“We’ve been talking about agro-ecology since 2010. Families already had an understanding that there we cannot use pesticides, that the cool thing to do take your sustenance from nature without harming the environment, with no pesticides, with no controlled burns”. The statement comes from Maristela Cunha, one of the residents at the Jacy Rocha settlement of the Rural Landless Workers Movement (MST), located in Prado, in the southern part of the state of Bahia.
Now, with threats coming from the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform (Incra), which seeks to evict some settlers, Cunha is worried, but remains optimistic of things to come. “This is the place I have chosen to live in for the rest of my life”, affirms the settler, who is also part of the MST directorate in Bahia.
On the 30 thousand hectares of land where Jacy Rocha is located, live 227 families as a result of a deal struck with a paper and cellulose company in 2010. The settlement was sanctioned by Incra in 2015. The following year, the Movement partitioned the land among the families in accordance with their aptitudes.
“Each settler said what they intended to plant, or what animal they wanted to raise, so we allocated the land appropriately. If more than one person desired the same lot, we would do a raffle”, remembers Cunha, who arrived at the settlement in 2010.
Over the last 10 years, Jacy Rocha has become a reference point for agro-ecology. Harvesting healthy produce has become the flagship ideal of the settlement, which erected the Egídio Brunetto School of Agro-ecology and Agro-forestry in 2012. They offer two courses, one, a technical course on agro-ecology, which is recognized by the Board of Education in the state of Bahia, and another on Rural Education and agro-ecology, a partnership with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation.
Moreover, 800 families from southern Bahia learn how to read and write at the Egídio Brunetto School. “The school has been on these grounds since 2012 and has a fundamental role within it, within the Movement. The school is here to teach about agro-ecology and agro-forestry. Not everyone that goes to school here is the child of a settler, they are the young children of small farmers, indigenous communities and quilombolas (residents of farming communes founded by former slaves)”, says Eliane Oliveira, the school’s educational coordinator.
The school is open to the 15 settlements that house 1.5 thousand families in the region, spanning 5 municipalities: Eunápolis, Itamaraju, Mucuri, Prado and Santa Cruz de Cabrália.
Besides Egídio Brunetto, there is the Anderson França Rural State School, inaugurated in 2013 and renovated in March of this year. All together, 490 kids from the settlement study there.
During the pandemic, classes were held at home. Drivers would bridge the gap between teachers and students. At dawn, vehicles would leave the school with information and the day’s activities for the students. At the end of the day, they would return with their work books filled in, so teachers may analyze them.
Food at the markets and coffee
There is a lot of agricultural diversity spread throughout the 227 farming lots at Jacy Rocha. Manioc is the main harvest, but there is also cocoa, bananas, milk production, cattle, pig and chicken farming.
Whatever is produced is sold at local street markets in different municipalities and guarantees income for the settlers. “My livelihood comes from plantations, I never imagined my income could come from cilantro and onions. I take part in 3 different street markets per week”, Cunha explains.
Thanks to a Bahia state government initiative called Productive Alliances, which disperses R$60 million in funds statewide, there were enough resources to begin planting coffee at Jacy Rocha. Each settler eligible to take part will give up one hectare of their lots, so that 3 thousand coffee plants may be harvested.
In southern Bahia, the way Jacy Rocha goes about production, is in stark contrast to large scale agriculture in the region, which according to Cunha, is what’s behind Incra’s attacks agains the settlement. “When we look at the struggle for education, food sovereignty, agro-ecological production and the like, this is really rich land, but the soil is impoverished due to eucalyptus, sugar cane and coffee monoculture.
For Cunha, the affirmation of agro-ecological production in the settlement and good maintenance of the land, all corroborate the resolution set forth at the outset of the last decade. “The decision I took in 2010, to come to the countryside and to the Movement, I don’t regret it at all, my son was raised here. His life, friends and school are here. I know my son has food, shelter and dignity”.
Edited by: Camila Salmazio