‘Land’ in Everyday Discourse

I walk with Ernesto, the husband and father in the family that hosts me, in “his” fields. “His” in this case does not indicate land ownership – The land previously owned by the assassinated landowner is now owned by the state. “His” or “his family’s” indicates responsibility to cultivate on the long term – until Ernesto is too old or dies. Usually the area that belongs to a settlement is divided into “family properties” (in the just-mentioned sense), which are then divided into small-scale cultivations of products for their own consumption and into larger-scale plantations of products for sale. Sometimes there are collective areas as well, where everybody works, responsibility is shared, and all take profit out of the products sold.

Although indigenous populations are against all forms of agriculture, the Landless Workers – who mainly come from urbanized populations who did not survive well in the urban scape or who were formerly very low-paid agribusiness workers – make a distinction between two opposed forms of agricultural production: agribusiness and agroecology. In contrast to agribusiness, which is capitalist and implies exploitation, agroecology is based on a quite simple idea: the modern family (not a huge “medieval family” or any other group constellation) produces the food that it needs to survive: rice, beans, chicken, fruit. At another place (either individually or collectively) coffee, allspice, or other products are cultivated for sale. Even if the plantation is organic and the Landless Workers do not use large-scale machinery, these products are produced in large enough quantities to exchange them (directly or indirectly via money) with electricity, freezers, pumps, clothes, construction materials, and whatever else the Landless Workers need but do not produce on their own.[1]

Ernesto proudly shows me “his” plantation of coffee, pepper, and other plants. He speaks about biodiversity and the privileges of small-scale agriculture in contrast to agribusiness, both for nature and for the people working on the land, who now have enough to eat. He also tells that he bought coffee plants only the very first time, then he has produced new coffee plants out of the old ones – thus becoming independent from agricultural companies. He also says that he uses the seeds of a pepper whose product does not look pretty, but whose plants are resistant to illnesses – a fact again ensuring a self-sustainable production. He is just using a little bit of “natural” fertilizers such as phosphorus, calcium, and potassium.

At the same time, Ernesto still remembers and tells me about how this field looked at the very beginning, 15 years ago, and every small step he undertook so that the plantation looks like it does now: the whole community helped to create spaces for collecting water, organizing systems of irrigation, and creating seeds out of the first plants.

Ernesto’s discourse is quite mixed – in the sense that it simultaneously refers to science, land property politics, and his own history. At the same time, it does not develop a meta-perspective: the discourse is critical but is not self-critical, and it does not offer any means to reflect about what is not spoken about, what and how remains invisible (Law, 2004). We explained above that what remained invisible in the “success and solidarity” discourse of the teachers was the failure of the movement to achieve the agrarian reform. What the discourse employed by Ernesto did not speak about cannot yet become visible. Before elaborating this aspect, I would like to refer to the more official version of the discourse employed by Ernesto.

[1] One could say that agroecology is reminiscent of medieval South European family-based agricultural modes of production, but it has been re-signified in the context of ecological, political-economical, and feminist discourses: eradicating poverty is an ethical, social, and environmental imperative according to the “Carta da Terra,” an official declaration for the earth and the life at the countryside (Iniciativa da Carta da Terra Brasil, 2000, p. III.9).