Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Biofuels Company Backs Down on Controversial Sugar Cane Plan in Brazil

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Raizen, a joint venture of oil giant Shell and Brazilian energy company Cosan, has agreed to give up its plans to buy sugar cane grown on Indigenous lands in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The deal was reached after months of campaigning by Guarani farmers and Indigenous rights organization Survival International, as well as pressure from Brazilian authorities.

Raizen, which was established in 2010 and produces 2.2 billion liters of ethanol annually, had been obtaining some of the sugar cane used for its ethanol production on land claimed by the Guarani in Mato Grosso. In the agreement signed yesterday with Indigenous affairs body Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI), which will go into effect this November, Raizen promised not to source sugar cane from any lands declared by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice as belonging to Indigenous tribes. It also promised to consult FUNAI to avoid further investment or expansion in conflict areas that might be recognized as Indigenous lands in the future. The company said in a statement that the decision reflected its “commitment to combine sustainable development with the well-being of the local communities,” and that it hoped its withdrawal would be used “as a good example for other companies to follow.”

Guarani leaders and Indigenous rights activists have welcomed the news. Survival International director Stephen Corry said,“Raizen’s decision is excellent news for the Guarani, who have been…squeezed off their land by sugar cane production.”  Valdelice Veron, a Guarani Indian living in Mato Grosso, said the rivers in her community had been polluted by pesticides, but now “we will be able to drink from our land again.”

It is highly unusual for a major company to back down on business opportunities on Indigenous land, but pressure has mounted as tensions between the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and large-scale farmers have increased and violent clashes erupted—including the death last year of Guarani leader Nísio Gomez. Conflicts over Indigenous-claimed lands and the resources on them remain a major unsolved issue in Brazil ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, the high-level meetings of which are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro next week.

Tags: energy, Indigenous Rights, land and water use
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