Food Voices: The Interviews
Francisco Mendes Coelho, Farmer
Francisco Mendes Coelho is a farmer from Canadê in the state of Ceará in Brazil. He is an active member of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (The MST).
I am the son of a man and woman on an agrarian reform settlement – the New Life Settlement, which is in the municipality of Canadê, one of the municipalities of the Central Sertão, where there is the biggest number of agrarian reform settlements in Ceará. My history began when my parents went on a land occupation organized by the MST, and soon after we settled. Since 1996 I have lived on the settlement with my parents, and this is how I entered the struggle.
One of the things that most motivates us to struggle for land is to have human dignity, and to say “I am one of the landless.” Not the landless portrayed in the media, but a landless person with dignity, respect, work, with a basic education, and this is what motivates us to struggle, so that more and more people can have this quality of life.
We do this for the greater good. It is not easy, it hurts to struggle, to leave the family often, and many times to build a new family, a family in the MST. This family is searching to build and bring more landless to organize. This struggle is not easy; we are often arrested by the police, the media often tries to slander us, and to say that we are not a legal movement, that the movement is only full of vagabonds and bandits, but we have to show that this is not true, that we are doing this for the greater good. And our goal is to attain land and rights, those that are sanctified in the constitution and that today are denied to us workers. Without a doubt, we do this for the greater good and I believe that it is possible to change things.
When we speak about food sovereignty and food security, what we mean is the following: that it is not enough to simply have a government program such as Zero Hunger, in which every family will now have enough food to feed itself three times per day. Where does the food for this program come from? Thus when we talk about sovereignty, when we think about food security, we have to consider first who is producing, how they are producing, how the production is being undertaken to stop hunger and thirst? Thus, we have a mode of production related to values such as not polluting the land, not putting poison on the land, a clean production, a sustainable production that can generate work that is not slave labor. This is our concern, and we struggle so that that we can guarantee food security and sovereignty, generate work and income for the communities, for the settlements, so that there can be an equal distribution of the wealth that is generated in our country.
First off we have been able to increase the number of settled families [on land reform settlements], and we are concerned not only with the number of settled families, but also about how these families can access credit, and access to the minimum conditions of life in order to be able to stay in the countryside. So this is one of the biggest concerns of the movement: that it is not enough to have land and a house if we don’t have the minimum conditions to be able to stay. Thus we have a lot of obstacles. Our base is often co-opted by the media, by politicians that want to say that it is not possible to live in the model that we are discussing. And we know that to discuss a new model of production, a new model of feeding ourselves, is a long process, it is a process that won’t happen overnight, and it is a process that we are going to have to build to reach these objectives.
And another thing I see as a concern is the question of the climate, the question of the planet, the question of water that are affecting not only us here; but they are concerns for the whole world, and we have to think about a new way of living, a new way of producing and a new way of eating. And without a doubt we have to think about how the model that exists is backwards and doesn’t work anymore. The high consumption. Today each family has two or three cars. And the movement is saying that it is not possible anymore for the entire world to live from this model, and that we hope to build relations that consider the planet better, the environment, which contribute to an easier way to produce, and to reflect that what is happening today in the world is not only a problem in Brazil, but other countries too. The question of the degradation of the soil. We talk a lot about what is happening is a collapse, and starting today we have to think about a new way to produce, a new way of living on the planet.
Without a doubt I want my sons and daughters to be able to continue in this struggle, to be able to continue gaining successes. I don’t know if they will be in the MST, but I hope that they can be critical, indignant at the injustices and their causes that occur on the planet. The MST has been important for the youth. The militancy of the youth is strong in this sense of discussing a new way of producing, a new way of living on this planet, and it is necessary, without a doubt, to strengthen this even more. Our cause is to do away with the large farms, but today the ‘latifundio’ [large farm] are not only on the land; there is the latifundio of education, latifundio of the media, the latifundio that oppresses us. It is necessary to discuss a model that can include indigenous, mulatto, black, quilombola [descendant of escaped African slaves], people on agrarian reform settlements, who can raise the question of the unity of the working classes, and so that we can have a common objective, and so that we can discuss a project for the working class in Brazil and throughout the world. This is our principal dream that we want to build.