Brazil: An overview of monoculture eucalyptus plantations
Monoculture eucalyptus plantations are advancing over vast areas of the country, occupying traditional peoples’ territories, displacing them, evicting people from rural areas, thus contributing to the creation of poverty belts, with the context of violence and criminality these necessarily imply. And as if this were not enough, they also have their quota of bloodshed.
At 9 o’clock on the evening of 26 February 2007, in the North of Minas Gerais, an armed guard of the V&M FLORESTAL Company – a company that has planted thousands of hectares of eucalyptus in the area – cravenly murdered Antonio Joaquim dos Santos, a 32 year-old farmer and extractivist, who was married and had four children. Joaquim and his daughter Eudisleia were on their way home after gathering firewood for domestic use. Two of V&M’s armed guards, Claudinei and Joãozinho de Carmina, grabbed Antonio Joaquim, tied him up, hit him and then fired two shots into his mouth, all in front of his daughter. This happened in a eucalyptus plantation certified by FSC, which supposedly guarantees management aimed at “maintaining or enhancing the long-term social and economic well being of forest workers and local communities.” According to community members, Antonio Joaquim was gathering firewood from his brother’s property, from where he was taken by the guards who dragged him to the V&M area.
Last year, the Canabra community complained internationally, telling of their troubles and their lack of alternatives as a result of the deforestation of the “cerrados” caused by the V&M Company. This company had cut off the community’s access to firewood and native fruit, in addition to drying up the Canabra River. V&M’s response was to increase their pressure on the community which has been living in terror since then, threatened by armed guards who have taken over the farmers’ carts and implements, have employed verbal and physical violence against the community members and have even put pressure on children bringing home small bundles of firewood on their bikes on their way back from school.
Various social organizations -- Rede Alerta Contra o Deserto Verde (Alert Against the Green Desert Network), CAA NM ( Centre for Alternative Agriculture/Minas Gerais), CPT (Pastoral Land Commission of Minas Gerais State), Fórum Regional de Desenvolvimento Sustentável do Norte de Minas (Regional Forum of Sustainable Development in Northern Minas State), MST (Landless Peasents Movement), ASA Minas Gerais denounced the murder and sought action with official authorities and human rights organizations, demanding immediate and determined intervention against the company’s excesses. They also filed complaints with FSC Brazil and FSC International, asking them to immediately withdraw the Green Label granted to V&M. Coincidentally, the company anticipated affairs and on 15 March communicated its “decision to voluntarily withdraw from FSC after 8 years of very close relationship.” The reason put forth by the company was that it did not agree with the way in which the certifying body (SGS) had carried out its audit.
In the meanwhile, the pulp industry attacks on other fronts. Stora Enso is acquiring land on the west frontier of the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Although it is being cautious - it has declared that “Although we are in a continual process of acquiring land, the possibility of investing in the Stora Enso factory has not yet been decided,” the Swedish-Finnish company’s initial project foresaw the establishment of eucalyptus plantations covering an area of 100 thousand hectares. In order to achieve its objective it is putting pressure on INCRA – the body conducting the process and giving a technical opinion – for it to give a favourable assessment. It is also trying to get the National Congress to change Federal Law 6634/79 – which prevents foreign companies from owning land in frontier areas – to reduce from 150 km to 50 km the distance from the frontier line considered to be frontier zone.
Officially, the company alleges to have 45 thousand hectares in the region, but 2005 data from an official body (FEPAM) indicates this figure as being 60 thousand hectares and other sources affirm that they own as much as 150.000. Regardless of the amount, it is not possible to register it as public opinion was never explained where the land is located.
There are other pulp industry interests advancing in Rio Grande do Sul. The Brazilian industrial company "Votorantim Celulose e Papel" submitted a proposal to the government and to the State of Rio Grande do Sul, to build a new pulp mill near the Laguna Merin. This undertaking, which has the blessing of the governor of the Sate, implies an investment of some US$ 1,800 million. Although the decision concerning the construction of the pulp mill, to be known as Três Lagoas, producing close on one million tons per year when finished in 2010, will be taken in the coming months, the Brazilian government has stated its satisfaction with the installation of the pulp mill.
It has been decided in the State of Rio de Janeiro to review an environmental law, preventing investment in the pulp sector in the region. Presently a new bill is under discussion on commercial tree plantations, which will imply a green light for 14 municipalities in the North and Northeast of the State to become eucalyptus producing areas for pulp, paper and timber companies. For a long time now, large companies in these sectors had stated their interest in investing in the State of Rio. However, a law existed (drawn up by the then state deputy, Carlos Minc, now secretary for the Environment) demanding a compensation that made the projects unviable. In fact, the provisions of Law 4.063/2003 stipulate that for each hundred hectares of commercial plantations, as compensation 30 hectares must be reforested with native species. The proposal of the municipal environmental secretaries (including Minc), is to submit a new bill to the Legislative Assembly, reducing the compensation from 30 to 10 hectares for the North and Northeast areas of the State.
Large scale eucalyptus plantations for export, even when becoming legal will never be morally right. It is immoral to allocate fertile land for this purpose when the people are hungry, when the indigenous peoples, first and eternal owners of these lands are standing on the sides of the roads without their land having been demarcated, when the territories of Afro-Brazilian communities are not legally recognized, when the numbers of landless people are increasing, when there are no conservation units or incentives to production implying nature protection.
As a sample of an alternative model that operates and gives people solutions, last year the Santa María de Ibicui Settlement, established on 6,600 hectares where each family unit possesses half a hectare, produced 80,000 litres of milk per month in addition to maize, watermelon and cassava plantations in smallholdings. The 220 families settled there amount to some 900 – 1,000 people. The adults have employment and generate income for the municipality.
There are alternatives, there are other possible models. What has to be built up is the will to try them. The Brazilian people who resist and build have this will.
Article based on information from: a communiqué by the Alert against the Green Desert Network of 27/02/2007, transmitting the news of the murder of Antonio Joaquim dos Santos, sent by FASE, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; “O tirano projeto da celulose no Rio Grande do Sul - reflexões a partir do Seminário em Manoel Viana”, by Ana Paula Fagundes, e-mail: email@example.com, complete version: Proyectan construir nueva planta de celulosa en Brasil, newspaper La República, Uruguay, February 2007; “Stora Enso prevê uma área de 100 mil hectares para plantar eucaliptos no RS”, 2/3/2007, “Eucalipto no Norte do Rio de Janeiro”, Clipping Service, and “Conjuntura do monocultivo de eucalipto no Rio Grande do Sul e a luta dos movimentos sociais”, by J.H. Hoffmann and Lino De David, all three sent by Joao Pedro Stedile, MST, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org