“A breath of fresh air”? What Lula’s return means for development

Published on 5 December 2022

Despite deep division in the country and close allies of the defeated president Jair Bolsonaro being elected to Congress, Lula’s return to power will see a shake-up of Brazil’s approach to development, leading experts said at a recent IDS event.

This event featured a diverse range of expertise from the field of global governance, climate change, agriculture and human rights, as the panel assessed the likely implications of Lula’s win for development both inside Brazil and across the global South.

An agricultural powerhouse and a key supplier of food, energy and other essential commodities at a time of global price volatility, Brazil is also one of the world’s largest democracies and home to the planet’s most important rainforests both as for carbon storage and biodiversity hot spot. Over the last decade, it moved from its position as an often-admired example of the integration of participatory politics and an exporter of innovative social policies, to become a threat to climate stability and an exemplar of deepening economic inequality.


Lucia Nader, fellow at Open Society Foundations and PhD researcher at IDS, spoke about the human rights situation and the position many civil society organisations are facing:

“There are a lot of new expectations now with Lula becoming president. However, one thing will be the same, as Brazilian human rights activists and civil society organisations we are constantly having to choose where to deploy energy, time and our scarce resources.”

Nader went onto say that civil society continues to face hard decisions of balancing working on national or international issues, and that “these choices will continue under Lula as they have done under Bolsonaro.”


Thomas Patriota, former advisor at Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development and currently a postgraduate researcher at IDS, described how in the first Lula government, agricultural policy was developed a highly participatory way:

“This very participatory approach to the relationship with civil society was taken to the Ministry of Agrarian Development…and basically consultation with social movements with peasant organisations, different farmers’ cooperatives and other confederations was a daily exercise.” This approach looks set to continue in the new government, and Patriota outlined the key civil society groups as: “The two perhaps largest ones are Contag, which is a 12 million strong family farmer labour union. And, MST, the landless workers movement. These groups are currently debating what will be the shape of the newly created Ministry of Agrarian Development.”

Some of the proposals that the Ministry could be looking at include: restarting agrarian reform, having a national food policy on food supply, strengthening agricultural production, strengthening the national agency for food supply and food stocks, and investing in the national agency for research in agronomy.


Mariana Paoli, Global Advocacy Lead at Christian Aid, focusing on climate justice and supporting southern-led climate movements at the international level, including recently at COP27. Speaking from a climate and environmental perspective she said:

“For the past four or five years we have had a very active civil society at the various COPs operating very differently to how governments themselves are acting. When Lula arrived at COP27 it was like a breath of fresh air to many of those operating in the civil society space. He spoke about issues of deforestation, how he wishes Brazil to come back into international spaces and pick back up on key global issues such as reforming the UN Security Council, to end the veto power, as well as wanting to host COP30 and have as the venue the Amazon rainforest. There are however concerns about how much Lula will be able to get done with a resistant Brazilian congress.”


Miguel Loureiro, Research Fellow and course convenor of the MA Governance, Development and Public Policy at IDS speaking about the bureaucratic processes under the new government said:

“We are assuming that there will be an increase in the spaces for dialogue as there was after 2003; but the big difference now is that the actors are much more polarised. The good news, however, is that there is a commodities boom at the moment as there was in the early 2000s in Brazil, so there actually is some money to redistribute.”

Referring to the Senate and Congress, both of which are still controlled by right wing policy makers Loureiro continued, “my fear is that the Workers’ Party might look to their old methods of participatory budgeting for instance and are not ready to adapt and realise that it is a different context to 20 years ago.”


Alex Shankland, Research Fellow in the Power and Popular Politics cluster at IDS, commented on what the election means for indigenous rights.

He argued that there is a need for emphasis on innovation within Brazil, that it is not enough to recreate spaces in the mode they existed when a leftist government was last in power as society and civil society has changed massively in this time.

A good example of this innovation might come from the blueprint for a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples which has been proposed by Lula’s transition team. “It is not the first time it has happened in Latin America, but it is the first time in Brazil,” said Shankland.

“The existing Indigenous Affairs Agency has largely served as a force for control and co-opting the indigenous movement rather than a serious integration of these peoples into policy.” How innovations in the area of indigenous people’s rights happen is a new and exciting area of research to explore, Shankland concluded.


For more information about the topics raised in this seminar please visit the Brazil IDS Initiative homepage.




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