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.  Babassu (scientific name: attalea speciosa) means big coconut in the tupi-guarani language.  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. 
This is a conflict combining grievances and claims for environmental justice, agrarian justice and gender justice. An estimated 350,000 people (mostly women, numbers however vary) of about 15 ethnic groups are today involved in activities related to babassu (the largest part of them in the state of Maranhão), making quebradeiras Brazil’s largest traditional group living from the sustainable extractivism of forest products.  Although babassu breaking is often the only economically valued activity for many quebradeiras - and in principle not enough to escape the spiral of rural poverty - they consider it more than just a profession, but rather a central component of life and identity, as traditional communities have been using babassu for centuries. Quebradeiras typically join their families at the coconut gathering and processing as young girls and continue the practice until old age, accompanied by singing and an honoring of the babassu palm as ‘mother’ that provides their daily bread-and-butter.  
Maranhão’s agricultural sector and land use is characterized by the dominance of industrial cattle farming, incentivized by economic policies and cheap agricultural credits in the 1970s, as well as by monocultures of eucalyptus and soy, both predominantly industrial and increasingly superseding rice and familiar agriculture since the late 1990s.  Extractivism of babassu, in contrast, is of declining economic importance compared to the expanding agribusiness but has been practiced by communities for centuries and still takes place in almost every municipality.  Besides in Maranhão, where 93 percent of all babassu is extracted, the babassu palm is also widely spread in Tocantins, Piauí and Pará – a group of states in which the Amazon converges with the Cerrado and Caatinga biomes, as well as in Goiás and Mato Grosso.  
Babassu sustainable extractivism, as a usually highly extensive subsistence practice that relies on land as a commons, is directly oppositional to the unsustainable logics of modern industrial agriculture. It therefore not only has a crucial role when it comes to environmental preservation but also for the involved social actors, offering the often only available source of income for a significant amount of women from historically subaltern, disadvantaged groups of society. In fact, subsistence babassu extractivism is closely linked to the issues of rural poverty and a colonially inherited inequality in access to land, both remaining very high in Maranhão.  
This reveals the structural latent conflict between the traditional extensive ways of life and land use and capitalist, intensive agriculture – a conflict that has manifested locally, confronting many communities living from sustainable extractivism directly, but has also triggered notable social mobilization of these over the past three decades. The struggle was well documented since the late 1980s .
Today, the larger part of babassu trees are located within large fazendas (farms) and lands that have been bought or grabbed in the past and are now claimed as private property, following a process of land privatization since the 1960s that largely neglected historical collective uses of land. This has led to an increasing enclosure of land and violent confrontations as communities’ access to babassu trees is being more and more restricted by the landholders and colonial patterns of subordination are in a way reproduced. In many municipalities, quebradeiras encounter ranchers demanding payments for accessing the trees (amounts of up to half the worth of the harvest, although none of them intends to use the trees themselves) or completely preventing access through fences – which are a result of past public policies aimed at incentivizing cattle ranching and soy and eucalyptus plantations. Moreover, many of those fences are now illegally electrified. Quebradeiras and other traditional communities also face other forms of intimidation, including death threats, violence and sexual assaults. 
As some communities – e.g. in the demarcated São Caetano and Bom Jesus quilombo lands in the Matinha province – report, the problem is a rather recent one. In the past there were never problems to collect babassu coconuts and no barbed wires, whereas today, quebradeiras have to rush in order to avoid being caught by the landowners who would take the coconuts from them. Cattle ranchers, on the other hand, argue that the fences are necessary to hold cattle in vast areas difficult to monitor. Owners of plantations can easily obtain environmental permits, including the authorization for deforestation, as long as they agree to afforest in other locations, avoiding net loss of native tree species – which, however, affects quebradeiras whose practices and way of life are confined to the traditional areas, conservation units and reserves.   Conflicts follow similar patterns in other babassu areas, as for example the Monte Alegre quilombo in the muncipality of São Luís Gonzaga , Coquelândia in the municipality of Imperatriz , the municipalities of Penalva, Araioses, Médio Mearim, Pindaré, Codí, Chapadinha, Baixo Parnaíba and Lago dos Rodrigues , the Santa Rosa community in Piauí , as well as the Baixada Maranhense microregion, a plain area rich in biodiversity and babassu that gets flooded in the rainy season and is today one of the areas most affected by enclosure. Although floodplains and waters are recognized as public lands, fences have been partly built in the name of conservation but also by ranchers of water buffaloes, also affecting fishers and other traditional communities.  In Southern Pará, by contrast, quebradeiras face competition from large industrial charcoal producers for the mining industry. 
Grassroots initiatives supported quebradeiras against ranchers as early as in 1970s, and communities also received support by the Catholic Church and NGOs, while collective organization of quebradeiras started in the late 1980s, along the ideas of "Extractive Reserves" from Acre’s rubber tapper movement.   By today, after decades of struggle and marginalization, this has led to substantial improvements in quebradeiras’ rights and recognition, a process was particularly shaped by the Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu (MIQCB). Since its formation as a grassroots NGO in 1991, it has carried out a number of social mobilizations and political revindications with the overall objective to preserve their way of life based on babassu palm forests and to increase social inclusion of quebradeiras, using strategies of political representation and social visibility, economic initiatives, and the formulation of combined productive and conservation concerns, along with a wide range of activities in these fields. 
A major success was the adoption of Lei de Babaçu Livre (Free Babassu Law) in Maranhão’s Lago do Junco municipality in 1997. The law basically guarantees free communal access to babassu trees, even if they are located on private land, and also prohibits the use of agrochemicals near the trees and the destruction of these. So far, 14 more municipalities followed the example and Tocantins adopted a law on babassu protection at state level. However, some farmers have aimed to repeal it, calling babassu a pest. Due to the intervention of powerful lobbies, not all of these laws guarantee free access to babassu and only in few areas the established rights are also enforced. Despite these difficulties, the MIQCB continues to push for legislative initiatives for free babassu at regional and state level. This includes the proposed national law for free access to babassu (PL 231/2007) which has been under discussion for many years.  Moreover, the MIQCB has now become the central coordinating movement for cooperatives, associations, family producers and communities living from babassu, and a public voice to denounce rights violations and the logging of babassu palm trees, regularly organizing campaigns and street demonstrations.    In doing so, they achieved certain political recognition over the last years, as for example Maranhão’s new governor entered in dialogue with the movement in 2015, acknowledging its demands and creating a new department for the support of rural communities.  For some of the activities, the MIQCB now collaborates with other NGOs and civil society and receives support from donors such as the EU and the Ford Foundation. For example, a participative mapping project of the geographical and social dimensions of babassu extraction was initiated together with local researchers and community members in 2015. 
With an increasing number of violent confrontations, quebradeira mobilizations have recently again focused on the issue of land enclosure and illegal, electrified fences.  Between 2015 and 2018, the MIQCB has reported conflicts in more than 20 locations but the movement regularly receives death threats after denunciations, either in form of anonymous calls at night or of open confrontations of groups of women in babassu forests, leaving many communities with fear. Threats and intimidation against quebradeiras go along with incidents of environmental crimes, e.g. the systematic logging or burning of babassu trees or their poisoning with herbicides. Although babassu trees are protected by federal and state law and damage to them is supposed to be penalized, none of the denounced incident was ever investigated by public authorities. 
Criticizing the political inactivity, the MIQCB and the local university started a coordinated community action in the beginning of 2018, involving about 60 participating people to free lands in several territories from wire and other barriers, calling it a demonstration of social mobilization in order to transform realities.  Following a protest and the occupation of the Instituto de Terras do Maranhão (ITERMA) through quebradeiras and quilombolas, also state authorities took action and started the Baixada Livre Operation to demount about 10 kilometer of electric fence. However, the operation was only authorized for five days which was not sufficient to free the whole area. 
In the beginning of 2018, the coordinator of the MIQCB movement Francisca Nascimento narrowly escaped an attempted murder in Piauí, following a local conflict with a rancher. The incident was thereafter condemned by 104 civil society organizations in an open letter.   Shortly after, a fisher of the Jacaré community was killed through an electrified fence.  Later in the same year, two children were killed in Araioses by a rancher, who according to an eye witness allegedly turned on an illegally electrified fence at the moment they passed, on the way home from picking fruits. The accused rancher was arrested shortly after. 
Quebradeira women have also become involved in wider networks for the collective struggle for indigenous, quilombola and traditional peasant rights in Maranhão, for example the Teia de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais. Their mobilizations are now linked to other struggles, for example for the outstanding recognition of quilombola lands or the opposition to development projects jeopardizing water resources and communities’ access to land in the region, including Vale’s Carajás Railway, illegal logging and land speculation by the agribusiness as well as the recently initiated and highly controversial Matopiba Agricultural Development Plan (PDA Matopiba; see related case entry in the EJAtlas).  Another concrete example is mobilization against the Suzano Pulp and Paper mill in Imperatriz (see related case in the EJAtlas), which has caused devastating impacts for communities and forests in the area and is an emblematic conflict for the growing importance of eucalyptus in the region. While the company’s developmentalist discourse effectively managed to co-opt most social organizations in the region, MIQCB has continued to resist and pointed to the project’s various negative impacts on the population (in particularly women and traditional communities, e.g. in form of human rights violations and internal division) and livelihoods (e.g. contamination of soil, air and water) in the region. Following a number of deadly incidents, the movement in 2015 filed a complaint with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) which was however not further pursued. 
Along with the process of social mobilization and emancipation, the grassroots movement has strengthened a new political identity among quebradeira communities, subsequently leading to a rearticulation of demands to secure their traditional ways of life and overcome subordination to land-owning ranchers. This has most notably triggered the revindication of traditionally used land, for example via agrarian reform or the establishment of extractivist reserves (as until today, most quebradeiras remain landless and many quilombola lands still lack regularization across the country).     An established motto of the movement is now: “Não existe babaçu livre com terra presa” (There is no free babassu with seized land).