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AGRICULTURE-BRAZIL: Rural Women Protest Against Pulpwood Plantations

Mario Osava

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Mar 8 2006 (IPS) - International Women’s Day began early for the activists of Vía Campesina, a global movement of peasants and small farmers, in Brazil.

At 2:30 AM local time, 2,000 campesinas (women peasant farmers) occupied a eucalyptus plantation belonging to the Aracruz Celulosa plant, a large Brazilian paper and pulp mill in Barra do Ribeiro, 56 km from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil.

Seven hours later, the Vía Campesina activists marched down Ipiranga Avenue in Porto Alegre, to the Catholic University, where the second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) is taking place Tuesday through Friday, organised by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Also taking part in the march were women from organisations like Brazil’s movement of urban female workers.

The roughly 3,500 demonstrators found the gate to the university closed and guarded by some 20 police officers. But they made it past this first obstacle, with shouts of triumph and the Cuban song “Guajira Guantanamera” blasting out of loudspeakers mounted on a truck accompanying them.

But they did not make it into the building where government officials from some 80 countries and representatives of international bodies are meeting this week in the ICARRD.

Nevertheless, after half an hour of negotiations, a committee of 50 women was allowed into the main auditorium where the conference is taking place, chanting “Agrarian Reform, Urgent and Necessary” and “Women, United, Will Never Be Defeated”.

They read out the Manifesto of Campesina Women “against all forms of violence and exploitation” suffered in Brazil, and in defence of “comprehensive agrarian reform” to secure food sovereignty, and were applauded by the delegations participating in the conference.

They also protested “authoritarian domination” by transnational corporations and the policies of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, while condemning the “green deserts” created by “enormous plantations of eucalyptus, acacia and pine trees,” which are grown to produce paper pulp.

The occupation of the Aracruz plantation was aimed at protesting these fast-growing artificial forests of pulpwood trees, which rapidly exhaust the soil and water reserves.

The women, who drove out to the plantation in buses, occupied the company’s installations, where only one watchman was standing guard, for around 40 minutes, a campesina who took part in the protest with her two teenage sons told IPS. She preferred not to give her name.

The message presented to the company and distributed during the march in Porto Alegre complains about “the damages caused by agribusiness in Brazil: destruction of campesino agriculture, the increase of the concentration of land, unemployment and the rural exodus, and enormous environmental destruction.”

The “green deserts” invade areas that should be targeted by agrarian reform, and are a symbol of agribusiness, which represents “profits for a few and losses for society as a whole,” they maintained.

“The government provides billions of reals (the local currency) in soft credits to transnational corporations that produce for export, to the detriment of food crops for the population, and the environment,” Adriana Maria dos Santos, a coordinator of the Campesina Women’s Movement (MMC), told IPS.

The MMC is one of the Via Campesina member organisations based in Brazil, along with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), the Small Farmers’ Movement and others.

Aracruz is a world leader in the production of bleached eucalyptus pulp, with an annual output of nearly three million tons. The company owns 261,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in three Brazilian states.

Brazil’s state-owned National Economic and Social Development Bank holds a 12.5 percent share in Aracruz, with the remaining shares divided up among two other Brazilian companies and an international bank.

The Brazilian firm Votorantim, whose cellulose and paper division owns 28 percent of the shares in Aracruz, and Finnish-Swedish forestry giant Stora Enso also produce pulp in Rio Grande do Sul and plan to expand their eucalyptus plantations in this southern Brazilian state.

Last year, Stora Enso and Aracruz also opened a pulp plant in the northeastern state of Bahía, producing 900,000 tons of cellulose a year.

One eucalyptus tree consumes 30 litres of water a day, and Rio Grande do Sul – of which Porto Alegre is the capital û is already home to 200,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations geared specifically to pulp production.

“For us, this spells death,” declared the MMC activist, who added that her organisation is a “feminist and socialist” movement that is fighting for agrarian reform as well as an end to violence against women and respect for women’s right to be the legal owners of the land on which they live and work.

In the settlements created as part of the agrarian reform process in Brazil, women hold the deeds to only 12 percent of the land distributed, stressed Marina dos Santos, an MST coordinator. The Brazilian government issued guidelines several years ago for women as well as men to be given legal title to the land they occupy, but the guidelines are not followed in many parts of the country, she added.

Because of this, and in order to guarantee women peasant farmers their right to retirement pensions, a national campaign has been launched to provide women with documents ranging from birth certificates to identification documents to land deeds, explained the MST coordinator.

There are nine million women living in rural Brazil who have no identification documents whatsoever, Adriana Maria dos Santos observed.

Brazilian women also marked International Women’s Day with marches and rallies in numerous cities throughout the country, in which rural women accounted for a large number of the participants.

In Recife, capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, women protested against the violence they are forced to endure. So far this year, 72 women have been murdered in that state alone.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, a total of 10,000 participants were expected for a rally staged by 80 social organisations. One of their demands is the legalisation of abortion. Meanwhile, in Brasilia, the capital, women homemakers voiced their demand for the right to retirement pensions, backed by a petition signed by 1.8 million people.

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