It has been a little over six months since I visited the traditional rural village of Geraizeiros in the state of Bahia, Brazil. I was taking a group of journalists to interview the community, who has been under enormous pressure to leave their native lands. When I got out of bed that morning, I thought I understood the mortal danger facing this community. But I was still not prepared to find myself staring down the barrel of an assault rifle, in a room full of people praying for our lives.
This has become the reality in the Brazilian Cerrado, a region where small farmers are surrounded by never-ending industrial farms of soybeans and corn and are never sure if they will make it home at the end of the day. The Geraizeiros and their ancestors have lived for over 200 years in an area of economic interest in Brazil, where agribusiness has been on a violent expansion, not sparing anything or anyone in its way.
In the late 1970s, a large agricultural enterprise called Agronegócio Estrondo was established in the region, deforesting an area almost four times the size of New York City to make way for soya farming. And almost 20 years ago, the company started to expand into these communities’ lands, turning their lives into hell on Earth.
The soya produced by Estrondo at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of the Geraizeiros community is sold to traders like Cargill and Bunge and then shipped all over the world to become food for cows, chickens and pigs. Fast food companies like McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King all buy soya from those traders.
On the day we were visiting the community, our plan was to take a German TV news team to see the devastation caused by Estrondo up close. From the security around the clock to the illegal watch house built by the company, what struck me the most was the gigantic, 3-meter deep ditch that Estrondo built around the land they invaded. Not only are the residents of the community unable to cross it, neither can the wildlife that lives in the region. Many of the animals die trying.