Brazil: On Women’s day, peasant women struggle against tree plantations
On International Women’s Day in Brazil, once again women lead the struggle against monoculture tree plantations.
Starting in 2006, when close on 2 thousand peasant women from Via Campesina destroyed greenhouses and nearly 8 million eucalyptus saplings belonging to the pulp mill company Aracruz Celulose (see WRM Bulletin No. 104), 8 March has now become a day for mobilization and complaints against monoculture tree plantations.
In the State of Espirito Santo, some 1,300 women from Via Campesina arrived in 14 buses at the port of Portocel (Barra do Riacho) in the north of the State. The port is the property of Aracruz Celulose (together with Japanese pulp producing company, Cenibra) and is the only port in Brazil specializing in loading pulp, with an annual loading capacity of 7.5 million tons of pulp. The operation, which lasted half an hour, stopped for almost five hours the activities of some 50 trucks ready to load pulp. The peasant women also threw paint on bundles of pulp, spoiling approximately two tons. (1)
The operation was aimed at denouncing to society Aracruz Celulose’s appropriation of land. This company is one of the main representatives of agribusiness in the country. Close on 300,000 hectares of land are occupied by eucalyptus plantations to produce pulp for export and part of these thousands of hectares are lands belonging to indigenous, Afro-descendent, fisher-people and riparian communities. Aracruz Celulose also appropriates water: it consumes 248 thousand cubic metres of water per day, equivalent to the consumption of a town of 2.5 million inhabitants. To do this it has diverted part of the Doce River, to the detriment of various local communities (see WRM Bulletin No. 72).
Land occupation by monoculture eucalyptus plantations has been done at the expense of food sovereignty and to the detriment of peasant production. In a booklet recently published by the Espirito Santo Movement of Smallholders (Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores), diversified agriculture is compared to the eucalyptus plantations promoted by these companies (“Um alerta sobre o fomento florestal”: http://www.wrm.org.uy/paises/Brasil/Fomento_Florestal.pdf). The booklet clearly shows that for peasant families, diversified production guarantees healthy food and work for the whole family, while the eucalyptus plantations only cause damage. In spite of this it is the forestry companies that continue to receive the most State support: as an example, the Votorantim group recently received one million dollars to purchase Aracruz shares and save it from possible bankruptcy.
Another of the measures for opposing the expansion of tree plantations took place in the State of Maranhão where 10 or more municipalities have been affected by monoculture eucalyptus plantations. At a landholding of the company Vale do Rio Doce in Açailândia, women from Via Campesina set fire to several bundles of eucalyptus logs. In this area the eucalyptus planted supplies an industrial charcoal factory that is responsible for considerable air pollution, affecting the lives of over 1,800 inhabitants in the neighbouring California Settlement. The company has another 200,000 hectares to be allocated to eucalyptus plantations for supplying the Suzano Papel e Celulose mill to be installed in the region.
The action was taken demanding public policies guaranteeing food and energy sovereignty for the Brazilian people, instead of funding major projects involving international capital that destroy natural resources and do not generate jobs. (2)
Furthermore, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, some 700 peasant women occupied the Ana Paula ranch, belonging to the Votorantim Celulose y Papel (VCP) company, in Candiota. The occupation started by cutting down eucalyptus trees at the establishment and was part of the women of Via Campesina’s National Day for Struggle, aimed at denouncing the consequences of eucalyptus monoculture plantations in the region: lack of water for human consumption and production, desertification and soil acidity, loss of biodiversity with serious consequences on grassland ecosystems. Many neighbours of VCP are already feeling the impacts of the monoculture plantations, such as the drying up of their wells and changes in the fauna, leading to the invasion of animals damaging their crops. (3) However, public money that comes out of the population’s pockets as taxation is still allocated to agribusiness banks and companies that degrade the environment and evict peasants from rural areas and that do not generate employment. The occupation of the Ana Paula ranch was subsequently violently repressed by the Military Brigade.
Other actions carried out by women in Pernambuco, Paraná, São Paulo and Brasilia, denounced the damage caused by major irrigation projects, extensive cattle raising for export at the expense of forests and biodiversity, monoculture plantations of sugar cane, soy beans, eucalyptus, pine; in other words, the expansion of agribusiness. (4)
Brazil has 130,000 landless families organized in camps that are waiting for land rights and over 4 million landless families. “The application of the agrarian reform and the consolidation of the new agricultural model depend on defeating the present model,” warns Itelvina Masioli from Vía Campesina. It is a model that appropriates and dominates water, land, energy sources, minerals, seeds and the whole of biodiversity. The allocation of the Government’s rural credit to agribusiness during this season (2008/09) amounted to some 30 billion dollars, while for family enterprises only some 5.8 billion dollars were allocated.
The Director General of FAO, Jacques Diouf himself, supported the proposals made by Via Campesina. On the second day of mobilizations, Diouf received a peasant delegation in Brasilia and listened to their report on action taken. He declared that their action is “just and necessary.” (5)
Peasant, riparian, extractivist, indigenous, Afro-descendent and landless women want to denounce with their political action the extreme gravity of the situation of rural workers in Brazil. Faced by the repression and criminalization of social struggles, they reaffirm their right to fight in defence of agro-ecology, biodiversity, cooperative peasant farming, the production of healthy food, agrarian reform, land, water, seeds, energy, as assets of nature at the service of human beings. They announce that “we break the silence to salvage our culture and our peasant knowledge, to salvage our Brazil. And for this purpose we call on all the Brazilian people to join the struggle, to unite and build a new development project – benefiting the Brazilian people.” (6)
(1) “Via Campesina occupies Aracruz Celulose’s port”, Gazeta On Line, http://gazetaonline.globo.com/_conteudo/2009/03/64300-via+campesina+ocupa+porto+da+aracruz+celulose.html; “Mulheres da Via Campesina ocupam porto da Aracruz no ES”, MST,http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=6377
(2) “Mulheres queimam toras de eucaliptos da Vale no Maranhão”, MST,
(3) “Trabalhadoras ocupam área da Votorantim no RS”, MST, http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=6381
(4) Mulheres lutam contra agronegócio em quatro regiões, MST, http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=6395
(5) “Diretor-Geral da FAO elogia luta das mulheres camponesas”, MST, http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=6425
(6) “Peasant Women In The Struggle Against Agro-Business, For The Agrarian Reform And Food Sovereignty”,http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=6398