Ten months of COVID-19

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By FABIANA SCOLESO*

The antisocial metabolism of capital, its impacts on territories, food production and the worlds of work

We spent the months in quarantine and social distancing as a result of the covid-19 pandemic following the numbers of Brazilian agriculture and the new projects of the Ministry of Agriculture such as the PAD (Digital Agriculture Project), launched in August and which intends to fit into technology and discipline of agribusiness to family farming.

According to Law No. 11.326 of July 2006, the Brazilian Constitution recognizes as a farmer/family farmer the person who develops economic activities in rural areas and who meets some basic requirements such as: not owning rural property above 4 fiscal modules[I], predominantly use the family's own workforce and have most of their income from agricultural activities carried out on their lands. The 2006 census carried out by IBGE titled “Brazilian Agricultural Census”[ii] he was the first to highlight the importance that family farming came to have in the food production scenario in the country. Although it has acquired this prominence in the Brazilian economy, especially in the domestic one, land concentration has always been one of the major obstacles to the expansion of activity in the country. The area occupied by this modality is around 24,3% of the total area occupied by rural establishments. This is an indication that public policies for the sector continue to favor large landowners. Another element that helps us understand this statement is the allocation of resources from the Crop Plan and what is invested in corporate agriculture compared to that invested in family agriculture: in 2011/2012 it was R$ 107 billion against R$ 16 billion.

By way of comparison and updating of data, the main incentive program for Family Farming which is PRONAF (National Program for Strengthening Family Farming) received R$ 2020 billion from the Crop Plan 2021/19,4 while large producers received R$ 130,6 billion[iii]. The resources allocated to PRONAMP (National Program for Medium Producers) totaled R$ 29,4 billion.

Data like these, added to the land issue, domestic supply and exports, pose some problems to be thought about: the issue of land and territory and the issue of food security/food sovereignty.

Land regulation has been the enemy of poor families in Brazil. The land is coveted by international investors and the process of foreignization has been expanding for some time[iv], which is evidence of the global dispute over land governance, whose main agents are large transnational companies, which also exercise control through agreements between landowners and companies, in the creation of branches and subsidiaries, in the purchase of shares in native companies, in the realization of joint ventures[v], in state concessions, leasing, among others. Organizations like Grain[vi] and other initiatives such as LandMatrix[vii] have been monitoring this process on a global scale with the aim of showing peasant movements and many others interested in these issues the arms and tentacles of national and international capital and the renewed reasons for conflicts, expulsions and marginality.

Land regulation and land control are a matter of concern for international agencies such as FAO[viii] (Food and Agriculture Organization), because this contributes to the price volatility of the commodities that makes up the world's diet and which has wheat, rice and maize as its main base.

This is what has happened to Brazil in this second half of 2020. Food prices for families living on less than 5 minimum wages reached the highest result since 1995, according to the measurement of inflation by the INPC (National Index of Consumer Prices) by IBGE. Products such as oil, beans and rice are among the most expensive items. For large and medium-sized producers, the high dollar is an incentive for exports (comparative advantages) which causes products in the domestic market to undergo strong variation and even disappear from supermarket shelves.

Family farming, which is directly responsible for putting 70% of its production on the tables of Brazilian men and women[ix], now governed by the discipline of agribusiness, can draw from it the specificities that keep it as a practice of resistance, of growing healthy foods and of other economic logics, as pointed out in an interview by MPA (Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores), Raul Krauser , “For us, the supply strategy is to bring quality, healthy food to the public's table at an affordable price. The price at which agribusiness food is sold is very low because it is heavily subsidized by the State and society in general. When we work with alternative production, this reality changes a little, but we manage to work by eliminating a set of middlemen and the retail network, going straight from the farmer to the consumer”.[X]

It is not just Family Farming's forms of production, but also the way in which products are produced and how products circulate until they reach families' tables that are outside the scope of the value production circuit that the agribusiness chain maintains. It is also in this sense that such a distance from this circuit makes it possible to offer consumer families more accessible prices. This is also why products produced by family farming are more present in the basic basket of Brazilian men and women and is, in fact, an activity of resistance to the regulation of agribusiness.

Despite its importance, family farming has been systematically affected by the Bolsonaro government. Investments are quite low, as we have already seen in the Safra Plan comparison. Also the digital agriculture project proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, already mentioned above, which can directly impact supply when inserted as a link in the agribusiness value chain. A risk for everyone who depends on the supply of these products and who today already feel the impacts due to the volume of exports of commodities that rely on comparative advantages as their winning rule without any national commitment or government project that regulates prices and prevents food shortages on the tables of the Brazilian population.

Another point to be highlighted is the current role of CONAB (Companhia Brasileira de Abastecimento), an agency linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply that currently does not have any regulatory project or influence to control prices and guarantee supply. It is just an advisory body for big capital that mediates processes without worrying about food safety and the impacts of high prices on the Brazilian population.

In addition, Provisional Measure 910, transformed into PL 2633, although partially altered in relation to the first version, proposes changing the criteria for the regularization of non-allocated public lands (those without a defined function). Making a brief history, it is the result of a presidential action that edited the measure at the end of 2019, extending the amnesty to medium and large properties after occupying public lands (most of these lands are in the north of the country). For this reason, it received the name of “MP da grilagem”, for regulating large estates in recently deforested areas (an incentive to deforestation). The publication of provisional measures and bills in addition to the New Brazilian Forest Code is an indication that the law can be changed at any time, serving the interests of large landowners, regulating crimes such as burning and deforestation, which we have been following so much in the news.

It is important to emphasize, as structural and conjunctural elements, that these are systemic issues re-dimensioned by the capital crisis and by the pressure of the large transnational capitalist class. Grain production and mega mining projects have turned the Pan Amazon into a Special Zone of Intense Accumulation, an area of ​​deep interest in expanding the agricultural frontier, thus being at the center of the debate not only in relation to burning and deforestation. Although capital structurally lives its crisis, the expansion of the agricultural frontier through the Legal Amazon and the mega mining projects throughout Latin America constitute the political-legal construction created and prepared for global capital to exercise power and influence and guarantee its new accumulation.

The established ideological war, which calls the pandemic “little flu” and one of the biggest fires in Brazilian forest history “just a few outbreaks”, tries to minimize and neutralize the environmental collapse we are going through with false solutions and advancing neoextractivism and the agribusiness as solutions to get out of the installed crisis.

In this anti-social metabolism lies the advance of the frontier of capital over rights and any kind of “sustainability” because they are simply contradictory and incompatible. The increase in inequalities, human rights violations and the retraction of democracy became even more evident in this year when covid-19 devastated the world. In Latin America and especially in Brazil, it laid bare the destructive and dehumanizing character of neoliberalism, which placed the economy above life on several occasions, when it dealt with the world of work, making more than 60 work activities essential.[xi] not to interrupt the production and export dynamics, but also for not presenting a national plan to face covid-19, denying science and disallowing any practice that was not ideologically aligned with the authoritarian and conservative premises of the President of the Republic.

While the pandemic broke the months, crops were planted, harvested, packed, transported and exported. we broke record[xii] export in one year sui generis to the world, which expresses a selective agenda of projects and rights. The result of this was a brutal advance of agribusiness and neo-extractivist projects that, analyzed in the light of social criticism, are expressions of a map of contamination and environmental disasters, reprimarization of the economy and also a reflection of a very unequal tax system. Unequal and combined revalidated in the light of primitive accumulation, which is now carried out with Communication and Information Technologies (ICTs), through digital platforms and which, increasingly, do without the workforce of men and women from the countryside and extend informality. The data[xiii] published recently by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) are worrying. A summary of the report highlights: “The world economy will experience its biggest fall since the Second World War and the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita will decrease in 90% of the countries, in a synchronic process without precedents; In 2020, the world GDP will be reduced by 5,2%. The drop will be 7,0% in developed economies and 1,6% in emerging economies. The gradual lifting of health restrictions and the start of expansive policies have allowed for a slow and uncertain recovery, first in China and later in the United States and the euro zone. In spite of it, the projections for the whole of the year have deteriorated with respect to what was expected at the beginning of April. For the first time in decades, the Chinese authorities have not set an annual growth target, and the total expansion of the economy is expected to remain at just 1%, the lowest rate in more than 40 years. For the United States, the Federal Reserve System projects a drop of 6,5%, while the European Central Bank (ECB) forecasts a reduction of 8,7% of GDP in the euro zone.

With regard to Latin America in particular, the data are catastrophic. It represents a drop of 9,4% in GDP in South America, 8,4% in Central America and Mexico and 7,9% in the Caribbean. With South America being the most affected region, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela are the countries with the lowest rates, with emphasis on Venezuela with a projection of -26%. In the case of Brazil, the industrial production rate is of great concern, which decreased by 14,1% and which not only corresponds to the problem of the pandemic, but also due to a process of at least two decades of reprimarization. ECLAC draws attention to the data for 2020, which indicate the same level recorded in 2010, calling this decade by its researchers “another lost decade”, implying a regressive social impact on employment rates[xiv] and in the level of poverty, aggravating and consolidating inequality.

If, on the one hand, business flowed with ease, on the other hand, the impacts were profound. Employment and employability were heavily affected, as already indicated by data on informality and unemployment in Brazil. Capital’s offensive against work and the struggle for survival of those who lost their jobs and those who had been coming for months without a formal contract, accelerated the search for platform activities such as Uber, Uber Eats, Rappi, James and many others that they take advantage of the recession to lower wages and labor production costs, transferring to the workers themselves the burden of maintaining the instruments and means of work. The high unemployment rate also reveals that not even informality was configured as a job alternative during the pandemic. In updated numbers, the unemployment rate increased in recent months, with the highest rate in October being registered in the Northeast (17,3%), followed by the North (15,1%) and Southeast (14,2%). Only the Midwest (12,1%) and South (9,4%) recorded a rate lower than the national average[xv].

In the specific case of agribusiness, the job market had a slight increase, also driven by the use of new technologies and by the demands of the global market. According to PageGroup[xvi], a company specializing in executive recruitment for middle and senior management, increased the search for technical executives by 30% compared to the first half of 2020. Positions vary from engineers, executives, maintenance coordinator, sales manager/territory manager, manager product and/or regulatory affairs. The vacancies and their profiles belong to another professional category, which has in digital technologies and high qualification the paths of management and production control. The fact is that the countryside continues to be where the highest rates of informality are recorded. In 2014, the survey carried out by Contag (National Confederation of Agricultural Workers) and by DIEESE based on data published in the Census and PNAD/IBGE,[xvii] pointed out that among the 4 million rural salaried workers, 59,4% (2,4 million) were without a formal contract.

Updating some of the data in this pandemic year, research by Cepea (Center for Advanced Studies in Applied Economics), from Esalq/USP[xviii] pointed out that in the comparison between the first quarters of 2019 and 2020 it remained practically stable, changing from 19,66% to 19,48%. This result reflects the reduction of 2,75% (143 thousand people) in agricultural activities, since there was only a slight decrease of 0,61% (18 thousand people) in livestock activities. Many of these numbers are a direct reflection of the increase in agribusiness and the input sector. The work in agroservices, in which work contracts go through another modality, there was stability and a decrease in the primary follow-up. According to the same survey, there was a reduction in the number of workers with no education or with elementary education (completed or not) and an increase in the number of workers with secondary or higher education (completed or not). Reflection of the introduction of a production model called 4.0, or precision agriculture, which in its permanent restructuring process imposes a gradual increase in the qualified workforce and a significant change in the working class profile of the worker. There was also a slight increase in the formalization of workers with a formal contract and a slight reduction in the number of informal workers. Once again, it is important to highlight that many activities in the agribusiness value chain were considered essential and full activity in the sector was maintained (a specificity that cannot be ignored).

In the wake of this process, ECLAC also predicts that the number of people living in poverty will increase by 45,4 million in 2020, with the total number of people living in poverty rising from 185,5 million in 2019 to 230,9 million in 2020, a number that represents 37,3% of the Latin American population. The number of people living in extreme poverty would increase by 28,5 million, from 67,7 million in 2019 to 96,2 million in 2020, a figure equivalent to 15,5% of the total population.[xx]

Destruction and dehumanization that impact countryside and city and the lives of men and women, children and the elderly, which is reflected in the increase in the number of homeless people in large cities and in the number of those who go hungry[xx]. The systemic collapse models the unsustainable development that commodifies everything and everyone and that reveals the deep dependence on transnational capitals, which reprimarizes and expands dead labor through the machinery of the 40st century. That pushes 17% of the working class into informality and keeps more than XNUMX million people out of work, a real scourge that directly affects work and the working class and that dehumanizes the human race.

The advancement of the neoliberal agenda in times of a pandemic induced changes in labor, social security, education legislation, tried in every way to change the destination of FUNDEB resources and evidently let the “boiada pass”, even if from time to time they use the sustainable development argument, the new fallacy of capital. The geostrategic expansion of Brazilian territories, especially in the cerrado and Amazon biomes, transferred to the hands of large transnational corporations, the large transnational capitalist class, the concession of highways, waterways, ports, railroads and areas for mining exploration, the energy expansion projects that also attracted large financial contributions in nano and biotechnologies, in the production of seeds and pesticides and in logistics. The agribusiness wealth production circuit invades the interests of indigenous and peasants, subverts constitutional principles, calls into question sovereignty, in addition to its power of environmental destruction that kills the soil and waters and seeks, with its power and influence, to frame all in your discipline. Agro is the only solution to expand the accumulation of agribusiness. For people who live off work, water, forests and fields, agro is, in every sense, toxic.

* Fabiana Scoleso is a postdoctoral researcher in sociology of work at IFCH-UNICAMP.

Originally published in the newsletter Maria Antonia, year 1, n. 60, GMARX-USP, 2020

Notes


[I]The fiscal module is an agrarian territorial unit, established by each Brazilian municipality based on Federal Law nº 6.746/79. The size of the fiscal module, for each municipality, is determined taking into account: the predominant type of exploitation in the municipality and the income obtained from it; other important explorations (whether by income or occupied area) existing in the municipality; and the concept of “family property”, defined by Law No. 6.746/79. The fiscal module varies from 5 to 100 hectares, depending on the municipality.

[ii]The 2006 edition was characterized both by the technological innovation introduced in the field operation stage, with the replacement of the paper questionnaire by the electronic questionnaire developed on a handheld computer, the personal digital assistant – PDA, as well as methodological refinement, especially with regard to the reformulation of its content and the incorporation of new concepts. for more see https://www.ibge.gov.br/estatisticas/economicas/agricultura-e-pecuaria/21814-2017-censo-agropecuario.html?=&t=o-que-e.

[iii]https://www.canalrural.com.br/noticias/agricultura/decifrando-o-plano-safra-2020-2021-entenda-os-destaques-do-novo-programa/

[iv]https://www.anovademocracia.com.br/no-185/6851-a-estrangeirizacao-das-terras-no-brasil-e-no-mundo

[v]The expression joint-venture it means “union with risk”. It, in fact, refers to a type of association in which two entities come together to take advantage of some activity, for a limited time, without each of them losing their own identity.

[vi]GRAIN is an organization that supports peasant movements and their struggles for food sovereignty. Available in: https://www.grain.org/es.

[vii]LandMatrix is ​​an initiative for the global scale monitoring of the foreignization of land. Available in: http://www.landmatrix.org/en/.

[viii]To find out about recent FAO initiatives, access: http://www.fao.org/brasil/noticias/detail-events/pt/c/1316641/.

[ix]for more see https://mst.org.br/2017/11/03/agricultura-familiar-e-responsavel-por-70-dos-alimentos-consumidos-no-brasil/

[X]MST port. for more see https://mst.org.br/2017/11/03/agricultura-familiar-e-responsavel-por-70-dos-alimentos-consumidos-no-brasil/

[xi]for more see https://odocumento.com.br/decreto-amplia-lista-de-atividades-consideradas-essenciais-durante-pandemia/

[xii]for more see https://revistagloborural.globo.com/Noticias/Agricultura/Soja/noticia/2020/10/usda-projeta-producao-recorde-de-soja-e-milho-no-brasil-na-safra-202021.html

[xiii]https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/45782/1/S2000471_es.pdf

[xiv]Informality rate in Brazil according to IBGE https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2019/09/quase-40-milhoes-de-trabalhadores-estao-na-informalidade-diz-ibge.shtml

[xv]For more see https://portalguandu.com.br/noticia/116624/desemprego-diante-da-pandemia-bate-novo-recorde-em-outubro-aponta-ibge

[xvi]https://www.em.com.br/app/noticia/emprego/2020/08/21/interna_emprego,1177883/cresce-contratacao-de-profissionais-tecnicos-no-agronegocio.shtml

[xvii]https://www.canalrural.com.br/noticias/quase-dos-assalariados-rurais-nao-tem-carteira-assinada-diz-pesquisa-contag-7716/

[xviii]https://www.cepea.org.br/br/releases/mercado-de-trabalho-cepea-populacao-ocupada-no-agro-inicia-2020-estavel.aspx?pagina=7

[xx]Idem Report Nº 5 – Special Report COVID-19. United Nations and ECLAC. for more see https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/45782/1/S2000471_es.pdf

[xx]https://exame.com/brasil/brasil-esta-voltando-ao-mapa-da-fome-diz-diretor-da-onu/

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