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The impact of agro-fuels on the Guarani-Kaiowá

The impact of agro-fuels on the Guarani-Kaiowá

Bioethanol is one of the three first generation existing agro-fuel branches (agro-fuel being a better term than “biofuels”, which is more ambiguous and suggests that they are organic). It is derived from sugar plantations (including sugar cane plantations in Brazil), then incorporated in fuel up to 5 to 85%.

Agro-fuels represent an all the more crucial stake because global production has been multiplied by 6 between 2000 and 2010 (from 16 Mm3 to 100 Mm3) and should keep growing until 2020 (multiplied by three in Europe). Indeed, by the end of 2000, global demand had exploded, leading local authorities in Mato Grosso do Sul to commit to a five-year plan for installing forty three new ethanol factories, on top of the eleven preexisting.

Behind the appearances of a new Brazilian “green fuel” Eldorado, and behind the economical and political elite’s arrogant fortunes in the Mato Grosso do Sul state, hides the dramatic reality of the Guarani-Kaiowá people. In 2011, they were approximately 13 000 natives, for the most part from this ethnic group, working in sugar cane plantations or ethanol factories, under conditions similar to slavery. It has thus been estimated that the daily effort put into plantations – up to 10 000 machete blows – is equal to a day of marathon. Rarely can a body stand it for more than fifteen years. Given the ethanol boom, encouraged by Lula da Silva (President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011), assassinations, land grabbing, malnutrition, health issues, poor housing, work injuries, and unpaid salaries have become part of the Guarani-Kaiowá’s daily life.

Not only does it take their land away from the Guarani-Kaiowá, leading to malnutrition, misery, violence and alcoholism, but working outside the village dismantles the natives’ traditional lifestyle, including their food production, given that they have no other alternatives to becoming entirely dependent on random public help and governmental food rations.

A great number of multinationals are at the source of the Guarani-Kaiowá’s misfortune. Their activity worsens land disputes. Indeed, in Mato Grosso do Sul, transnational companies such as Raizen, Dreyfuss, Bunge, Syngenta or Louis Dreyfus Commodities (through its subsidiary Bioenergia), exploit territories belonging to the Guarani-Kaiowá already recognized or in the process of demarcation. Speculation on the land market also encourages repression against rural communities, keeps indigenous constitutional rights from being respected on their land, and therefore contributes to their exploitation. In November 2009, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, administering 340 000 hectares and employing nearly 20 000 people in all of Brazil, was sentenced for illegal workforce subcontracting and violation of labor law.

Human rights violations by companies go together with irreparable damage to the environment, their intensive monocultures accelerate, through deforestation and herbicides, the destruction of the Cerrado from the Mato Grosso, an ecosystem known as the “land of water”, due to its supply to major hydrographic network, home to most endangered species.

The environmental record of agro-fuels is far from the sustainability results initially promised and announced: low output of the alcoholic fermentation, for important greenhouse gas emissions (deforestation, fermentation producing carbon dioxide, and burning before harvest to eliminate cutting leaves detrimental to cutting results).

As if this weren’t enough, the explosion in the production of agro-fuels in Brazil has an immense impact on the price of foodstuffs. Indeed, water and earth, two limited natural resources, are used to fill car tanks and other means of transportation, when instead they should allow to feed world populations, part of which are suffering from hunger – and among them, the Guarani-Kaiowá are in the frontline of victims.

The European Union, after actively pushing their development, is on the verge of slowing down bio-fuels, by capping their use and forcing industries to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions. “The signal is clear, but the reform is too shy” according to Robbie Blake, from the NGO Les Amis de la Terre. Betting so much on agro-fuels could be a mistake leading to the eradication of the Guarani- Kaiowá.

© Planète Amazone - translated by Camille Guibal

Date : 23/07/2015