Theme 4: Occupation of territories by foreign companies: impacts on local populations

Discussion 4 was opened on January 31, 2023 with a series of presentations by unions, NGOs, experts and community members on the role of foreign firms and the effects of financialization in Brazil and the world. It concluded on March 7 with an assessment of the exchanges, particularly those held during the regional webinars in Brazil and Europe on February 23, to point out avenues of action that open a new phase of work for the FLT.

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Theme 4, from January 31 to March 7, 2023

Debates about land grabs by foreign companies in Brazil have increased in recent years. These land grabs have an impact on food sovereignty, the environment and the security and rights of peasant, forest and fishing populations.

In order to feed the profits of large national and/or international companies, they do not hesitate to commit fraud in order to grab public land, most often with the connivance of local private or public actors. Land grabbing and concentration lead to overexploitation of natural resources, agrarian conflicts and forced population displacement.

According to official government data (IBGE/2017), the structure of land ownership in Brazil remains concentrated. According to the data, the country has 5,073,324 agricultural establishments. Of these establishments, 51,203 have an area greater than 1,000 hectares, which represents only 1% of the total number of establishments, but occupies 47% of the land used by agricultural establishments; the remaining 99% of establishments occupy 53% of agricultural land. In all, family farming, with its more than 10 million workers, has only 23% of the agricultural land.

According to data from INCRA (Brazil's land agency), in 2020 about 3.9 million hectares of land are registered in the country as foreign property, of which 2.2 million were acquired by individuals and 1.7 million are controlled by companies. Of note is the purchase of 750,000 hectares by the Harvard University Fund and TIAA-CREF (a US insurance and investment fund company), through fraud or legal trickery using the names of Brazilian companies, verified by INCRA in 2020.

According to an article published by the newspaper Brasil de Fato, foreign-controlled land in Brazil is distributed as follows: 33% in the Southeast region, 22% in the Midwest region, 16% in the Northeast region, 15% in the South region and 14% in the North region.

In 2020, Brazil recorded records in terms of environmental devastation, fires and a significant advance in the destruction of protected areas. More than 3.4 thousand Km² of Amazonian forest disappeared during the second half of the year in 2020 (DETER/INPE, 2020). Approximately 1,576 cases of land conflicts, affecting more than 171,000 Brazilian families, were registered in the same year (CPT, 2021).

Also in 2020, the federal Senate approved bill 2.963/2019 - currently under discussion in the House of Representatives -, which relaxes rules and reduces restrictions and allows foreigners to buy up to 25% of the territory of Brazilian municipalities. The argument used to justify this law is to attract foreign investment to the country. If this law were to be passed, it would pose a direct threat to the national sovereignty and security of family farmers, peasants, indigenous, quilombola and traditional populations in Brazil, leading to a significant increase in food insecurity, inequality and conflicts already existing in rural areas.

CONTAG and its partner social movements have carried out a series of actions at national and local level, denouncing and liaising with social and parliamentary organisations in order to define strategies for fighting and combating the occupation of national territory and the violation of the rights of rural, forest and aquatic populations by foreign companies.

The 4th round of the Global Forum of Struggles for Land and Natural Resources, coordinated by CONTAG, aims to inform and report on the reality in Brazil. This discussion will allow an exchange between organisations from different regions and continents in order to propose strategies to fight against the expansion of foreign companies and international capital.