February 14, 2012

Farm Invasions Pose Threat for Brazilian Farmers in Paraguay

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Brazilian farmers living in Paraguay have a lot more to worry about than the current dry weather and its impact on their soybean crop (see next article). There is a very serious threat to their very ownership of the land that they have been farming for many years. Organized groups of thousands of landless Paraguayans, known as carperos, have invaded numerous Brazilian owned farms in Paraguay demanding that the land be confiscated from the current owners and be turned over to their members. The activity of these groups has caused a diplomatic uproar between the two countries that has yet to be resolved.

There are an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 Brazilians that have immigrated to Paraguay over the last five decades to purchase land and start farming. The Brazilian emigrates and their dependents make up about 8% of the 6.8 million inhabitants of Paraguay and they are concentrated in the eastern states that border Brazil - Alto Parana, Itapua, and Canindeyu. Collectively, they own approximately 1.3 million hectares of farmland in seven of the country's 17 states and they produce about 90% of all the soybeans grown in Paraguay. During the 2010/11 growing season Paraguay produced slightly more than 8 million tons of soybeans.

Brazilians started to immigrate to Paraguay in large numbers in the 1970's when the then dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, invited the Brazilian farmers to move to Paraguay by offering them land at very cheap prices. His goal was to modernize the agricultural sector by capitalizing on the farming expertise of the Brazilians. That goal has partially been achieved and agriculture now represents 80% of the Gross National Product of the country and soybeans account for the vast majority of Paraguay's exports.

These groups of landless Paraguayans were emboldened with the inauguration of President Fernando Lugo in August of 2008. The former Roman Catholic Bishop has expressed sympathy for their cause and he campaigned on a platform of agrarian reform. Shortly after his inauguration, various groups started to invade farms owned by Brazilians claiming that they had obtained the land illegally. The Brazilian farmers for their part claim that the land was purchased legally from the Paraguayan government and most judges in Paraguay have agreed. That has not stopped the activities of these groups since they refuse to recognize any court decisions upholding the land titles held by the Brazilians.

In 2005, Paraguay passed the Border Security Law that prohibited any foreign individual or company from owning land within 50 kilometers of the border, but the law had not been enforced until recently. The situation took a notable turn for the worse on January 11th when the

Paraguayan military started to identify and demarcate land that was owned by Brazilians and was within 50 kilometers of the Brazilian border. The landless workers occupied several of these farms within the security zone demanding that the government confiscate the land from the current Brazilian owners.

How this all plays out is yet to be determined. A spokesman for President Lugo has promised that he will do everything in his power to avoid a conflict, but his administration has not ordered the groups to abandon their activities even though a Paraguayan judge has determined that the invasion of three of the farms was illegal. Part of the problem is the fact that President Lugo is currently in Sao Paulo, Brazil undergoing cancer treatment and the lack of action on his part has encouraged the groups to push even harder for their demands. In the meantime, Brazilian farmers are harvesting their soybeans as quickly as possible and keeping a 24-hour watch on their land and property in an attempt to discourage invasions.

The distrust between these groups and the Brazilian farmers runs deep. The landless movement has its roots in indigenous groups trying to reclaim their ancestral homelands and it has now grown to include many types of landless workers, not just indigenous communities. They feel that the federal government has promoted large-scale mechanized agriculture to their determinant and that this is their best opportunity in decades to win back some of their ancestral lands for small-scale cultivation.

The situation has led to uncertainty in the agricultural community in Paraguay. If these groups succeed in forcing Brazilian near the border to abandon their farms, the concern is that they will attempt to do the same thing with all the Brazilian landowners in Paraguay not just those in the security zone. Even if the Brazilian landowners are allowed to keep their farms in Paraguay, they may be reluctant to invest the resources necessary to sustain the rapid pace of soybean expansion in the country.