World Rainforest Movement

Aracruz: the naked emperor

Because of Aracruz Celulose’s move to apply for FSC certification for its eucalyptus plantations in the state of Bahia -avoiding at the same time the polemic issue of the dispossesion of Guarani and Tupinikim’s lands as a consequence of the company’s plantations in the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo- a large number of concerned organizations and individuals held a seminar last October in Vitoria, Espirito Santo, to analyse this menacing scenario. Given that the certifying firm SCS had not complied with a number of FSC’s requirements for participation and consultation, on October 22 they addressed a letter to the questioning the partial certification process and requesting the postponement of the consultation meetings (see WRM Bulletin 28).

The postponement of the firm’s planned field audit during the first weeks of November shows that once again the certification process has been delayed, which seems to show that civil society pressure has been successful at least until now. Nevertheless, the fact that SCS has not given any answer to the letter is generating unrest. It remains unclear who decided to delay the process, what is the opinion of FSC-Brasil about the situation, and what is to be expected in the near future.

Resistance to Aracruz’s activities continues. In Bahia, where the company wants the FSC-certification, various organizations are already registering in photos, videos, and interviews a number impacts of its activities. Various impacts caused by Aracruz plantations in Espirito Santo have already been documented and more work is being done in this regard. A new letter to SCS as well as to FSC-Brasil is also being prepared.

Within this framework, Aracruz continues trying to convince public opinion and authorities that its plantation activities do not cause any negative environmental impacts. At the end of November the firm received the visit of agronomist Almir Bressan of the Ministry of the Environment and biologist Pedro Burnier from the Ministry of Agriculture in its 286 hectare “micro basin” experimental plot in Espirito Santo, where Aracruz is planning to double the actual plantation area of 175,000 hectares within a period of ten years. There the company has allegedly performed environmental impact assessments of eucalyptus monocultures on the hydrologic cycle and their relationship with neighbouring ecosystems, as the disappearing mata atlantica forest. According to Aracruz, the results of the hydrological balance control have shown that the hydrological deficit provoked by the eucalyptus plantation is similar to that registered in the mata atlantica forest.

What Aracruz does not say, however, is that the “micro basin” plot was only established in 1994 -when eucalyptus had been already planted on a massive scale in the region- thus disregarding that impacts on the local water resources had already began to occur before the beginning of this watershed experiment. It also states that its research has found very small differences between the water balance in eucalyptus plantations and that of neighbouring native forests. It does not, however, provide the information and only gives some figures for the year October 1995-October 1996. When information is specifically requested -as we did in 1997- the answer is that all the information is available … at IBAMA in Brasilia! Aspects related to the scale of the project are not taken on board, since what has been allegedly proven for a small area can be totally inapplicable for 350,000 hectares, which is the total area that the company is planning to occupy with eucalyptus monocultures in the next ten years. Last but not least, it is important to remember that environmental impact assessments are never neutral. As a token of the latter, it is interesting to point out that the above mentioned Mr Burnier -who will be one of the people in charge of giving or denying the necessary permission for the extension of Aracruz’s plantations in Espirito Santo- was one of the company’s Directors until some time ago.

In spite of all its “micro basin” studies and its hired academics, the fact is that “macro basin” realities show a totally different picture. Anyone who visits the region accompanied by local people can see the numerous streams that have dried up -where they used to bathe and fish- can see the equally dried up wells and that even a river -the San Domingos- has stopped flowing. And that all this happened after Aracruz began planting eucalyptus. Aracruz is obviously trying to hide reality under a scientific dressing. But in spite of all its efforts, the emperor remains -as in the story- naked.

Sources: CIMI-Espirito Santo, 23/11/99; “Aracruz defende eucalipto integrado a Mata Atlantica”, Berardo Hisas, Gazeta Mercantil, 22/11/99; The environmental and social effects of corporate environmentalism in the Brazilian market pulp industry, Ricardo Carrere, 1997.