World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: Social organizations in Bahia demand a moratorium on eucalyptus plantations

The Government of the State of Bahia, through the Centre for Environmental Resources, (CRA) held a seminar on 7 and 8 November with the purpose of “initiating a process of discussion and reflection on the environmental, social and economic prospects of eucalyptus plantations in the South and Extreme South of the State, taking a territorial approach as a basis, centring on the construction and consolidation of public policies for the region.”  This event represented the continuity of a process of discussion launched in June this year by the CRA, seeking participative and negotiated solutions for the main environmental and socio-economic conflicts associated with this activity in the region.

Many people were present, including representatives of pulp companies, representatives of some Municipal governments, the Environmental Forum (a forum sponsored by the pulp companies with participation of some NGOs) and the Socio-Environmental Forum of the Extreme South (including Social Movements, Trade Unions and NGOs).

The presentation made by CRA was timid, but included figures that were very different from the previous ones. Civil society knows that they do not yet correspond to the true situation in the region. The institution even admits that various properties with eucalyptus plantations do not possess a registered legal reserve as required by the legislation, that are also part of the conditions for the authorization to implement the project. According to the State Public Ministry, represented by Dr. Sérgio Mendes, the CRA does not have the capacity to control, follow-up and demand that at least this requirement be fulfilled.

The CRA also invited lecturers from various areas, Professor Fernando Pedrão, an economist from the Institute of Social Research, spoke about the economic development model based on the exploitation of natural resources, land expropriation and large landed estates, with the consent of the Federal and State governments. Professor Pedro Rocha, from the Biology Institute of the Federal University of Bahia, clearly showed the negative impacts of monoculture eucalyptus plantations in the Extreme South of Bahia on the local fauna and flora, the disappearance of some species and the great effort that the remaining species must make to survive. According to the professor, many species do not even cross the eucalyptus plantations.

Walter de Paula Lima, Full Professor at the Department of Forestry Sciences of the University of Sao Paulo, an old acquaintance of member organizations of the Socio-Environmental Forum of the Extreme South for having taken part in the implementation of the Veracruz Florestal project, today known as Veracel Celulose. He provided data and information from South Africa dated 1997, and made comparisons between eucalyptus plantations and grasslands. During his presentation he criticised the banners in protest borne by the social movement organizations, scattered around the auditorium. In his presentation he mentioned the slogan “Eucalyptus are not edible” used by the Landless Rural Worker Movement (MST) in Bahia in 2005 when it occupied an area of Veracel Celulose as a protest over the lack of an Agrarian Reform policy in the State of Bahia. He affirmed that we must be careful with these slogans, because behind the banners there are always “other” intentions. He laughed at the demonstrators, looking down on them and showing a total lack of respect for those present.

During the debate, many people had the opportunity to show their indignation. Melquíades, a member of CEPEDES, brought up the issue of de Paula Lima’s participation –through a technical report- in the implementation of the Veracel project, and described the project’s irregularities and fraud in the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out by the pulp company.  He revealed that a number of pages from de Paula Lima’s book had even been copied by the authors of the document as if they had been written by them. He also showed that the information used in Professor Lima’s presentation was outdated and that any rural worker knows that monoculture eucalyptus plantations deplete water resources, dry up the soil and eliminate biodiversity, in line with what Professor Pedro Rocha from the Biology Institute of the Federal University of Bahia stated in his presentation. Melquíades also highlighted the Professor’s lack of respect towards the social movements and said that many things are hidden under the words expressed in the meeting, such as hunger, violence, lack of respect, non-compliance with legislation and that behind the scientific evidence presented by the Professor there is funding from pulp and paper companies such as Aracruz, Suzano, Bahia Sul and Stora Enso.

The following day was the turn of civil society. Father Jose presented a document on behalf the Socio-Environmental Forum of the Extreme South, asking for a moratorium on eucalyptus plantations, considering that the body responsible for authorizing plantations has admitted that it does not have the capacity to act according to the dictates of the laws, on affirming that they only have 20 technicians to cover the whole of the State of Bahia.


Twenty years ago, during the second half of the eighties, public hearings were held for the first pulp and paper company, Bahia Sul Celulose. A small group of people had prepared themselves well to make a critical follow-up of the implantation of this first “Development Plan” for the Extreme South region, participating in all the public hearings regarding Localization, Implantation and Operation.

Right from the start we always demanded compliance with existing laws. In this way, at all these hearings we asked for an Ecological Economic Zoning (EEZ) to be prepared before anything else, with the participation of representatives of the Extreme South community. This was because both the representatives of the company and the Government confirmed that an EEZ was not only important but necessary to guarantee sustainable development. On 7 February 2001, State Environmental Legislation 7799 was created, contemplating this request in chapter IV of Environmental Zoning, article 42, which states that: “Environmental Zoning, prepared by the Public Powers, at State and Municipal level in their respective fields of authority, is aimed at harmonizing public policies with environmental policy, oriented towards socio-economic development, in order to guarantee environmental quality and the distribution of social benefits.”

Additionally, we sought fundaments in the Federal Constitution, which set out that it is the common responsibility of the Union, the States, the Federal District and the Municipalities:

–  “To protect the environment ….” CF/88, article 23, subsection VI

– “To preserve forests, fauna and flora…” CF/88, article 23, subsection VII

– “To promote farming and cattle-raising and organize food supply”. (CF/88, article 23, subsection VIII)

Later we attended all the Aracruz and Veracel public hearings (for Localization, Implantation and Operation), at the time that the three companies requested the “International Green Label.” At all these meetings we denounced irregularities, non-compliance with the laws, and every time we requested, calmly and politely, that the EEZ be prepared.  We would like to remind people here, that at one point, when we denounced that a stream had dried up, the reply by the certifying company was “the stream is not within the area of the company!” (As if eucalyptus trees were only to consume water from the place where they are planted!).

During the last major “public hearing” organized by IBAMA in 2005, here again in Porto Seguro, we gave out dozens of photos proving irregularities, we provided GPS positioning to facilitate monitoring, again requesting the EEZ … and we are still waiting, at least for a reply.  In the knowledge that this Seminar should also indicate guidelines for environmental authorization and the Ecological-Economic Zoning of the region, according to the invitation we received from the CRA, we have again come to take part in this seminar on the issue of monoculture eucalyptus plantations, but not to request an EEZ because it is already too late.   Merely for illustrative purposes, a few days ago, when we went out to the countryside we observed the following: along the road, where on one side was a monoculture sugar cane plantation and on the other, a eucalyptus plantation, we found an undernourished and anguished cow that had just given birth to a calf. Surrounding the calf were at least 50 vultures attacking it while the mother was too weak to defend her baby. The disappearance of streams and rivulets, “water holes” and the changes in fauna and flora, make the hungry vultures attack new-born calves to feed themselves.

This is not the first time either that we hear the illustrious Professor Walter de Paula Lima here in the region. He, like other illustrious professors have visited us several times. Over all these years we too have informed ourselves. We have discovered that in spite of the arguments in the old controversy over the environmental effects of monoculture eucalyptus plantations – usually based on scientific work sponsored by the large companies that carry out industrial exploitation of eucalyptus trees – endeavouring to place on the list of simple “myths” the curses caused by monoculture eucalyptus plantations to soil fertility and water springs, that there is also a vast amount of world literature proving at least, the following basic points:

1) The high demand for water in fast growing monoculture eucalyptus plantations can deplete soil humidity and damage groundwater recharge, unbalancing the water cycle.

2) High nutrient absorption in fast growing monoculture eucalyptus plantations may generate a great deficit in the soil, destabilizing the nutrient cycle.

3) The liberation of chemical substances or the alelopathic effects on micro-fauna may affect growth of other plants and micro-organisms thus further diminishing soil fertility.

4) Genetically modified trees are a definite threat to still existing native forests.

5) For the local species of fauna, monoculture eucalyptus plantations are food deserts, which is the reason for their disappearance.

6)  The problem of the effluents from pulp mills using the ECF system (Free from Elemental Chlorine) to bleach pulp and containing organichloride compounds (dioxins and furans), which are persistent cancerigenic substances, with the capacity to accumulate in animal organisms, causing cancer, hormone and neurological disorders, infertility, diabetes and weakness of the immunological system.

In view of the above and CONSIDERING that “everyone has the right to receive information from public bodies of their particular interest or of collective or general interest, which shall be provided within the term foreseen by the law, under penalty of responsibility…” (Federal Constitution art., 5º, subsector XXXIII)


A) A COMPLETE REPORT from the State bodies responsible for the environment, identifying those responsible for technical inspection, in addition to the instruments and methodology applied for inspections in the South and Extreme South region of Bahia.

B) A COMPLETE REPORT on monitoring, research and surveys made by these bodies over the past 15 years in the South and Extreme South region of the State, in monoculture eucalyptus plantations, including: Name of State entity, Name of the responsible person, Type of work (monitoring, survey or research), places where it was carried out, participation of third parties and the results of these works regarding:

1) The impacts of monoculture eucalyptus plantations on water, such as:

– the level of the water table.

– poisoning of the water table.

– disappearance of streams and rivulets in the region

2) The impact of eucalyptus plantations on the soil because of alelopathy:

– where are the points/places to verify the impacts of alelopathy?

– which toxic substances were found?

– what has been the loss of soil, nutrients and soil fertility due to erosion during the period the soil was left with no cover?

3) Fauna and biological imbalance in monoculture eucalyptus plantations:

– what fauna-related research and surveys have been carried out in the eucalyptus plantation

– what were the results?

4) Flora in monoculture eucalyptus plantations and in the region and mainly soil fauna:

– What toxic elements are being found in the soil in monoculture eucalyptus plantations and what other changes have there been in the flora in plantations and around them?

– Which are the differences between the soil fauna in monoculture eucalyptus plantations and in other plantations?

– What adaptations have been made by the companies to the physical, chemical, biological and hydrological properties of the existing ecosystems, in order to minimize noxious effects?

5) Plantations of manipulated and/or genetically modified trees:

– At a meeting in Eunápolis with Deputy Zilton Rocha, then president of the Environment Commission of the Legislative Assembly, representatives of Veracel admitted that they have been making alterations with genetic modifications to prevent the trees from flowering. In addition to this, we have observed on many occasions and in different places, diseases in a large part of the eucalyptus plantations. How is the State following up on plantations of manipulated and genetically modified trees?

The State of Bahia also has the duty to clarify to society the following issues:

I) Until the sixties, monoculture eucalyptus productivity was 20 m3 ha/year of timber, which increased to 40 m3 ha/year in the eighties. Today, there is talk of a production of up to 60 m3 ha/year. Does this increase in production per hectare further accelerate the process of desertification, depleting the soil even faster? Does this increase in production per hectare justify the amount of land that the companies are occupying to reach the production of timber established in the requests for authorization submitted to public bodies?   What has the State done to monitor and control this brutal and unlimited soil exploitation in the region? What surveys have been made in this respect and what have been the results?

II) SUZANO increased production of its factory in Mucuri from 680,000 to 1,680,000 Ton/Pulp/Year. In order to produce 680,000 ton/year it required an EIA/IIA, and also Public Hearings. In the almost triplication of production, there have been no EIA, nor IIA, nor Public Hearings. Triplication of production implies, among other negative impacts, to triple the amount of water consumed during the process, the need to increase the capacity of the Water Treatment station, the need to control and make the generating company responsible for the solid and industrial waste generated during the production process, particularly special waste and agrochemical containers, among other factors. How has the State resolved the authorization and the triplication of this Company’s production? What were the problems this caused to the already critical situation of the Mucuri River? What surveys were made in this respect and what were the results?

III) We would also like to receive a report on how many times the State has analyzed the effluents of the Suzano and Veracel pulp mills and on how it is addressing the final disposal of this highly toxic waste.

IV) As the industry usually invokes to its benefit the creation of new work stations, it is necessary for these figures to be made known and to be analyzed by local society and compared with the negative social impacts on family and peasant farming.  It is urgent to question whether the DRT (Regional Labour Delegation) has satisfactorily fulfilled its role as monitor. The labour health plan and other factors related with the labour environment must be made known.

V) It is well-known by all that the large corporations only establish themselves in developing countries, through tax breaks and incentives, while the national micro, small and medium-sized companies must pay all duties, generating a perverse concentration of wealth precisely in the hands of the richer and more powerful sector of society. We need to know the tax instruments in force and their representation in the economic growth model defended by these companies.

The unchecked expansion of monoculture eucalyptus plantations is also causing socio-environmental conflicts and violations to human rights.  We do not have the time to give details of these facts, but it is essential to record the illegal occupation of indigenous peoples’ land, the lack of respect of the rights of the still remaining peoples from the quilombos (communities of descendants of runaway African slaves); the aggravation of family and peasant farming conditions; the paralysation of the Agrarian Reform, the constant increase in the price of land in the region; the growing slum-like conditions of the population evicted to the city belts, where they are obliged to survive under subhuman conditions; the lack of supply and food insecurity, caused by the drop in farming families, the exaggerated allocation of land for monoculture plantations and finally, the lack of adoption of affirmative action towards sustainable and inclusive development.

Considering that it is the common responsibility of the Union, the States and the Federal District and Municipalities to:

– “Protect the environment…” CF/88, article 23, subsection VI

– “Preserve forests, fauna and flora” CF/88, article 23, subsection VII

– “Foster the production of agriculture and livestock and organize food supply” (CF/88, article 23, subsection VIII)

We request information on what the State and the Municipalities have done to comply with the Federal Constitution of 1988, article 23, subsection VIII.


Finally, an additional observation is essential: humbly, we do not believe that the State has the human and physical conditions required to fulfil its role: That of guaranteeing a sustainable environment for the present and future population.

During various meetings, the Director of CRA, Mrs. Bete Wagner, told us that on taking up the direction of the State environmental body, she found that she only had 20 environmental technicians for the whole State, and only 3 engineers specialized in public health, having to make temporary contracts to double this figure, while waiting for the 2008 public prequalification process.

Faced with this terrifying picture, the conclusion is obvious: that the State is not prepared to assess and resolve on activities having a highly negative environmental impact. Therefore, we beg for the immediate paralysation of any authorization for new monoculture eucalyptus plantations (a moratorium on eucalyptus plantations), until the State is in the necessary condition to guarantee a healthy environment now, and in the future for the population of Bahia, ensuring the participation of civil society in all stages of monitoring.

In our opinion, most of the Extreme South of Bahia is already “HOSTAGE” to the pulp and paper companies and the South of Bahia is heading towards the same fate, and this is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE.

Porto Seguro, 18 November 2007

Socio-Environmental Forum of the South and Extreme South of Bahia