that current advisors understand this contribution as something unpretentious, with no intention of teaching anyone lessons and that they make use of the ideas presented if they find something that has meaning from their own experiences.

The construction of the Ministry of Agrarian Development

The appointment of the first minister of the Ministry of Agrarian Development in the series of popular governments between 2003 and 2016, Miguel Rossetto, did not occur without some behind-the-scenes complications and conflicts. Miguel Rossetto was the last of the ministers to be appointed by President Lula, after intense negotiations. Lula asked the social movements in the countryside to nominate a consensus name and this proved impossible.

The MST nominated Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, PT's agrarian secretary; FETRAF nominated Sameck, a PT member from Paraná, supported by the former DNTR of CUT and CONTAG nominated its president, Manoel de Serra. With time passing and without an agreement emerging, Lula opted for Miguel Rossetto using another logic, that of giving a ministry to the strongest current of the PT left, Socialist Democracy, as long as he distributed the most important positions in the ministry among the movements social.

Miguel Rossetto did so, handing over SAF to Bianchini, linked to FETRAF and supported by Graziano, INCRA to a name nominated by the MST and the land credit secretariat to a name nominated by CONTAG. It was a very unequal distribution, especially because the recently appointed president of INCRA was quickly replaced after a political bombardment from the right. From this moment on, the MST adopted a policy of not directly participating in the government or in the recently created National Council for Sustainable Rural Development. The secretariat given to CONTAG had little weight and the big winner in this distribution ended up being FETRAF.

My first impression of Miguel Rossetto's appointment was not positive. I found it worrying that the new minister, originally from the oil union movement, had no history of dealing with rural issues. Despite this, from the first contact with Miguel Rossetto, even before his inauguration, I discovered a very high-level political framework, concerned with mastering the complex agenda of his ministry, talking to the most varied political, social and academic actors. Miguel Rossetto had a rare quality. He was a politician who knew how to ask questions, question differences, form an opinion on the topics under debate and build consensus to keep the public machine moving. He was, by far, the best minister the Ministry of Agrarian Development has ever had and could well advise the current one.

In fact, the Ministry of Agrarian Development inherited the main policies for the sector since the creation of the ministry, with FHC. Without further discussion on development strategies and models, the Ministry of Agrarian Development proposed two things: expanding agrarian reform and promoting the development (of a conventional type) of Family Farming via facilitated credit.

Suffering from the limitations of being part of a government with a minority in congress, the Ministry of Agrarian Development experienced the same restrictions in force in the previous government to promote Agrarian Reform and applied the same “solutions”, in one case as in the other, wrested by the pressures of occupations. of land. Lula's two governments increased the number of settled families, but the increase was not spectacular, around 20%. Land distribution via land regularization or delivery of public lands prevailed, more for colonization than for agrarian reform.

Expropriations of land handed over by the landowners themselves also continued to occur. The cases in which the use of land redistribution mechanisms via expropriations could be typified occurred mainly in occupations. Obstacles imposed by legislation and the correlation of forces with agribusiness were combined with the government's refusal to redefine indicators of the social use of land, fearing a clash with the ruralist caucus despite this measure being administrative and not legislative.

The economic and political power of agribusiness defined the size and quality of agrarian reform: it took place, mainly, in the most fragile areas of the latifundium, on public lands or on lands that were already degraded. The current situation is no different, it is even much worse. The correlation of forces is even more negative and the government has fewer resources, with the State broken by years of mismanagement and the budget increasingly divided to meet the electoral interests of congressmen.

The action in favor of family farmers to promote their development had an implicit, already existing in the FHC government: credit (and, later on, technical assistance and rural extension – ATER) should facilitate family farmers' access to so-called modern inputs (seeds improvements, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and machinery). There was a differentiation in interest rates on loans for food production and insurance was created to cover the risk of these loans.

Credit was made easier and more diversified to improve access for producers in the northeast and north regions, greatly expanding the number of beneficiaries and distribution across the regions. PRONAF can celebrate the incorporation of up to (at the most positive moment) reaching just over 2 million family farmers. The volume of credit resources rose from 2 to 30 billion reais per year, even though the re-concentration of resources in the southern region took place and the number of beneficiaries fell to less than 1,5 million. The increase in the values ​​of each loan indicated that the category of family farmers known as “agronegocinho” was appropriating the majority of the credit from 2010 onwards.

One cannot criticize only the Ministry of Agrarian Development for this development strategy, since it corresponded not only to the standard of economic thought dominant among technicians (starting with Lula's all-powerful advisor, Graziano), but also to the demands of social movements and the positions of parties across the political spectrum. Criticism of this development model was centered on agroecology activists, who were quite a minority although very active. In the Ministry of Agrarian Development there was a pro-agroecology enclave led by Francisco Caporal and which came to define the technical assistance and rural extension policy in 2003, but this victory was being eroded by the predominance of the conventional vision among the staff and management of DATER, at least until the first technical assistance and rural extension conference was held, already under President Dilma Rousseff's government.

The impact of the credit policy, added to the insurance and price guarantee policy, appeared throughout the popular governments, with the agenda of demands for amnesties and debt renegotiations becoming the most important in the negotiations between the movements and the Ministry of Agrarian Development. Over time, part of the movements, particularly those of Via Campesina, began to define themselves by another strategy, the promotion of agroecology, but this was not reflected in the negotiation agendas, much less in the policies themselves.

Taking the results of the application of these policies in generic terms, we can see two important things: (i) the decrease in the number of households that appears between the 2006 and 2017 agricultural censuses, on the order of 400 thousand families, despite close to 500 thousand families have been laid in this interval. These numbers indicate an evasion of almost one million AF from the field; (ii) the reduction in food supply by the AF, currently reduced to just over 25% (in value) of the total.

The formation of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development and its role in popular governments

The structure of the council was set up by the government and has been changed over the years to incorporate some sectors, in particular youth, women, and traditional peoples and communities (quilombolas, indigenous people and rubber tappers, among others), to the same extent as that ministry secretariats were being created to deal with these topics. It is interesting to note that the initiative to create thematic committees has always been in the hands of the ministry's secretariats. DATER created the technical assistance and rural extension committee, the territorial development secretariat created the committee of the same name, and then followed the creation of youth committees, etc. There were two exceptions to this rule: (a) the agroecology committee, driven by Caporal's initiative, did not correspond to any secretariat; (b) a credit committee was never formed, which was by far the most relevant policy in the Ministry of Agrarian Development. These two cases deserve a deeper analysis.

The Agroecology Committee arises from the impact of the national seminar on technical assistance and rural extension, organized by Caporal in 2003 and which created PNATER and PRONATER, both defining agroecology as a strategic orientation, even before the creation of the National Rural Development Council. sustainable (in 2004). Caporal left the technical assistance and rural extension committee for the more conventional DATER staff (to which he was linked), as he considered that agroecology should be a transversal proposal, guiding all committees and, therefore, the entire Ministry of Agrarian Development. . For a while, he obtained resources to maintain the meetings of this committee, but little by little he lost space, while the technical assistance and rural extension committee, with the support of Argileu (coordinator of DATER, a department linked to SAF), continued to grow. strengthening and ignoring the radical decisions of the 2003 seminar.

The agroecology committee, of which I was a member until its dissolution, dealt with all public policy issues for Family Farming, which required an enormous effort to prepare that depended on the approval of the other thematic committees and the plenary session of the National Council. of sustainable rural development to become a proposal for the Ministry of Agrarian Development. Practice showed that the ability of the participants of this committee was very insufficient to influence the other committees. It would take double activism from the agroecology committee staff to be able to take their proposals to the other committees and this did not happen.

We could have reduced the original ambitions of this committee and sought to formulate a specific program for agroecology, without the intention of influencing all policies, but that was not Caporal's vision, nor that of anyone in this group. I had a hard time realizing this error and it reappeared later when PLANAPO and PNAPO were created, during Dilma's government. The agroecology committee was becoming exhausted due to the lack of support for Caporal and the perception of civil society participants that we had to take the agroecological proposal directly to the other committees, in particular ATER.

The credit committee was not formed because there was no support from the person responsible for PRONAF. João Luiz Guadagnin preferred to create a credit discussion group outside the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development, inviting only representatives of social movements (including the MST, which was not part of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development) to participate. Guadagnin did this with such discretion that the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development took a long time to realize the existence of these consultations. The proposal to create a credit committee was approved in the plenary session of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development at least three times, but these resolutions were circumvented by PRONAF and it was never created. This fact shows two things that should be retained by the participants of the new National Council for Sustainable Rural Development:

(1) proposals, even if approved by the plenary, had no weight if they were not demanded by larger entities, such as rural social movements. As they were participating in Guadagnin's consultation group, they preferred not to put pressure on the creation of the committee and, despite my protests, the weight of an NGO like AS-PTA or an Articulation like ANA, was not enough.

(2) the functioning of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development was strongly subject to the interests of the government. When a sector of the ministry was interested in creating a thematic committee with civil society, it came into existence, guaranteeing resources to operate and making decisions that the secretariats and departments took into account. When there wasn't this interest, things didn't move forward. On the other hand, government representatives on the council were constantly containing any expression of criticism of their policies, often with the consent of civil society advisors who feared that any criticism would become ammunition for the right. The behavior of government representatives and that of many in civil society points to a (in my opinion) misunderstanding of the role of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development. I will discuss this point further, in the item on proposals for the current council.

This issue of the institutionality of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development and its role in relations with the ministry was manifested at other times. I would say that during the Lula government the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development was almost completely behind government initiatives. The case of the ATER seminar that defined a political orientation that had no support among the majority of government technicians was an exception to the rule, but even in this case, the initiative was in the hands of a government technician, Caporal.

For most of its existence during Lula's governments, the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development was involved in organizing the first national conference on rural development. During the preparation there was a shock in the committee that prepared the base text and this lasted until the final plenary was held. Some civil society entities sought to discuss the impacts and problems observed in the application of policies and the government acted with a heavy hand to prevent this from happening.

At the second conference (already during the Dilma government), the construction of the text was based on the debates at the base and the result was more criticism of the concepts of the development proposal (agroecology versus conventional development) and the ongoing policies. However, as the editing of resolutions was always in the hands of government agents, these positions were sweetened as the texts were modified at each stage of the process.

Evaluating this exercise of holding the conference, I can say that the result fell far short of the effort, and not only because of the government's heavy intervention. I cannot say that it is a useless effort in all cases as many people consider that food safety, environmental and health conferences have always been very important in guiding public policies. But in the specific case of rural development conferences, I can say that the result was the production of a lot of paperwork and very little influence on the actions of the Ministry of Agrarian Development.

After the dissolution of the agroecology committee, agreed upon by all members of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development when Caporal stepped aside during Lula's second government, most of the civil society activists linked to this topic transferred to the ATER committee or they started to press (to no avail, as has already been said) for the creation of the credit committee.

In the last year of the Lula government, DATER prepared the ATER bill, without discussing it with the committee of the National Council for sustainable rural development, taking it directly to the Chamber of Deputies, where there was a group of former EMATER employees , in contact and collaboration with the director of DATER, Argileu. With the fait accompli, the committee was paralyzed, but the civil society group linked to ANA pressured DATER to introduce some changes to the project, to be negotiated with the rapporteur, a PT deputy from Bahia. We made only 4 amendments that were accepted by DATER and the rapporteur. The most important called for an ATER conference to be held every four years, at the beginning of each government, to formulate the four-year rural extension program. This conference should be organized by the ATER committee of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development.

The ATER law came into force in the last year of the second Lula government and huge conflicts soon appeared between the project format required by the government and the practice of promoting development adopted by ATER NGOs, particularly those linked to ANA. The way to operationalize the policy was at stake, not the policy itself.

With the arrival of Dilma to the government in 2011, preparations for the ATER conference were underway, but the difficulties of the transition of the new government, with an MDA minister who lasted less than 7 months, led DATER to postpone the conference and ending up proposing that it be held as part of the second sustainable development conference, scheduled for May or June 2012. The ATER committee protested and demanded, even under the law, that the conference be held as quickly as possible and DATER set it for September.

The preparation of this conference gave rise to a new type of relationship between the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development and the government. The struggle was between the government's intention to discuss the generality of the policy and that of civil society, which focused on the operationalization of the policy. This impasse continued until the conference itself, where a front was formed of the 12 largest civil society entities, including all social and identity movements, which led the GTs and the plenary sessions and managed to impose its agenda.

The new MDA minister, Pepe Vargas, understood the message and created, immediately after the conference, an operational working group (GTO) that began to re-elaborate, together with DATER technicians, the way the policy was operated. Not everything was rosy despite a sincere effort to seek understanding and agreement. The ATER policy continued, in my opinion, to be hampered by a series of problems, some linked to the definitions contained in the law. This is something that the new National Council for Sustainable Rural Development should be concerned with resolving.

Conclusions and proposals for the new National Council for Sustainable Rural Development

During the 12 years of popular governments, the MDA continued the policies defined in FHC's government, especially regarding the most important of them, due to the volume of resources and the scope of beneficiaries, credit. This was done in a coherent and comprehensive although uneven manner. Credit borrowers reached, at the height of the diversification process, just over 2 million, while those benefiting from technical assistance, with federal resources, reached close to 500 thousand. However, the technical assistance offered by EMATER was in line with the federal project and must have benefited at least another million. These data are somewhat confusing because DATER resources were divided between non-governmental and state public entities.

The SAF, throughout this period, created other complementary policies, the main one being insurance and helped to formulate government purchasing policies, the execution of which was carried out by the MEC (school meals) and MAPA (PAA). The general orientation of these policies, as has been said before, was the promotion of the conventional way of agriculture, based on the techniques of the so-called green revolution. Although this model is incorrect in the analysis of economic, social, environmental and energy sustainability, there was no awareness of this fact either in the government or in social movements and in most non-governmental entities. This awareness has been acquired over the years, but not to the point of influencing ongoing policies.

This situation appears to have changed, at least if we consider the definitions adopted by the transition group. Formally, at least, agroecology becomes the development model to be promoted. However, the transition did not indicate how policies should be guided to achieve this objective.

Until now, the MDA has not carried out an assessment of the situation of family farming after just over 12 years of popular governments and almost 7 years of neoliberal misgovernment. Nor did it look into the analysis of policies applied in the past to assess their role in the current AF framework. Finally, this government still lacks a definition of more concrete objectives and targets for the MDA over the next four years. These exercises are yet to be carried out and what is occurring is the mere continuation of previous policies. All of this is worrying because this new MDA is already 8 months old and seems to be acting erratically, discussing specific projects without a coherent plan to guide the whole.

In my opinion, since the MDA does not take the initiative to carry out this planning effort indicated above, the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development has the role of demanding it and participating in it.

In this effort to define objectives and goals, it is necessary to take into account the diversity of the reality of PA in Brazil. Despite the definition in favor of agroecology as a general objective in the transition group (I wonder if the minister is aware of this), the MDA cannot only produce policies to promote agroecology. On the one hand, this would be ignoring a large portion of farmers who have adopted agribusiness practices (around 500 thousand AF) and who do not know, do not trust or do not know how to adopt agroecology. On the other hand, even if all 3,8 million households were willing to adopt agroecology, there is a lack of resources, especially human, but also material, for this to happen. There are few technicians trained in the practices and methods of agroecology, and even if an intensive training policy is adopted, this problem cannot be expected to be resolved under this government.

In other words, it will be necessary to carefully guide and scale policies to promote agroecology and maintain more conventional policies for those who do not want, do not know or do not know how to apply this paradigm.

I have already written about these proposals in other articles, a series entitled “A new place for agriculture”, and I will not repeat them here.

Summarizing the articles mentioned:

I think that the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development should create a credit committee and that it should formulate a conventional financing line, but with incentives for the adoption of some agroecology practices, as long as it is possible to guide the ATER policy to support these farmers in the choices and application of these practices. The practical model to be adopted should be to promote the replacement of the use of chemical inputs and the adoption of organic fertilizers and controls. Credit should also be proposed for organic and agroecological producers who have already made the transition (about 70 thousand AF).

Agroecology could be the orientation adopted in promoting “productive backyards”, a project already announced by the MDA at the March of the Daisies. The target audience for this operation reaches 2,3 million women, belonging to the AF group characterized as minifundista and heavily concentrated in the Northeast and North. There are countless experiments, in all biomes, but especially in the Northeast, with very interesting results.

Practice shows that this program cannot be based on credit, since the most important result of agroecological backyards is the food self-sufficiency of families, with or without the sale of surpluses in local markets. Financing (non-refundable, but which can go towards Solidarity Revolving Funds in communities) of infrastructure in backyards is a fundamental part of the success of these projects, especially water projects, but not only that. And the values ​​attributed in the project defined by the government are very insufficient for the needs highlighted by experience.

Training in ATER techniques to support women farmers will be fundamental and, as already pointed out, there are not many of them. An intense training process will be necessary and all successful experiences should be used and should be systematized and transformed into practical manuals to guide ATER techniques. It is never too much to remember that the vast majority of ongoing experiments were carried out in collaboration with AF entities and that working in groups of interested women is much more fruitful than individual technical assistance.

Finally, it is worth discussing how to promote agroecology for traditional households, but not minifundistas. In my opinion, the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development should reinforce an experience that is already around 10 years old, the Ecoforte project, sponsored by BNDES and the Banco do Brasil Foundation. The basic principle of this project is to allocate resources for all necessary purposes in promoting agroecological development in one place: integrated territorial projects. The operators of these projects would not need to seek resources from each of the policies (ATER, credit, insurance, development, research, market access, processing, among others).

All these resources would be foreseen in the budgets of each project. Resources should be accessed through calls for projects that should be formulated by AF entities and at least one ATER entity, although other types of entities can be integrated into projects, such as management or research specialists, for example. These projects could be supported by the NEA, the teaching and extension centers in agroecology, which currently has 126 groups in many universities and technical schools. It goes without saying that the values ​​of each project at Ecoforte should be resized and the available resources greatly expanded to benefit around 200 thousand AF in these four years.

Recalling what was already stated above, the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development will have to carry out a thorough review of the way ATER is operationalized, if necessary reformulating the technical assistance legislation and the law that established ANATER, the National ATER Agency.

There are many other policies that should occupy the attention of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development, in particular those that should focus on supporting specific populations such as indigenous people and quilombolas and specific sectors such as youth or agrarian reform settlers, which have particularities to be considered. In my opinion, these other policies should be transversal to those mentioned above, but tailored to each specific audience.

Finally, I want to close this contribution by drawing attention to the need for closer ties between the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development and other councils, in particular CONSEA and the PNAPO council. In the first case, it will be necessary to integrate the concerns of the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development with the promotion of AF development with those of CONSEA with the promotion of food security. If the MDA adopts the proposal I put forward above to give a strong boost to the productive backyard project, the interrelationship with food security is the biggest common focus, but CONSEA is concerned with increasing the supply of healthy food for the entire population. population and this should be one of the central concerns in formulating MDA policies.

The relationship with the PNAPO council has to do with the fact that this council works with a set of all policies that can affect, positively or negatively, the adoption of agroecology in Brazil. As the main policies that can promote or delay the promotion of agroecology are decided in the MDA, be they credit, ATER, government purchases, insurance, processing or minimum prices, the decisions of the PNAPO council will have to go through the National council for sustainable rural development.

It would be better if there weren't this double responsibility, but it is a legacy of stories from the past and there is no way to erase them. This is an institutional dichotomy that the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development and the PNAPO council will have to resolve.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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