Agroecology in practice: agrarian reform, ecological sustainability, and social equality in Brazil

Host: José Fernando Scaramuzza, Federal University of Mato Grosso
Collaborators: Wendy Wolford, Cornell University; Hannah Wittman, University of British Columbia; Eduardo Couto, Federal University of Mato Grosso

My postdoctoral research at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brazil, was an interdisciplinary evaluation of smallholder agrarian reform settlements in the ecologically-important Cerrado region of Brazil’s center-west. The Cerrado is the most extensive savanna in South America, the second largest biome in Brazil, and a biodiversity hot spot. This biome has become a focal point for industrial agriculture in recent decades, threatening its native grassland and forest ecosystems. Land reform social movements such as O Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST – the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement) have also become important actors in the Cerrado over the past 15 years promoting food sovereignty and agroecological production of diverse crops. Yet adoption of these practices on MST farms is complex and variable. This project focused on three central questions: 1) Within and among land reform settlements in Mato Grosso, who is farming using agroecological practices and why? 2) How do agroecological practices and approaches emerge on settlement farms and how are they sustained? 3) What effects do these farming systems have on ecological sustainability?