A new place for agriculture – Final

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

This last article in the series on agriculture discusses the long-term objectives that should guide the formulation of a program for the next four years.

In previous articles, I followed an analysis method starting with a diagnosis of Family Farming (AF), an analysis of the present situation, an evaluation of applied policies and a definition of long-term objectives that should guide the formulation of a program for the next 4 years, object of this part 5 of the series.

Economic, political, administrative, social and legal conditions

The framework in which the MDA will operate is not at all easy. In order to be able to decide on policy and program priorities, it will be necessary to map the structural and conjuncture barriers that will condition them. Without it, any program will just be a collection of desires to be thwarted.

Let's start with the budget. Generally speaking, the government has a bigger budgetary problem which is the newly voted fiscal rule. I agree with those who criticize the new fiscal order as a slightly relaxed extension of the spending ceiling. The expectation that the Tax Reform will resolve the availability of resources on the taxation side seems illusory to me. What was voted on is just (although not little) the rationalization of taxes, a proposal supported by the “upstairs” of our society.

Even this measure was somewhat sabotaged by the various exceptions granted to sectors such as agribusiness, the Manaus Free Trade Zone and churches, among others. Exceptions lead to the definition of a higher VAT for those who do not benefit. And, of course, those who pay more taxes in industry and services will pass them on and the cost will end up in the consumer's pocket. What is most serious, however, is the strong probability that the rest of the Reform will not be voted on, which should seek resources where they exist in greater volume and which are not taxed, in the fortunes of millionaires and billionaires, in their inheritances and in their incomes.

With little money in the safe, the government has to define its priorities and the budget proposal partially presented in the PAC, indicates that there will be little resource for the MDA. Spending on the FFAA will be greater to “neutralize” coup threats from the officialdom. Spending more than expected on health and education.

With regard to the MDA, the release of resources for the Crop Plan gave the impression that there would be a priority for family farming, since the volume was more than twice as high as in the previous Plan, reaching 70 billion in credits and subsidies (9 billion just for the equalization of PRONAF credit interest). But, as I have discussed in other articles, the orientation of this credit is nothing more than the repetition of the policy instituted since the FHC government and reinforced by Lula, Dilma, Temer and Bolsonaro.

This policy should have been evaluated by the government, to avoid the negative impacts verified in the past, but this was not done and we have more of the same. The government's main investment for AF, this year, is already lost and it remains to rethink what to do in the next three years. The government continues to favor agribusiness, with easy credit and subsidies of all kinds. In conclusion, the government cannot be expected to release the investments that would be needed to make major changes in Agrarian Reform policies and promote sustainable development.

The government has another considerable problem due to the fact that each day larger portions of the budget are being appropriated by the parliamentarians in various types of amendments that distribute resources that go beyond the government's priorities to benefit, if that is the word, electoral strongholds of senators and deputies. This aberration will be difficult to reverse, given the government's dependence on the physiological and right-wing majority in parliament.

This same majority, in which the defenders of agribusiness interests stand out, in a disproportionate number in relation to the number of votes that this bench received, will put a brake on any attempt to streamline resources and legal conditions to give the necessary muscle to Agrarian Reform.

The government has in its hands some instruments to improve land collection. It can do what is foreseen by law, redefining the indicators that define the social use of land, completely overcome in their frozen definition since the time of the constituent. Still using the laws in force, the government can expropriate land from farms where the use of slave labor has been verified, collect agribusiness debts or expropriate illegally illegally deforested or illegally deforested land.

But these measures would find the ruralist caucus on a war footing and willing to paralyze the government or even vote for changes in current laws (there are already projects in this direction in the Chamber) or vote for amnesties for agribusiness. I'm not seeing the government stand up to this machine. On the contrary, as in the relationship with the FFAA, the government seeks to neutralize agribusiness with concessions, without realizing that, however much it delivers benefits, this sector will always be looking for ways to destroy the government. The concessions, including the Forestry Code and the delivery of the MAPA to the CNA, did not dissuade the ruralist caucus from voting massively for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

Legislation affecting the MDA's activities; the law of ATER, ANATER, NGOs, agreements (8666) and contracts need to be modified or they will block government funding for civil society development projects, as has happened in the past. And it won't be easy to beat the ruralist and ASBRAER lobbies in Congress. We will have to look for formulas to mitigate the problems through infralegal devices, although political reactions can be fatal in the government's relationship with Congress.

There is another important condition, of a social nature. Rural movements left this last period weakened and remain on the defensive, as shown by the iniquitous CPI of the MST, with the frantic search for the criminalization of this and other movements. The impressive Marcha das Margaridas, gathering at least 100 women in Brasília a few days ago, does not hide the fact that the pressure capacity of Family Farming and the landless will have to grow a lot to politically block the right-wing majority in Congress. On the other hand, the mainstream media is decidedly on the side of agribusiness in almost all of its claims, except in the case of deforestation and fires in the Amazon.

The strong investment in advertising initiated by Kátia Abreu when she was at the head of CNA, irrigated the TV channels, radio and the major newspapers with her message of “agro is pop, agro is tech, agro is everything”. Public opinion is numbed by this propaganda and will not be easily convinced of its lies.

Finally, we have a political, administrative and conceptual problem with the MDA itself. Despite the great progress compared to previous popular governments, when the group that prepared the transition plan for the MDA defined agroecology as the conceptual basis of government action, this ministry is experiencing a great uncertainty about how to put this concept into practice.

To start with, the choice of the minister, a progressive politician, but totally alien to the rural problem and even more to that of Family Agriculture, creates considerable difficulty in the search for an adequate program. In key positions in the ministry, we have several technicians with great capacity and knowledge, but until now there has not been a collective planning exercise that did what I tried to do in these articles: diagnose the reality of AF, think about strategic objectives, review the applied policies, measure existing forces and define what will be possible to do with the available resources. So far, the MDA has continued what was being done, with the same problems as in the past, both in terms of credit and calls for ATER projects.

Even technicians with experience and knowledge in agroecology have a considerable problem to solve: there are no consolidated proposals for credit policies, ATER and others, focused on agroecology. Everything is to be built and it would be wise to mobilize actors, in academia, civil society and the government itself, capable of developing consistent proposals. This process should start by reviewing the policies applied to date.

The problem becomes even more complex when one realizes that the possibility of directing all policies solely towards the promotion of agroecology is unfeasible. It will be necessary to compose a mix of policies, with varying degrees of adherence to agroecology, without trying to impose generalized solutions based on this orientation.

The MDA seems to be living off the repetition of past policies and specific initiatives, which have a symbolic meaning, such as the program announced by Lula in the Marcha das Margaridas, the productive backyards. This is an important and strategic proposal (see discussion below), but the program's orientation and execution mechanisms are not clear and its size is ridiculous, given the size of the problem it seeks to tackle. Lula promised resources for 90 thousand quintals. In my calculations, the target audience for this program reaches more than 2 million AF. On the other hand, the objective of the program seems to be, from what I heard at the MDA, production for local markets with a view to increasing income.

In my opinion, the objective should be to guarantee the food security of the poorest families, with possible sales of surpluses to local markets. The technical orientation of the program itself is not given and the resource needs were not defined based on the material conditions of the public in question. For the average value indicated in the ad, we will have just over a thousand reais per yard. From my experience, in places with greater difficulties for this public, particularly in the semi-arid northeast, this value would have to be multiplied by 20 or more, to include the infrastructure for capturing and distributing water resources and others, in addition to the costs of technical assistance. and training in nutrition and conservation of food products.

I'm oversimplifying the needs, just to show that the project was not done with proper planning. These needs will vary greatly according to the poverty situation and the productive and environmental conditions of each location, and the program should take this variability into account.

Another program resumed along the lines of the past, but with greater adherence to the reality of Family Agriculture is the PAA. The call for proposals generated more than a million proposals, but the government made available only a quarter of this amount. It is very little and I still think that an analysis of the problems faced by the program in the past should be done. But the government is rushing to take as many actions as possible and keeps changing the tire with the car in high gear.

The minister is making an effort to identify solutions for Family Farming, but I have the impression that he is looking for what is called a “silver bullet”, that is, a technique that can be broadly generalized and that will provide a boost for Family Farming in the direction of overcome your difficulties. Several of the ideas in circulation are interesting, but there is no generalizable solution in agriculture, much less with the diversity of situations found among the AF. The search for technical solutions is something that must be decentralized based on the concrete conditions of each segment and even of each AF.

The demand for techniques must be defined from the diagnosis of each situation and not by the offer of techniques defined in Brasilia. What the MDA must define are the main guidelines regarding the type of agricultural model to be supported and the support mechanisms to be offered: credit, promotion, technical assistance, access to markets, including government purchases. There are a few technical proposals valid for everyone or almost everyone, but as a rule these solutions are aimed at infrastructure and not at agricultural practices. Infrastructures are always important, but without support to improve practices towards sustainability (with a greater or lesser focus on agroecology) the use of these infrastructures can be precarious.

Definition of MDA objectives for the current mandate

I don't know what the government has set as goals. Through interventions here and there by the president, there appears a general objective of increasing the supply of food for popular consumption. Lula did not restrict this objective to FA production, although he echoes the incorrect data, nowadays, that 70% of national food is the responsibility of this category. The correct number is somewhere between 20 and 25%. As I have already explained in previous articles, although I consider that, in the medium and long term, AF will have to assume this production and in a total way, in the short term this will be impossible. We can set a goal to increase the supply of food produced by AF, but what extra volume and what products can we aim for? We will discuss these issues a little further on.

A second objective, aiming at the future need for a large category of AF, five times larger than the current one, is to stop rural migration and, if possible, expand the base, at least up to 4 million families settling 130 thousand AF through FROG.

The third objective, even more important and linked to the first, is to improve the household's standard of living and working conditions, without which migration will continue. This will require a policy aimed at promoting development, differentiated according to the situation of each segment of the public.

The fourth objective is to reduce AF's environmental footprint, which will also be differentiated according to each situation. Reforestation policies, elimination of fires, reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers with the use of less aggressive conventional techniques and agroecology must be defined.

In the long term perspective, an important objective, which is not directly the responsibility of the MDA, is the training of technicians and agronomists versed in the techniques and methods of agroecology. The MDA should discuss with the MEC the creation of courses in agricultural sciences focused on agroecology, expanding and strengthening the technical schools that already adopt this orientation and initiating basic courses in agroecology at universities.

Definition of the different audiences into which the category of employees is stratified family farmers

As policies and programs will have to be differentiated, it is necessary to have an idea of ​​who and how many households there are in their different typologies. I recommend reading the previous articles for more precision on the subject. Here is just a summary.

Category of subsistence farmersance

There are approximately 2,250 million families, the poorest in the countryside, more than half located in the semi-arid northeast. This must be a program geared towards self-consumption production, aiming to guarantee correct food in terms of quality and quantity for all its members. It will be necessary to guarantee water and other infrastructures that provide security for the diversified production of food, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, beans, cassava, small animals in small spaces in backyards. It is a program aimed at women, who are in charge of this productive space in almost all situations.

For this purpose we cannot use credit-type instruments, given the extreme poverty of the public. It will be necessary to finance the infrastructures on a non-repayable basis, although the formula, already in use in several places, of Solidarity Revolving Funds can be used, with the resources retained in the communities for collective use depending on their options. ATER will be very important and the techniques (yes, it must be a women's program for women) must be trained based on the many existing experiences that need to be systematized and disseminated.

Assistance should include training women in nutrition and even cooking, since eating habits in this category are quite addicted to poverty and women in the interior of the northeast and north are unaware of many vegetables that can be produced in these diversified backyards. As much as possible, these programs should have a territorial organicity, with the formation of common learning collectives and/or the incorporation of pre-existing organizations. Ideally, if this entire population is reached, close to 10 million people could be removed from the hunger and malnutrition map.

It is worth re-discussing the program launched by Lula of “productive backyards”, expanding investments per family and the number of beneficiary families.

As the number of potential beneficiaries is gigantic and resources are scarce, it will be necessary to prioritize investments and I believe that the part of this public located in the semi-arid Northeast is the number one priority, mainly because it was from this region and this category that the more than 300 thousand AF registered by the 2017 census.

Category of producers for local and territorial markets

There are, according to my calculations, about 1,150 million AF, with extremely varied situations, from the poor to the well-off, with greater or lesser integration with markets and greater or lesser use of so-called modern techniques (chemical fertilizers, pesticides, companies), with greater or lesser access to credit.

This sector has the greatest potential to make a significant contribution to food production for medium and large urban centers. Credit can be an important instrument for this category, but it will have to be strictly linked to a technical assistance program that is turbocharged and well adapted to the various situations in different parts of the national territory. I do not believe that we have the conditions to provide technical assistance totally focused on agroecology, but it is not that complicated to incorporate some practices that save chemical inputs and introduce, when necessary, diversification of products.

Government purchases, PAA, PNAE, formation of public stocks and others (prison food, AAFF, others) will play a fundamental role, as will a price guarantee and agricultural insurance policy. The credit policy must be modified to finance all of the producer's activities and not just one product, as is currently the case. This will require an intense relationship with the banking systems in order to collaborate with this guideline. The insurance policy must be completely overhauled to provide guarantees for the whole property.

The ATER/credit/insurance programs should be aimed at collectives of producers, organized in cooperation with rural social movement entities.

Category of capitalized producers

This sector, also called (pejoratively) agribusiness, is, as already mentioned in another article, the most important in AF in terms of production volume. I estimate their number at 350 thousand families. As already seen, they are heavily concentrated in the southern region. They adopt the agrochemical, motor-mechanized and genetically modified model of production in a more comprehensive way. They have regular access to bank credit and are dedicated, for the most part, to the production of commodities, especially soy/corn. But there are also producers of rice, wheat, beans and other basic Brazilian food products.

I have no idea about the degree of productive occupation of land on properties in this category, but there shouldn't be much availability for an expansion of planted areas. If the government wants to promote an increase in the supply of food from this category, it will have to facilitate either a conversion of commodity producers to take over food production or encourage an increase in the productivity of food crops, for the sectors that already produce them.

Attracting commodity producers will not be easy. A mix of conventional credit, insurance, minimum prices and government procurement policies will have to be designed very wisely and consulted with this sector. Let us remember that the power of attraction of commodities is high, mainly due to the prices and markets guaranteed by exports. It is essential to discuss the proposals in depth and consult with any interested parties and this has to be done quickly to get the conversion, if it happens, to start next year.

For those who already produce food using agribusiness models, alternatives must be studied on a case-by-case basis. There is room to increase crop productivity and reduce and/or replace the use of chemical inputs, which would make production cheaper. The role of ATER and the support of agricultural research entities (EMBRAPA, state entities, universities, NGO experiences) will be fundamental. It's not just about formulating generic ATER calls or facilitating credits. It would be interesting to create task forces for each of the main products in the basket coordinated by the MDA unit involved in technological innovation.

Food production development projects should be designed involving credit, ATER, guaranteed prices, insurance and government purchases. They should work with collective bases of producers in well-defined territories and the projects negotiated with the entities of the rural social movements.

Although I distrust generalizable solutions in agriculture, I believe that there is a possibility of testing a system (involving several techniques) aimed at increasing the productivity of rice production, known in its acronym in English as SRI (System of Rice Intensification), an intensive system of rice production. Or introduce integrated pest and disease management techniques developed with great success by FAO in Asia and Africa. In both systems mentioned, the economy of inputs is the key to attracting producers, since these are the greatest cost for the producer and not only in rice production. The SRI, started in Madagascar, achieved increases in rice productivity of around 200% on average, jumping from 3 kg/ha to 10 kg/ha, but the most advanced and successful cases recorded productivity of 22 kg /ha, with more than one harvest per year. No use of improved seeds, chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Category of producers in transition to agroecology

I estimate this group at around 200 AF, with some 60 more advanced and many of them adopting different forms of organic certification and strongly integrated with the market for this type of product, which is growing exponentially in large cities across the country. In the south they tend to be more capitalized and integrated into the market, while in other regions there is a huge variety of situations, with a predominance of non-certified production, but sold as agroecological in neighborhood, municipal and territorial markets. The relationship with credit also goes through this cleavage, the south versus the rest of the country. But, given the low adaptation of the banking system to finance this type of production (organic or agroecological) there is much less relation to credit, even in the south, than in the case of small agribusiness producers.

This category of producers has been assisted in their agroecological development projects mainly by NGOs, with or without direct links to rural social movements. The examples of success are many, but less is known about the difficulties encountered by these entities, whether in financing or in the actual execution of their projects.

Everything in the agroecological movement is still very new and is under construction, through field experiences (that is, empirically, through successes and errors). Both the most suitable methods for this type of objective, as well as a collection of technologies, should be well systematized and made available for consultation by all agents involved in these agroecological transition development operations. The MDA should fund a systematization and evaluation process of ongoing experiences so that we can have more clarity about what worked best and under what conditions. Methodologies capable of minimizing the demand for technicians should be valued, in order to reduce ATER's costs and increase its impact.

To streamline the agroecological transition of this small audience, but which will be a beacon for the future, it is necessary to create adequate mechanisms and the simple application of policies that exist today, even if adapted to an agroecological orientation, will not work, as it has not worked in governments past popular. My proposal is the creation of an Agroecological Development Fund, which would concentrate all the necessary resources for integrated projects to promote the transition: development, credit, insurance, minimum prices, government purchases, processing, research and commercialization. It would be an expanded model, in scope and size, of the program based at BNDES/FBB, known as Ecoforte. The projects would have a territorial character, presented by AF entities, by ATER entities (Emater or NGO), research, market, others, the first two of which would be mandatory.

The MDA should once again support an experience of integration teaching/research/extension based in universities and aimed at the development of rural communities involved with the agroecological transition, known as NAEA. With very little resources this project had positive effects in all directions, teaching, research and extension. Due to its strategic importance, this project had to be boosted to the maximum, within the limits of its operational capacity.

Category of settlement producers

This target group is included in the three groups already presented, probably with the same proportionality indicated. But the importance of consolidating settlements indicates that special attention should be given to projects originating from organized groups of settlers. These projects, their formulation and execution must be under the responsibility of INCRA.

Indigenous category

Thinking about a development policy for indigenous territories is something very delicate and complex, and totally different from the type of projects we are talking about in the other categories presented. It is necessary to mobilize knowledge from scholars in other areas, such as anthropology and sociology, in addition to geographers and agronomists. And, above all, it will be necessary to bring the leaders of the ethnic groups into the preparation of proposals and carefully study who will be in charge of managing the projects. Here, perhaps more than in the field of agroecology, the lack of adequate training for ATER technicians will be a bigger problem. It will be important to take advantage of existing experiences, including the training of ATER technicians by indigenous entities, as in the case of Acre (which I don't know if it still exists). And seek international experiences as a methodological reference to define a correct approach.

Urban Gardens Program

This is not a category of AF, but residents of cities and their outskirts, probably ex-AF migrants. In principle, this program should not fall within the scope of the MDA, but its strategic importance is enormous. Multiplying vegetable gardens in small urban and peri-urban spaces means greatly expanding the supply of vegetables and legumes within short distances of the consuming public, reducing transport costs which will be, as previously seen, a strong element in food prices. On the other hand, increasing the supply of these products, currently very lacking in the Brazilian diet, will be a fundamental need. This program should be combined with an intensive food education campaign, aimed at schools, worker food programs, popular restaurants and all other modalities in which ready meals are offered under the responsibility of public authorities.

The vegetable garden program can be incorporated into others such as PNAE, encouraging the cultivation of vegetables on school grounds, wherever possible. It is not necessary that all of this production be of an agroecological type, but there are numerous experiences in the country in which the system of intensive organic gardens is used, suitable for small spaces and many were implemented with the support of manuals and videos where the practices are informed in detail . Support from technicians can be important, but it is not essential. This program must be implemented through agreements between the federal government and municipalities and states.

For reference, it is not difficult to access large-scale experiments, one coordinated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and another in application for many years in Argentina, which has already reached the impressive number of one million gardens.

Questorganizational and institutional actions of the MDA

To finish this set of ideas or proposals that I submit to the judgment of Minister Paulo Teixeira and the Ministry's technicians, I would like to point out a problem that has already affected past administrations.

The AF support operation set up by the FHC government and maintained by the Lula and Dilma governments was centered on a ministry that included the promotion of development and agrarian reform. In practice, INCRA and MDA never integrated, operating in parallel and even with similar structures (ATER in MDA and ATES in INCRA, for example). Both promoted development, but for different audiences (INCRA for RA settlers and MDA for AF in general). What was in common was the credit mechanism, but even this, operated in the MDA, had a modality, PRONAF A, aimed exclusively at settlers and defined by INCRA. There has never been an integration of objectives, methodologies and development models.

On the other hand, the MDA operated a structure that formulated so-called universal policies such as credit and ATER, while government purchasing policy was located in CONAB/MAPA, a situation that was overcome in the current government. The research policy for family farming was (and continues) under the responsibility of EMBRAPA/MAPA and there was no mechanism where the MDA could formally place its demands nor was there a budgetary assumption in EMBRAPA for this purpose. The AF insurance policy was defined in the MDA, as part of the credit policy, but subject to conditions defined in the MAPA.

The execution of the credit policy was the responsibility of public banks, BB, BNB and BASA, without institutional interrelationship and MDA control over how this credit was being distributed among the target public. This made possible strong interference by bank managers, favoring more conventional modalities (loan projects for the purchase of chemical inputs and machinery for the production of commodities). Finally, the main policies, credit and ATER, operated in dissonance, although, at the end of the execution, the Emater technicians who had to sign the farmers' credit projects did so by reinforcing the conventional character of the agricultural model that was privileged, despite definitions in favor of agroecology that marked the principles defined in DATER.

The other structures within the MDA addressed specific audiences, such as women, traditional or territorial peoples and communities, all with low integration with broader policies such as credit and ATER.

With the dismantling of the MDA by Temer and the attribution of credit and ATER to MAPA, the precarious set of policies for Family Farming was disrupted and now everything is being reassembled. The current structure of the MDA was not formulated from a comprehensive program and would deserve a rediscussion, including mechanisms for integration between the parties. Without this, the MDA will be taking decentralized and disjointed initiatives, shooting in multiple directions and without effectiveness. Without a review of credit and ATER policies, the guidelines in favor of conventional productive systems will continue to prevail, as is already the case.

I hope that these reflections, coming from someone who participated in 12 years of debates on the formulation and execution of MDA policies, through CONDRAF, can be of some use at this time of resumption of this ministry and I am again available to participate in the evaluations that seem to me essential for our near future.

*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).

To read the first article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura/

To read the second article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura-ii/

To read the third article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura-iii/

To read the fourth article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura-iv/


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