Posts Tagged ‘Coffee in Brazil is Black’

Coffee in Brazil is Black

April 19, 2021

Coffee in Brazil is Black, it was built on the back of slaves brought from West Africa in slave ships

I prefer to see my mother rot than sign a letter of liberty for my slaves. — Monito Campert, Brazilian coffee baron, 1888

The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression. — W E B DuBois

Coffee was introduced to the Portuguese colony of Brazil by Francisco Melo Palheta in 1727. He acquired coffee beans by dubious means when asked to help solve a dispute between Dutch and French colonies in Guiana.  On his return to Brazil he planted the seeds in Para, but until 1822 coffee remained a minor crop compared with sugar. 

Coffee became an important crop when planted in the mountainous Paraiba valley south of Rio, forests cleared, slash and burn, deep purple soil, terra roxa, the coffee seeds planted in the ash, when exhausted, clear more forest, slash and burn.

Coffee estates, fazendas, were huge, two, three, four millions trees. The largest belonging to Francesco Shmidt was a fazenda of seven million coffee trees, employing 40,000 workers. On the fazendas a single slave would tend four to seven thousand coffee plants.

The early coffee plantations in Brazil were a slave economy, 40% of the slaves from West Africa ended up in Brazil.

Over two centuries, Brazil imported three million slaves to work the private fiefdoms that were the coffee estates, an additional five million worked the sugar plantations. To put these figures in context, around half a millions slaves were shipped to North America.

The plantation slave economy is reflected in modern day Brazil. Ten per cent of the population own over 50% of the wealth. Descendants of slaves are ten times more like to be illiterate or destitute.

An IBGE Agro Census (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) carried out between 2017 and 2018, Brazil has five million agricultural establishments, 45.4% are run by white producers. Brown producers have 44.5%, while 8.4% are owned by blacks, 1.1% by indigenous and 0.6% by yellow. There are 2.2 million white producers and 2.6 million black and brown ones, considering the sum of all types of agricultural properties, regardless of the culture and the size of the land.

In large properties, there are almost no black producers. Of the 1,559 farms with more than 10,000 hectares, for example, 1,232 are run by whites, 270 by browns and only 25 by blacks. The ratio is four white producers to one black or brown producer. As for small properties, with fewer than five hectares, the reality is reversed: blacks and browns are the majority.

When considering the extent of the properties of each ethnic group, the survey portrays a great inequality: white producers occupy 208 million hectares, or 59.4% of the total area of ​​establishments, while blacks and browns have, together, less than half of that, that is, 99 million hectares or 28%.

The distortion is even more profound than the distribution of national income found in the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (Continuous Pnad) in 2015, according to which whites hold 59% of the country’s wealth, while browns hold 33% and blacks 7%.

To put these figures in context, only one or two per cent of Black Americans own land, ie even worse than Brazil.

A Black farm owner, passers by ask, who owns the land. 

When Phyllis Johnson visited a group in Brazil, the Black female coffee workers could hardly believe their eyes when a Black woman stepped out of the car, they were no longer invisible. They were as proud of their work in coffee as the White coffee farmers who owned the land.

Coffee baron Grao-Mogul was one of the most notorious of the slave owners. If a child fell ill or died, the mother was punished for damage or loss of his property. He would hold banquets at his mansion, when food and drink consumed, the men would descend into the cellar below his house to take their pleasure of the female slaves tied up. 

Brazil was the last of the Western countries to abolish slavery, an internal slave market developed when the British intercepted slave ships. It was not until 1871 Brazil passed the Law of the Free Womb making children of slaves free at birth, followed in 1888 by the Golden Law freeing all slaves. Not that the freed slaves were much better off, the only employment was on the plantations under the same conditions.

When slavery was abolished, the plantations imported cheap labour from southern Europe.

An agricultural census of Sao Paulo State in 1905, sixty-five per cent of the workforce on 21,000 coffee farms was foreign born. The top 20% of the farmers controlled 83% of the land, produced 75% of the coffee, employed 67% of the agricultural workforce.

Coffee production in Brazil:

  • 1871 3 millions sacks
  • 1900 15 million sacks
  • 1930 25 million sacks
  • 2020 69 million sacks

Coffee production boomed from 1820 onward. By 1830 Brazil produced thirty per cent of the world’s coffee, by 1840 forty per cent.

Little has changed in Brazil, fascist President Bolsonaro is waging a war of genocide against the poor with coronavirus, his supporters evangelicals and wealthy owners of large estates who accrued their wealth through slavery. 

Phyllis Johnson is an African American whose widowed mother worked the family cotton farm in Arkansas in order to support her seven children who studied and graduated. She is President and co-founder and CEO of BD Imports a coffee importer and author of The Triumph: Black Brazilians in Coffee.


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