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Quebradeiras de coco babaçu against agribusiness and the enclosure of their lands, Maranhão, Brazil

For over thirty years, the women movement of babassu coconut breakers has struggled for recognition and access to communal resources, facing pressures by ever-expanding soy, eucalyptus and cattle business.


Quebradeiras de coco babaçu are the breakers of the babassu coconut, a palm fruit traditionally gathered and processed by quilombola women in Brazil’s northeast. [1] Babassu (scientific name: attalea speciosa) means big coconut in the tupi-guarani language. [2] The palm and its fruit can be used in a variety of ways, ranging from vegetable oil for seasoning, chocolate, bread, ice cream and cosmetics, to the manufacturing of footwear, thatches, timber and craft, and the production of a highly nutritious flour (from the mesocarp), charcoal (from the bark) and much more. [3][4][5]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Quebradeiras de coco babaçu against agribusiness and the enclosure of their lands, Maranhão, Brazil
State or province: Maranhão / Tocantins / Piauí / Pará
Location of conflict:Baixada Maranhense, and others
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Soybeans
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Babassu is extracted on lands corresponding to an area of an estimated 20 million hectares, predominantly in Brazil’s northeast. [8] Babassu extraction takes place in about 30 percent of Maranhão, particularly in the municipalities Médio Mearim, Codó, Caxias, Pindaré, Maixada Maranhense and Chapadinha. While some of it is extracted by small and family agricultural producers who own land, the majority is gathered by landless women who harvest the coconut in nearby lands in the season between September and February; the process thus remains a largely extensive one. [6][9]

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Project area:32,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:350,000 or more
Start of the conflict:1991
Relevant government actors:ICMBio
Secretarias de Meio Ambiente, Direitos Humanos e Participação Popular
Instituto de Colonização e Terras do Maranhão (Iterma)
Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu (MIQCB)
Cooperativa Interestadual das Mulheres Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu (CIMQCB)
Grupo de Mulheres Guerreiras da Resistência do Movimento Quilombola do Maranhão (MOQUIBOM)
Articulação das Mulheres Indígenas do Maranhão (AMIMA)
Associação dos Assentados do Médio Marim (ASSEMA)
Cooperativa de Pequenos Produtores Agroextrativistas de Lago do Junco.
Cooperativa das Mulheres de Lago do Junco
Teia de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais
Other local worker unions
Comissão Pastoral da Terra
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Institutional changes
New legislation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The women-led Quebradeira movement calls for a 'free babassu law' and measures to protect the communities' traditional way of life and livelihoods, but also to improve their socio-political rights.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is a conflict arising from environmental injustices, agrarian injustices and gender injustices. On the one hand, as Porro et al. (2011) argue, the quebradeira movement can be considered successful as such, having created social visibility and recognition for a marginalized group and new political identity in short time. With that also new opportunities for initiatives on the ground have emerged and struggles for advances in access to land, forest resources and economic initiatives have had some success, however particularly at the symbolic level. The movement has now a wide range of activities and collaborations and has maintained high diversity. [8] On the other hand, enclosure of land is an ongoing process and likely to be further reinforced by the pressure from the agribusiness and current political strategies, while confrontations and violence are on the rise, affecting communities and targeting activists.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Proposed legislative PL (231/2007)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[9] ActionAid (2015): Acesso à terra, território e recursos naturais: a luta das quebradeiras de coco babaçu. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[6] de Mesquita, B. (2008): As Mulheres Agroextrativistas do Babaçu – A Pobreza a Serviço da Preservação do Meio Ambiente. In: Revista de Políticas Públicas, 12/1, pp. 53-61.
[click to view]

[7] Globo Rural (2019): Fazendeiros e catadoras de babaçu entram em conflito no MA. Globo G1, 13.01.2019. (Online, last accessed 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[8] Porro, N., Veiga, I., & Mota, D. (2011). Traditional communities in the Brazilian Amazon and the emergence of new political identities: the struggle of the quebradeiras de coco babaçu—babassu breaker women. Journal of Cultural Geography, 28(1), 123–146.

[16] Cardoso, L. (2018): Quebradeiras de coco babaçu, oranização e mobilização política no Lago dos Rodrigues, Região do Médio Mearim (MA): a experiência da fábrica de sabonete. UNIVERSIDADE ESTADUAL DO MARANHÃO.
[click to view]

[26] The subsidy from nature : palm forests, peasantry, and development on an Amazon frontier. Authors: Anthony B Anderson; Peter Herman May; Michael J Balick

New York : Columbia University Press,1991.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[23] Portal Guara (2018): Acusado de morte de crianças eletrocutadas em Araioses é preso. 08.11.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[21] MIQCB (2018): MIQCB coordena trabalhos de reconquista do território na Baixada Maranhense. 11.01.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[4] Bartaburu, X. (2018): Quebradeiras de coco babaçu. Repórter Brasil, 27.01.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[5] Globo Rural (2019): Veja como estão as quebradeiras de babaçu visitadas pelo Globo Rural há 15 anos. 13.01.2019. (Online, last accessed 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[10] Governo do Maranhão: (2015): Flávio Dino reúne com quebradeiras de coco e define pauta de ações para o extrativismo. 22.06.2015. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[12] MIQCB (2018): Movimento das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu denuncia crime ambiental no quilombo Monte Alegre. 28.09.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[13] MA10 (2018): Rede de energia que abastece cercas elétricas gera morte de pescador na Baixada. 05.04.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[14] Ferreira, P. (2018): Cercas elétricas irregulares em pastos de áreas rurais causam mortes no Maranhão. O Imparcial, 27.08.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[15] MIQCB (2018): Quebradeiras de coco babaçu no MA e PI debatem sobre a situação de violência e ameaças sofridas pelas mulheres. 25.09.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[17] CPT (2018): Coordenadora geral das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu sofre tentativa de homicídio no Piauí. 07.03.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[18] World Rainforest Movement (2019): Women Stand Up to Fight the Suzano Paper Mill in Maranhão, Brazil. In: Cementing Deforestation: Infrastructure at the Service of Corporations and Capital | Bulletin 244 – June /July 2019, pp 14-18. (An interview with MIQCB activist Rosalva Gomes)
[click to view]

[22] MIQCB (2018): Após denúncias e ocupação do Iterma pelo MIQCB, Governo do Maranhão reinicia Operação Baixada Livre. 22.03.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[24] Mendes, A. (2019): Teia de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais do MA denuncia empresas durante 8ª edição do Encontrão. CIMI Regional Maranhão, 15.06.2019. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[25] Monteiro, A. (2018): Quilombolas ocupam sede do Incra em São Luís. O Imparcial, 18.09.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[19] Nova Cartografia Social Da Amazônia (2015): Cartografia Social dos Babaçuais. 27.05.2015.
[click to view]

[20] Sintrajufema (2018): Liderança das Quebradeiras de Babaçu sob ameaça: entidades manifestam solidariedade – confira Nota. 14.03.2018. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[3] Globo Rural (2019): Coco babaçu vira sorvete, azeite e até calçado e carvão. 13.01.2019. (Online, last accessed 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[1] Santos, L.; Loschi, M. (2019): Quebradeiras de coco babaçu preservam tradição no interior do Maranhão. 24.01.2019. (last accessed: 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

[2] Globo Rural (2019): Quebradeiras de coco vivem da exploração do babaçu no MA. 13.01.2019. (Online, last accessed 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: Babassu - Brazil's Warrior Women
[click to view]

Video: Babaçu Livre
[click to view]

[11] Globo G1 (2019): Preservação e acesso aos babaçuais geram conflitos entre quebradeiras e donos de terras. 13.01.2019. (Video - Online, last accessed 15.07.2019)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update21/09/2019
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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