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By Camila Moreno
Brazil is globally considered an exemplary case and "way forward" when talking about the success of agrofuels. Social movements and organizations in Brazil are opposed to the idea of classifying the energy generated by sugarcane as “clean”, as its social and environmental impacts are increasingly devastating.
Brazil is globally considered an exemplary case and "way forward" when talking about the success of agrofuels. It is a pity that the governments that affirm this to promote the Brazilian model in their countries insist on ignoring the high social and environmental cost of the cane ethanol model.
In Brazil, for more than 30 years we have regularly used sugarcane ethanol as fuel, both pure and additive in a proportion of 25 percent mixed in all gasoline marketed in the country. In addition, the country's ethanol exports are the largest in the world and are growing year after year - they totaled 5.16 billion liters in 2008, 47 percent more than the 3.5 billion in 2007 -; This trade is operated by companies such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Bunge, which dispute control of the market. The main export destination is the United States.
We also use cane bagasse (the biomass that remains after grinding) to generate bioelectricity and a pioneering biorefinery was recently inaugurated, which makes plastic from cane. Agroenergy is growing so much that in 2008 that generated from sugar cane is already the second most important source of energy in the country (representing 16 percent of the total); it is after oil (which contributes 36.7 percent) and above hydroelectricity (14.7 percent).
Social movements and organizations in Brazil are opposed to the idea of classifying the energy generated by sugarcane as “clean”, as its social and environmental impacts are increasingly devastating.
In the end, what is the model that sustains the gigantic economic engine of Made in Brazil cane ethanol?
Sugarcane is a star crop among biofuels and to a large extent this has to do with the fact that it is the most advanced in the transition to the so-called “second generation biofuels”, cellulosic ethanol. Sugarcane continues to grow and occupy the best lands. Leader in expanding crops, it advanced 8.6 percent in area between 2007 and 2008 to add almost seven million hectares. Production is an agribusiness based on large estates, always integrated into powerful economic groups. With the strategy that the country remains as a leader in exports, cartels are being created, regions of control of each company or investment fund linked to a group of industrial plants, each with areas of 200,000 to 500,000 hectares. It is something of an industrial scale and increasingly massive to serve the external market.
If it is true that when there is smoke, there is fire, also where there is cane, there are cane fields ... And then, transnationals.
On the fuel market side - in this case, ethanol - the US multinational Monsanto announced in November of last year that it added sugar cane to its main business line; noted that: “along with soybeans, sorghum and cotton, sugarcane is now a global commodity”; today the demand for cane ethanol has exceeded production.
This announcement by Monsanto came after the purchase, for 290 million dollars, of two biotechnology companies that were previously Brazilian: CanaVialis, SA, of sugarcane seed technology. which is the world's largest private company in this area, with contracts with 46 Brazilian sugar mills that produce in an area of 1.1 million hectares, about 20 percent of the total national sugarcane area, and Alellyx, SA, a company of applied genetics that is dedicated to the development of varieties of sugar cane and transgenic eucalyptus. The two companies had a contract with Monsanto since 2007 to develop GM RR cane, tolerant to Monsanto's Round up Ready herbicide. The company affirms that it intends to use the technology developed by Brazilian companies, which add to their knowledge in the area, to place higher productivity sugarcane seeds on the world market by 2016.
It is serious that this Brazilian model is exported as something special, when it is nothing more than the same: agribusiness, monoculture and transnational corporations. What is also worrying is that the cultivation of agrofuels constitutes, as can be seen with sugarcane, a new and gigantic frontier for the expansion of transgenics, whose risks and impacts are worrying and generating an increasingly generalized rejection, and that erode more and more sovereignty over strategic resources.
There is well-documented information and public statements, as well as investigations, videos and complaints with which the peasant movements, environmental organizations, human rights groups, unions, universities and churches in the country have come together rejecting the green image that Brazil sells to the world about the ethanol it produces.
Brazil's ethanol is seen by Brazilian civil society as a symbol of environmental degradation: increased cost and speculation with land caused by the expulsion of peasants from agricultural surfaces, soil contamination and excessive use of water, increased use of pesticides, emissions and smoke with burning –which makes regions with large areas with plantations (such as the state of São Paulo) present respiratory diseases in the general population in addition to affecting workers.
From the social, labor and employment point of view, only 25 percent of the cane is harvested mechanically, 75 percent of the area of more than seven million hectares is cut by hand, with an army of young workers and submissive migrants. to precarious jobs, often in degrading conditions and it is not uncommon to find cases of slave labor or debt peonage.
Based on our concrete experience of the impacts on our territory, in Brazil we have discussed a lot, and we continue to do so among critical organizations and movements, to clearly define the conditions that should have “alternative” forms of biomass use. We believe that it is possible to work with agroenergy on a small scale and with the logic of self-sufficiency and for local markets, but this process must be inserted in a deeper framework of jointly debating another energy and society model, with a drastic restructuring of priorities .
Without another orientation, using agroenergy to supply this same agro-export industrial model that sustains this modern and consumerist society that has generated climate change, can only lead us to make medicine worse than disease. We cannot take more risks. Real solutions have to be found, mainly those on a human scale.
Unfortunately, the general trend is for clean and “alternative” energy to be sold more like a business, without discussing its production and application and, above all, leaving, above all, that the usual corporate actors in agriculture continue to appropriate and control from its origin production processes, as Monsanto now does with agroenergy.
Terra do Direitos / The Field Day