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Feature - issue #4

In Favour of Life

Words by Bela Gil

Drawing inspiration from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement, chef, author and food activist Bela Gil believes agroecology is themkey to averting climate change and ending food poverty.

Some years ago I made a television series called Bela Raízes (a play on my name that translates as beautiful roots), in which I met with female community leaders who hold a deep knowledge of everything from midwifery to Indigenous sacred rituals. One such encounter happened at the Latin American School of Agroecology, which is based in the Contestado settlement in the south of Brazil, an area occupied by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement) and named after the 1912 battle for land between settlers and land owners. I went to Contestado to learn more about the work of two women: Dona Maria (who is known simply by her first name) and Priscila Facina Monnerat. Dona Maria cultivates medicinal herbs that she uses in the health centre to take care of her patients, while Priscila was one of the first settlers to implement agroforestry- in which biodiversity is encouraged by growing trees or shrubs with crops or pastureland - as a method to cultivate food.

Around 108 families live in Contestado, and the community has a health centre with medical and dental care, a school teaching elementary to higher education, a football field, and a cultural centre. The settlement is a showcase for how a life based around sustainable agroecological production can lead to wellbeing.The community has 2,250 hectares of arable land, and produces 270 tons of organic fruit and vegetables every year. The produce is sold through farmers’ markets, deliveries,the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Program for Food Acquisition: a government scheme to ensure a marketfor smallholders at a fixed price) and the Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar (National School Food Program: a government initiative to ensure a healthy diet for schoolchildren).

Strawberries growing at Contestado. Photographs by Leandro Taques.

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