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February 19, 2019

Indigenous Farmers in Brazil want to Expand Crop Production

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

Various indigenous groups in Brazil are anxious to participate in commercial agriculture as a way to generate jobs and income for their communities. Currently, commercial agriculture is prohibited on most indigenous reserves, but that could change going forward. The right of indigenous people in Brazil to conduct commercial agriculture has been proposed by the Bolsonaro administration, which assumed power on January 1st.

In fact, this entire topic was the focus of the First National Meeting of Indigenous Farmers, which was held last week in the state of Mato Grosso. The meeting was attended by representatives from more than 30 indigenous groups from across Brazil. Also in attendance was Brazil's Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina, Brazil's Environmental Minister, the governor of Mato Grosso as well as representatives from Embrapa and the Soybean & Corn Producers Association of Mato Grosso (Aprosoja-MT).

The Ministers offered their support for indigenous farmers and their right to generate jobs and incomes for their communities through commercial agriculture.

Topics of discussion at the meeting included: regulation of agricultural activities on indigenous lands, environmental legislation, credit and financing, crop production, crop commercialization, fish farming, cattle ranching, chicken production, manioc production, and subsistence agriculture. Participants at the conference also raised the question of licensing of the reserves because they have problems when they sell their products because they have to indicate where the products originated.

One of the larger ingenious groups in Mato Grosso are the Paresi which number more than 2,000 members and occupy nine reserves totaling 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) spread across five municipalities in western Mato Grosso. Under a prior agreement with Ibama (the Brazilian Environmental and Natural Resource Institute) and Funai (the Brazilian National Indian Foundation), the Paresi have been allowed to conduct commercial agriculture for the last 16 years with a limit of 10,000 hectares.

Combined with other indigenous groups on their reserve, there are currently 18,000 hectares of commercial agriculture on their reserves. For the 2018/19 growing season, the Paresi planted 8,700 hectares of soybeans, 1,000 hectares of corn, and 300 hectares of rice. For the safrinha crop, they are expecting to plant 7,700 hectares of conventional corn, 6,000 hectares of dry beans, 1,400 hectares of sunflowers, and 500 hectares of white corn.

The Paresi reserves are located in the cerrado area of western Mato Grosso and it is surrounded by some of the best agriculture in the state. Therefore, it would be reasonable for the Paresi to want to participate in commercial agriculture.

A few other indigenous groups are allowed to plant a few thousand hectares of commercial crops but in general, commercial agriculture is still prohibited on most indigenous reserves. In fact, Ibama levied 36 fines for 20,000 hectares of illegal commercial agriculture on indigenous reserves last year.

Part of the focus of the recent meeting with federal and state officials was to develop a plan to do away with the prohibition on commercial agriculture and to allow indigenous groups to conduct commercial agriculture if they so wish. With that in mind, several indigenous groups have joined together to form an agricultural cooperative (Coopihanama) to administer the purchase of inputs, crop production, and crop marketing. Instead of renting the land to local farmers, they want to create jobs for their members and to share in the income.

The current soybean crop on the Paresi reserve has not yet been harvested, but they anticipate an average soybean yield of 53 sacks per hectare (47 bu/ac) and profits of R$ 1.3 million reals for their community. The soybean varieties and corn hybrids they plant are 100% conventional (non-GMO) because the existing law prohibits GMO crops on indigenous reserves.

The Paresi people feel they have the right to develop their properties as they see fit even though indigenous reserves are considered part of Brazil. With 18,000 hectares of commercial agriculture in their reserve, this only represents 0.7% of their entire reserve. With the income generated from agriculture, they plan on generating other sources of income such as tourism, fish farming, and others.

Indigenous reserves represent approximately 12% of Brazil's territory.