World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: Peasant women’s action against monoculture eucalyptus plantations on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day had an unusual celebration in Brazil. At dawn on 8 March, close on 2 thousand women farmers linked to the Via Campesina organization took lightening action at the facilities of the Aracruz Celulose pulp mill company in the Municipality of Barra do Ribeiro near Porto Alegre. The Barba Negra establishment is the main production unit for eucalyptus and pine seedlings to supply their Guaiba factory. It even has a laboratory for cloning seedlings.

The expansion of monoculture eucalyptus plantations in the State of Rio Grande do Sul has been transforming the region into an unproductive “green desert” from the standpoint of food sovereignty. According to Cristiane Gomes, the MST national coordinator, criticism of the “green deserts” covering vast stretches of land that could be used for the production of food for families awaiting the agrarian reform, is getting stronger among social movements. Furthermore, industrial plantations of eucalyptus deteriorate the soil and consume great amounts of water: each eucalyptus tree can consume 30 litres of water per day.

The Aracruz Celulose Company owns the greatest expanse of industrial eucalyptus monoculture plantations: over 250 thousand hectares planted on its own lands; in Rio Grande do Sul alone it has 50 thousand hectares. With two other companies –Votorantim and Stora Enso- the area covered by eucalyptus in the State is close on 250,000 hectares. The factories of Aracruz Celulose produce 2.4 million tons per year of bleached pulp, contaminating the air and the water and damaging human health.

According to Vía Campesina, eucalyptus plantations generate one job per 185 hectares, while small properties generate one job per hectare. However, Aracruz Celulose is the agro-industrial company receiving the greatest amount of public funds – close on 1,000 million dollars over the past three years.

“If the green desert continues to grow, shortly we will be lacking drinking water and land to produce food. We cannot understand how a government that wants to end hunger is sponsoring the green desert instead of investing in the Agrarian Reform and Peasant Agriculture,” states the Via Campesina declaration, specially prepared to be given to the participants at FAO’s Second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development.

As a reaction to this process, 37 coach loads of women arrived at the nurseries where the company prepares eucalyptus seedlings for the gigantic industrial plantations that supply their pulp production. At dawn and during 20 minutes, the group destroyed various greenhouses and approximately 8 million eucalyptus seedlings. They then returned to Porto Alegre to take part in the march organized by Vía Campesina to commemorate International Women’s Day.

Together with close on 1,500 members of the Via Campesina Brasil camp set up that week in conjunction with the above mentioned Conference, they marched some 5 kilometres to the place where the FAO event was taking place to submit their declaration on agrarian reform and rural development to the representatives of 81 countries present there. When they arrived, the Military Police tried to prevent the women from approaching the entry. Finally, the representatives of the Ministry of Agrarian Development and FAO obtained permission for 50 representatives to enter the meeting. The Minister of Zimbabwe, who was chairing the plenary, interrupted the session to give the floor to two Via Campesina militants, who read out the movement’s declaration.

“We are against green deserts, the enormous plantations of eucalyptus, acacia and pine trees for pulp covering thousands of hectares in Brazil and in Latin America. In the State of Rio Grande do Sul alone there are already 200 thousand hectares of eucalyptus plantations. Where the green desert advances, biodiversity is destroyed, soil is eroded, rivers dry up, in addition to the enormous contamination generated by the pulp mills affecting the atmosphere and the water and threatening human health,” affirmed the women in the Via Campesina declaration. They also expressed their solidarity with the indigenous peoples whose lands were invaded by Aracruz Celulose in the State of Espirito Santo (see WRM Bulletin No. 102).

The women’s action resulted in angry protests from different government officials and in similar reactions from the main media and even from some non governmental organizations. However, when Aracruz robs their lands and forcibly evicts the Tupinikim and Guarani indigenous peoples, when the company occupies thousands of hectares or productive land and plants them with eucalyptus, when those plantations deplete the local water resources, when its pulp mills pollute water, it does it with the government’s blessing and without opposition from that media or from those organizations that today are attacking the Via Campesina women’s action. The real question should then be: who attacked first?

Article based on information from: “[8 DE MARÇO] Mulheres da Via Campesina ocupam fazenda da Aracruz no RS”, Vía Campesina, 08/03/2006,; “As lágrimas da Aracruz e a coragem das mulheres camponesas”, Cristiano Navarro, Conselho Indigenista Missionário,

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