World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: A private sector rationale in forestry training at Viçosa Federal University

Concern over the destruction of forests was already documented at the end of the seventeenth century. Since then, some studiesargued that it was necessary to develop knowledge regarding forest use adapted to the situation of tropical forests considering that the way it was being carried out –as well as the slavery-based approach- were destructive and degenerated national morale. However, these remained as references of historic possibilities that were initiated but never had any effective long-term continuity as Brazilian aristocratic and patriarchal society chose extensive monoculture plantations and an agro-exporting, large landowning and slavery-based economy. This social and economic way of life imposed a utilitarian, immediate and predatory type of relationship between society and nature. 

Regarding forestry matters, this rationale was promoted particularly through public bodies seized by a private rationale, such as the Forestry Service which in 1911 became a major producer and disseminator of Eucaliptus to the detriment of research endeavouring to establish other species for the most diverse purposes.  One of the consequences was that in 1935, the forest cover of Sao Paulo had already shrunk to 26.2%.

Following the same rationale as the Green Revolution, as from the seventies the “forestry sector” ceased being solely the object of specific actions and, in addition to medium and long-term planning, became the object of political actions and programmes involving massive public non-recoverable investments and  tax incentives.  This reveals that Brazilian private “forestry” companies were in fact set up with public money, in return leaving a scourge for thousands of families, in particular for the so-called traditional peoples. 

As a result of this policy, Fanzeres stresses that: “As from that time, a series of conflicts and disputes started, now considered as having a socio-environmental nature.  However, until the return and consolidation of political freedom in Brazil which started in 1985, disputes were maintained of a local and isolated nature.  The memory of those who lived through those times reconstructs the action of the companies or of their intermediaries as being clad in moral or physical violence, even causing the death of many people. Today’s so-called social disputes basically happen because of land appropriation at no cost or at a symbolic price. Indigenous and Quilombola* groups, even less empowered than the rural workers who also occupied these lands without ownership deeds, were also evicted or enclosed by vast expanses of tree plantations. Environmental problems started almost immediately due to felling to replace the native forest, unsuitable for the industrial purposes aimed at, and to the use of chemicals to fight ants and other creatures that attack monoculture tree plantations. The impacts related to water resources clearly showing the socio-environmental combination of damage to human survival and to the native biodiversity, only appeared following the establishment of these plantations.  Presently this is one of the most important issues to be discussed and solved regarding these vast tree plantations.

It is within an international “cold war” climate, an hegemonic conception of the country with a clearly developmental approach – of a technical nature in the case of agrarian sciences – and within the great agitation of the political disputes that subsequently ended in the military, pro-capitalist coup in Brazil, that came recognition of the need for professional training aimed at forestry production issues in the country.

In their works, Ladeira and Ehlers tell us that: “The research institutes and agronomy schools established at the beginning of the twentieth century suffered from the influence of various agreements, for instance, MEC/USAID. Other examples are agreements such as those with the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the US-led Alliance for Progress. These agreements resulted in the donation of scientific equipment, literature, human resources [there were many exchanges between US and Brazilian academics] and financial resources.  The main Brazilian schools of agronomy (ENA, ESALQ, UFP, UFRGS and UFV), under the influence of the North American Purdue, Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina schools, reformulated their curricula, structures and teaching, extension and research methodologies and started favouring areas and disciplines directly and indirectly related with the adaptation and validation of the emerging agricultural model, already conventional in the US and Europe. The professional forestry study programme, set up in 1960, is placed in this context. 

This description reaffirms what is being set out here and what a professional forester, trained in 1976, and interviewed by France Coelho states on depicting the conception of forestry study programmes: At that time, there was what was known as a silviculturist-agronomist. That is to say forestry was pure silviculture. Forest management was completely out of the question. It means that they did not work on forests, they worked on reforestation. Silviculture as “THE ART OF MAKING FORESTS,” but they didn’t work with the forest itself, they did not work with native, natural forests.”

From the start and given the intrinsic and growing relationship with the private sector, the Forestry study programme at Viçosa Federal University has inherited even today all the concepts set out above.  In order to have an idea of what goes on with research at the Department of Forestry at UFV, we have analyzed the participation of each sector in the funding of research recorded by the Department.  Out of the almost twelve million reais [Brazilian currency] invested over the period, 83% originated from some public body and the remaining 17% from private institutions, which is very significant.  However, the private companies also appropriated 53% of the public money allocated to research in the Department. And it should be remembered that what is most expensive is the infrastructure, the payment of salaries and all the investment in training up to a degree, which is not accounted for and is paid out from public money.  

Among the lines of research in the areas of knowledge, we find that that of the environment as a whole, is the only one that does not have most of its resources geared mainly to the private needs of corporate groups.  It is not by chance that the smallest amount of resources is allocated to this area, a scant 13% of all the funds entering the Department for research. 

Regarding the subject of research, although Brazil is a tropical country, 44% of the research projects gather 55% of the resources entering the Department for science and technology development and are allocated to the study of a single species: Eucalyptus sp. It may also be affirmed that there is a direct relationship between investigating technology related to eucalyptus and mainly benefiting private initiative, because out of the 213 research works on the above-mentioned species, 76% of them, that is to say 80% of the resources allocated to this research, give primacy to the private sector’s productive progress. 

Within such context, much confrontation, willpower and courage is necessary, as is being shown by the student movement and other peoples’ social movements, which carry out activist work day by day in the building up and strengthening of their representative bodies at all levels, through assemblies, congresses and various other actions, such as marches, cultural demonstrations adopting the most diverse forms such as occupation of the dean’s office, struggles around the extinction of foundations in universities and attempts to prevent agreements between the universities and these corporations. Furthermore, in a positive struggle, demanding research that effectively benefits traditional and peasant peoples.  

These clashes are inevitable. According to sociologist Francisco de Oliveira this process of privatizing what is public involves the destitution of speech through the demoralization of discourse and disqualification of opponents with the aim of annulling political discussion, “the imposition of a consensus in the way of dictatorships.” And this is easy to be seen within the Department and within the UFV as a whole, when groups opposing this privatizing policy or the hegemonic production model are pejoratively stigmatized as the “eco-bores” or “neo-hippies.” And, when this is not sufficient, with guardianship – through the creation of means to lessen student autonomy – and/or psychological and often physical violence entering on the scene.  

Even so, the struggle for a Democratic and Peoples’ University still continues, particularly in the hearts and minds of combative students organized in their several representative organizations. 


By Professional Forester Vladimir Oganauskas Filho, e-mail:

NOTE: The complete text (in Portuguese) with graphics, tables, bibliographic references and sources may be downloaded from the WRM webpage here.

*Quilombo = Remote places of difficult access where runaway slaves sought refuge. Quilombola people are their descendents.