‘Children of the MST’ take up the banners of agroecology, agrarian reform and inclusion

‘Children of the MST’ take up the banners of agroecology, agrarian reform and inclusion

Camilo Ramalho Santana’s childhood, 24, was different from that of most Brazilians. Mineiro de Contagem, he grew up in a camp in Ariquemes, Rondônia, and remembers with nostalgia his early years as a militant of the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra).

“As we were camped for a long time, the land was divided even before the regularization by INCRA [Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária]. Over time, we were no longer living in the canvas tent. We didn’t have access to credit, but we had an itinerant school. We were mobilized all the time, due to threats of eviction, but there was always a party at the camp”, he says.

For a few months of the year, the young man leaves his home in the North region and goes to an MST settlement in the South region, known for the production of organic rice and where he graduates in history, in partnership with the Federal University of Fronteira Sul. “The university comes inside the settlement. I’m in sixth period out of nine.”

By comparing her generation with that of her parents, who founded the movement, Santana recalls the differences in historical moments. “The 1980s generation lived through the rise of the mass struggle in Brazil and the period of redemocratization. The current generation takes on a period of consolidation of agribusiness and the shift of financial capital to agriculture. These are different struggles”, he says, who participates in the national plan “Plant trees, produce healthy food”.

Founded in 1984 and having the struggle for agrarian reform as one of its main objectives, the movement currently has 450,000 settled families and 90,000 encamped, in 24 states. According to the MST, of the approximately 8.1 million young people living in the countryside, around 250,000 are in settlements or encampments.

A researcher at the MST since the first steps he would take in its foundation, Bernardo Marçano Fernandes is able to quickly perceive the differences between parents, children and grandchildren.

“One of the biggest concerns is that the children continue to build the movement and one of the ways to avoid migration from the settlement to the city is to involve the children and grandchildren in the development of that territory.”

The geographer from Unesp (Universidade Estadual Paulista) also emphasizes that one of the ways to keep the new generations in the countryside is through the own culture that the MST created. “The movement has a cultural act called mystique and is inspired by the religious acts of the progressive church. Every time a meeting is held, a mystique is made to permanently remember the history of those people.”

Fernandes highlights that one of the main differences between the settled generations is the level of schooling, and compares his current visits with the trips he made through camps in the 1990s.

“On those first trips, I interviewed people who had not completed elementary school and reported their practices of struggle. Now, I meet with militants who have higher education, discuss the theory of struggle and hold scientific debates.”

Data from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) indicate that the countryside, as a whole, has become younger and more educated.

According to a survey by the consultancy IDados, based on the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics): the total number of rural workers, not just the MST, aged up to 29 years old is the highest since 2015. In the third quarter of 2021, they were 2.2 million.

Despite still being a minority, rural workers with incomplete higher education or more have doubled in the last nine years, at a record level. They were 189,800 in the third quarter of 2012. In the same period of 2021, they already totaled 389,800.

The possibility of access to education is considered one of the most important issues for young people to remain in the countryside.

Who closely follows this movement is the educator and undergraduate student Edinalva Monteiro, 26, who grew up in the movement and has lived for ten years in a settlement in Lagoa Grande do Maranhão (MA), with over a hundred other families and where she is a teacher of math.

A student at a rural school, she joined the MST as a teenager and says that she now teaches at the school where she studied, while remembering how life in the settlements has changed over the years.

“Where I grew up, I didn’t have access to the internet and electricity took a long time to arrive. The settlement has changed a lot, the infrastructure, in general, is much better today”, he says.

On the difference between the generations of the movement, she also highlights the greater access to public policies. “Before, access was more complicated and leaving the countryside was practically mandatory. Our parents wanted this for us. Now, as a result of our struggles, we can attend high school inside the settlement, we no longer have to leave the land to have education.”

The movement says that, despite the challenges posed to rural education, around two thousand schools were built over almost four decades and the Pronera (National Program of Education in Agrarian Reform) enabled schooling and access to higher education.

Despite advances, settlements in parts of the interior of Brazil have exacerbated the problems that affect rural residents, such as unequal access to high-speed internet, lack of roads and insecurity.


When the mother of Kelvin Nicolas, 20, learned that a property was being occupied in Piracicaba (SP), the Nelson Mandela camp, she had no doubts: she gathered her eight children, left the house she shared with her brothers and entered the movement.

“We stayed in Piracicaba until 2017, in this occupation, but because the land is very expensive, the possibility of us being settled was small. The camp broke up and joined another settlement, in Limeira. My mother left two years ago, but I keep fighting”, he says.

Today, he helps organize free training courses in areas such as agroecology (a model of sustainable agriculture that preserves natural resources), administration, art, rural culture and popular organization. Nicolas, who lives in the “Marielle Vive” camp in Valinhos (SP), also participates in the coordination of an LGBTQIA+ collective within the MST.

“The countryside has always been a masculine place, of brute force. Minorities were never understood, and often left the countryside for the city, as an attempt at self-affirmation. Our challenge is to humanize the countryside and build a popular reform in which everyone feel included.”

The new generation of activists has also placed gender equality at the center. Daughter of two leaders who participated in the main land occupations in the Northeast in the 1990s, Rosa Amorim, 25, spent her childhood in collective care spaces, created so that the mothers of the camps could find time for political activity.

She, who will seek a state deputy seat in Pernambuco, is among the MST’s 15 pre-candidates for positions in state assemblies and in the Chamber of Deputies in 2022. “The decision to launch candidacies throughout Brazil after 38 years shows our progress. We need to occupy decision-making spaces, with applications from young people, women and LGBTQIA+.”

She emphasizes that it is the responsibility of the new generation to advance, among other discussions, in the defense of food without pesticides. “The image that was had in society was of the invading MST, but we have been slowly deconstructing it. Feeding ourselves today is a political act, our cap came into fashion, because society recognizes our historical work.”

“The movement wants to be recognized for the production of healthy foods. There are communities working with direct sales and the use of technology to make these products reach people’s homes. With the pandemic, the demand for these foods has increased even more”, says the Professor Fernandes.


Despite greater access to training, young people complain that the MST’s partnerships with schools and universities were harmed, with the cut of funds from the federal government for Pronera, which turned 24 in April.

According to Incra, 499 courses have already been offered, ranging from EJA (Youth and Adult Education) classes to postgraduate programs. The courses attended around 186,700 people, in partnership with 94 institutions.

But current partnerships have depended more on the initiative of the movement and university professors to get off the ground, due to lack of budget.

Due to lack of funds, in May, INCRA suspended all activities involving travel to events, according to the Sheet revealed at the time. Among the activities affected were the delivery of property titles. On the occasion, President Jair Bolsonaro said he would speak with the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, so that he could allocate resources from the Budget to the body.

The report also pointed out that the Bolsonaro government radically transformed the agrarian reform program in the country, betting only on the delivery of titles to former settlers.

The land acquisition budget plummeted 99%, from R$930 million in 2011 to R$2.4 million this year, and the same happened with Incra’s total discretionary budget, which dropped from R$1.9 billion in 2011 to BRL 500 million in 2020.

The most recent edition of the National Survey on Education in Agrarian Reform, published in 2015 together with Ipea, points out that 52.2% of Pronera courses, from 1998 to 2011, were fundamental EJA; 30.9% of high school; 16.9% of higher education.

Asked now about the complaints of lack of investment in Pronera, Incra replied that the implementation of schooling and educational training in the countryside is under the responsibility of state, district and municipal education departments.

“The Ministry of Education, through Pronacampo, technically and financially supports the States, the Federal District and the Municipalities. Pronera has contributed, in a complementary way, to the education of young people and adults in agrarian reform settlements and the National Program of Land Credit, in addition to quilombola communities. The execution of the program by INCRA has been planned and executed according to budgetary and financial availability.”

In 2022, of the BRL 4.59 million committed to rural education actions, BRL 312,500 were paid up to July 28, according to data from Incra requested by the Ministry of Health. Sheet. The amount paid this year corresponds to 10% of the total for 2012.


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