Now It Is Time: the MST and Grassroots Land Reform in Brazil

OAKLAND, CA - August 5 -

A new report based on a just-released book by the think tank Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy shows how, in a country burdened with oppressive poverty, the landless workers movement —Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra (MST) —rose from the poorest of the poor to form the most important grassroots organization in Brazil — and indeed in all of Latin America.

Saying "enough," to a history of landlessness and poverty, the MST, who have inspired articles in media from Time magazine to The Wall Street Journal, confronted persecution and assassination to take charge of their own destiny. By successfully occupying and farming idle land, the MST has forced the Brazilian government to award more than 20 million acres of agricultural land to over 350 thousand MST families since the movement's founding in 1984.

"By occupying the idle land of wealthy absentee landlords, the MST have carved out livelihoods and vastly improved the quality of education and health care available to their families," said Professor Angus Wright who with Professor Wendy Wolford wrote the report. "They have achieved these gains by successfully challenging the institutions and some of the most powerful people of Brazil, a nation of 175 million people and one of the world's ten largest economies."

According to the report, land grabbing by wealthy landholders has long stifled economic development and trapped millions in poverty. In response, Brazil enacted laws requiring that land "serve its social function" and the government promised redistribution to poor families. But these reforms were never enforced because of the tremendous power wealthy landholders held over the government.

"Faced with an intransigent government fencing for the landlords, the rural landless decided the best way to achieve land reform is to occupy the land," said Wright. "This forced the government to act on its 'social function' principle and hand over the land to the rural workers. Now significant agrarian reform has begun and is spreading throughout Brazil."

Through its work and its growth, the MST has seen its influence extend beyond the debate over land reform, gaining considerable political power and helping to elect the former labor leader Luis Inácio ("Lula") da Silva as President of Brazil. Yet the MST feel much work needs to be done, and see more equitable access to land as a first step toward a more just and egalitarian Brazilian society.

For information on the full book, 'To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil', visit

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