Food Voices: The Interviews
Maria José dos Santos, Farmer
Caetanos de Cima, Ceara
Maria José dos Santos is a farmer from Caetanos de Cima, in the state of Ceara, Brazil. She and her husband, José Barbosa Soares, farm grains, fruit and nuts.
We farm grains, fruits, cashews, papaya, graviola, and coconuts. There is coconut to sell and coconut to get the water. Besides that, we have corn, beans, watermelon, and sesame. Sometimes we also farm greens. We use the sesame seed for medication and food. We are members of APAPAIS: Associação dos Pequenos Agricultores e Pescadores Assenta dos do Imóvel Sabiaguaba.
I only sell to the people in the community, at the moment, and we consume it. I use everything I produce. There are also the natural medicines. The sesame is used for bone problems and for bronchitis and asthma. We combine orange, sesame seed, honey and the fresh eggs and give it to the sick person. I take care of the farm and I sell the products. We also have many different animals – pigs, native chickens, turkeys. Our diet is basically what we produce here – the animals and what we grow. We buy very little. Sometimes we buy fish from our neighbors. We don’t buy imported chicken. We have our own. I make tapioca and cakes. I process my flour by hand. I light a fire, put the flour in a pan made of clay and I make the cake flour.
The external threat is trouble over land. Many farmers don’t have the space we have to farm. The farmer who doesn’t have land must rent land. Then, half of the profits end up going to the landowner. When I was a child, we had a landowner. My father farmed land that had a private owner. When it was time to make the flour, he had to do all the work and he had about 12 people helping him. When he finished the work, he paid all the people, and then half of what was rest went to pay the landowner. He produced a lot, but at the end, he got very little. It was terrible. Today, where my father lives is a settlement. After some time, people could not take anymore from the landowner. The suffering made them organize and fight against it. Sometimes the owner of the land even took the crops. The farmer then did not even have enough to give to the animals. Due to the despair of the people in these conditions, they started to put pressure on the government so the government would give them the land.
The federal government gave the landowner money and he left. Nobody knows how he got the land. I think the landowner just takes the land and claims he owns it. The documents are forged, so no one knows who really owns the land. It is the same thing here.
For us, it is still a threat that our land will be taken. We received the land, but it is still a problem. We are still fighting in court. There are people who claim they own the land, but they have no documents. So, they try to prevent people from settling and farming here. Recently, one man has been trying to kick people out of here. This person is still in the settlement. Today, he can’t stop people from farming and making plans, but he provokes other reactions in the community that weakens the movement. Eventually, he took our association to court to try to get the land. The fight is still on. He took the whole association to court for legal reasons, because it is the association that is responsible for the settlement.
The love we have for the land where we live, where we were born and we were raised keeps us going. The taste of the cashews and the fish. The music, the bands. There are a lot of good things we do here. Freedom, calm quiet. We are fighting to allow our children to continue what we are doing. One of the tactics we use is the training of new leaders. That is why we have the cultural center to prepare the youth and the new leaders, so they can know their culture, their history and they can make their life options. When they really know what they are doing here, they don’t leave us.
We have food sovereignty when we have a culture where we don’t buy products from outside. If we could, we would be completely self-sufficient. Each day we try to find new projects and new tactics so we can be more self-sufficient and not bring products that have chemicals into our community. We know that the fishing and the farming is what sustain our people here. That is our history and culture. It is the work that guarantees our survival.