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Afro-Brazilian Farmers Are Fighting Food Insecurity In Urban Black Neighborhoods
Brazil has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With a number of 600,000 deaths, the second-deadliest after the United States, the Latin American country is also facing food insecurity — with millions of people jobless from the crisis. However, in the state of São Paulo, there are Afro-Brazilian organizations working to bring some relief to the situation.
As Folha de São Paulo (a Brazilian newspaper)reported on Oct. 25, over 254 tons of food have been donated to 31,000 people since June 2020. The distribution network was created through an emergency plan to ensure health, income and fight against food insecurity for quilombo residents.
There are 1,290 cooperative members participating in the food production system, of which 55% (709) are women.
The Vale do Ribeira Quilombo Farmers Cooperative (Cooperquivale) is the team of Afro-Brazilian farmers organizing the production and trade of food from 17 Black settlements in São Paulo’s hinterland.
The emergency plan developed by Quilombo leaders( Quilombos are Black settlements originally established by escaped enslaved Africans in Brazil) intend to link sponsors and anti-hunger programs to traditional Black communities in the Brazilian state.
“Partners buy food from the cooperative and distribute it. The money maintains production on the farms, ensures income for these Afro-Brazilian farmers and takes organic food to those who are vulnerable in the capital”, Raquel Pasinato, a biologist and coordinator of the Social Environmental Institute, told Folha de São Paulo.
The institute is a Brazilian NGO.
“It’s a beautiful campaign,” Douglas Belchior, a professor and activist with the Black Coalition for Civil Rights, told Folha de São Paulo. “Food deliveries are in terreiros (Afro-Brazilian religious sanctuaries) and collectives in impoverished areas, and every collective knows what families from its circle need.”
Banana, potatoes, cassava, corn and rice account for 70% of the food produced in these Quilombo farms. These donations contributed to the formation of a connection between the urban Black population and quilombo residents.
“We have plans to go to the quilombos, learn about the plantation and think about exchanges of knowledge that we can make,” explains Belchior.
Donations arrive monthly in urban communities, and it is expected to be continued through January 2022.
“The food production in the quilombo farms is very traditional, and it comprises not only planting and harvesting, but the entire cultural foundation of these communities”, explained Raquel Pasinato.
Quilombo farm production is 100% organic-based, which helps to nourish the soil without damaging the environment.
“It cannot be done on a large scale, or in any agricultural region, it is necessary to respect time and soil productivity”, he said.
Brazil’s Social Environment Institute advisor Mauricio Biesek said that the quilombo farmers manage the landscape. However, he emphasizes that there is prejudice against quilombos’ farm production, both by the population of the cities and by inspection authorities, who associate those Black farms with outdated agriculture procedures.
“The fact that the region has such extensive preserved forest with communities that have been in the territory for over 300 years shows the opposite,” Biesek told Folha de São Paulo.
Quilombo farmers now want to go further and solidify themselves as an important food producer in the post-pandemic era, fighting to have their land officially formalized by the state.
“We can now reinforce our origins, tell our children, even if they are studying, or leaving this place, that they are welcome to come back.”
Records of the formation of the São Pedro quilombo date back to the beginning of the 19th century. However, this Quilombo was only recognized by the state of São Paulo in 1988, and the land issue is still a challenge.