Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST)
( 1991 , Brésil )

...for winning land for landless families and helping them to farm it sustainably.

Land reform is the solution for the economic, social, environmental and political problems of our country. We fight in the ways we can, but land reform will not be brought about solely by Brazilian workers ...


The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) works in defense of Brazilian landless families. Brazil has the most inequitable distribution of land ownership in the world, with a high infant mortality rate, millions of street children and situations akin to slavery in the countryside. MST members work under the slogan ‘Occupy, Resist, Produce’ and they organise the landless to challenge this situation, putting themselves at great personal risk, since torture, death, threats and intimidation are commonplace.

Contact

MST
Alameda Barão de Limeira, 1232
01.202.002 São Paulo, SP
BRAZIL

http://www.mst.org.br/

Biography

Brazil has the most inequitable distribution of land ownership in the world. Two per cent of its landowners hold 60 per cent of its arable land. Some 90 million people, two-thirds of the population, are landless peasants or slum dwellers excluded from land by this concentration of ownership. Their conditions of life are among the worst in the world: high infant mortality, millions of destitute street children in the cities and, in the countryside, situations sometimes akin to slavery, where workers may be watched over by the landlord’s hired gunmen.

Those who seek to organise to challenge this situation risk everything, including torture and death. Beatings, death threats and intimidation are commonplace. Yet despite scores of farmers, priests, social workers and Indians killed every year, only a handful of murder cases have ever come to trial.

From 1979 local groups began to be formed through the struggles in the countryside and in 1985 they founded the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). It was formed as a mass movement inside the trade union movement with the aim of struggling for land for its members. The formation of MST was encouraged and assisted by the Commissâo Pastoral da Terra, CPT (also a 1991 Right Livelihood Award recipient).

MST’s slogan is ‘Occupy, Resist, Produce’. It organises occupations by landless peasants of unproductive land, on the basis of which it n …

Brazil has the most inequitable distribution of land ownership in the world. Two per cent of its landowners hold 60 per cent of its arable land. Some 90 million people, two-thirds of the population, are landless peasants or slum dwellers excluded from land by this concentration of ownership. Their conditions of life are among the worst in the world: high infant mortality, millions of destitute street children in the cities and, in the countryside, situations sometimes akin to slavery, where workers may be watched over by the landlord’s hired gunmen.

Those who seek to organise to challenge this situation risk everything, including torture and death. Beatings, death threats and intimidation are commonplace. Yet despite scores of farmers, priests, social workers and Indians killed every year, only a handful of murder cases have ever come to trial.

From 1979 local groups began to be formed through the struggles in the countryside and in 1985 they founded the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). It was formed as a mass movement inside the trade union movement with the aim of struggling for land for its members. The formation of MST was encouraged and assisted by the Commissâo Pastoral da Terra, CPT (also a 1991 Right Livelihood Award recipient).

MST’s slogan is ‘Occupy, Resist, Produce’. It organises occupations by landless peasants of unproductive land, on the basis of which it negotiates with the state or federal authorities to transfer that land to the peasants. MST then supports the farmers in forming agricultural cooperatives to produce effectively in competition with the big estates.

MST is organised in 23 Brazilian states, but not in Amazonia because it opposes colonisation of the forest. Its political demands include: legalisation of past land occupations and demarcation of Indian lands; maximum farm size of 500 hectares; expropriation of land belonging to multinational companies and of land obtained illegally; an end to colonisation policy; appropriate agricultural policies for small farmers; environmental conservation and regeneration, and punishment of the murderers of rural workers involved in land conflicts.

 
 

FAQ about MST

Questions asked in 2005

1. How far have you come and which goals have you reached since you received the RLA?

The Right Livelihood Award has strengthened the MST’s position in the Brazilian society. It was important in order to receive support from the society and show that our struggle is legitimate. It showed that the MST is important for the organisation of the farmers, the development of the production, education, health and creating new relations among people and nature, promoting a more humane and dignified life.

2. Have there been improvements for the landless under the Lula government? What do you criticise the government for?

The Lula government hasn’t changed things for the better; it hasn’t changed the situation for the landless. The government hasn’t changed the neo-liberal economic policies. These policies favour the finance capital and in agriculture, the agro-business. This weakens the position of the small farmers and the Agrarian Reform. The government has to change the economic policies if the Agrarian Reform is to succeed.

3. What is your position on settlements in the Amazon rainforest and indigenous land rights in the Amazon?

We are against the idea of moving the landless to other parts of the Amazon rainforest. There’s enough land on the estates that isn’t being cultivated and the Agrarian Reform could be done without occupying the Amazon. Instead, we should try to preserve it. The indigenous people have the right to remain and cultivate their land, protecting the natural resources, the rainforest and the water. They should be able to maintain their culture.

4. What effect has the Right Livelihood Award had on your work?

Well, internally for the MST, it motivated the landless to continue the struggle, now that the effort and the sacrifice have gained international recognition. It helped the landless of the MST to gain more self-esteem, inspiration and will to participate. Other sectors of society (universities, intellectuals, churches, etc.) showed more willingness to more firmly support us. The award has also been a means to put pressure on the government to respect and recognize the demands of the MST.

Publications