Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:39:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Brazilian Dams Accused of Aggravating Floods in Bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:42:11 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133433 Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept. Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo […]

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A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept.

Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built by Brazil, which they blame for the disaster that has already cost 59 lives in Bolivia and material losses of 111 million dollars this year, according to the Fundación Milenio.

Bolivian President Evo Morales himself added his voice on Wednesday Apr. 2 to the choir of those who suspect that the two dams have had to do with the flooding in the Amazon region. “An in-depth investigation is needed to assess whether the Brazilian hydropower plants are playing a role in this,” he said.

The president instructed the foreign ministry to lead the inquiry. “There is a preliminary report that has caused a great deal of concern…and must be verified in a joint effort by the two countries.”

Some 30,000 families living in one-third of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities have experienced unprecedented flooding in the country’s Amazon valleys, lowlands and plains, and the attempt to identify who is responsible has become a diplomatic and political issue.

Environmentalists argue that among those responsible are the dams built in the Brazilian state of Rondônia on the Madeira river, the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, whose watershed is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

In Bolivia – where the Madeira (or Madera in Spanish) emerges – some 250 rivers that originate in the Andes highlands and valleys flow into it.

“It was already known that the Jirau and San Antonio [as it is known in Bolivia] dams would turn into a plug stopping up the water of the rivers that are tributaries of the Madera,” independent environmentalist Teresa Flores told IPS.

“Construction of a dam causes water levels to rise over the natural levels and as a consequence slows down the river flow,” the vice president of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), Patricia Molina, told IPS.

Her assertion was based on the study “The impact of the Madera river dams in Bolivia”, published by FOBOMADE in 2008.

“The Madera dams will cause flooding; the loss of chestnut forests, native flora and fauna, and fish; the appearance and recurrence of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue; the displacement of people, increased poverty and the disappearance of entire communities,” the study says.

“Considering all of the information provided by environmental activists in Brazil and Bolivia, by late 2013 everything seemed to indicate that the elements for a major environmental disaster were in place,” Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA) researcher Marco Octavio Ribera wrote in an article published Feb. 22.

But Víctor Paranhos, the head of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) sustainable energy consortium, rejected the allegations.

The dams neither cause nor aggravate flooding in Bolivia “because they are run-of-the-river plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and the dams are many kilometres from the border,” he told IPS.

In his view, “what’s going on here is that it has never rained so much” in the Bolivian region in question. The flow in the Madeira river, which in Jirau reached a maximum of “nearly 46,000 cubic metres per second, has now reached 54,350 cubic metres per second,” he added.

Moreover, the flooding has covered a large part of the national territory in Bolivia, not only near the Madeira river dams, he pointed out.

The ESBR holds the concession for the Jirau hydropower plant, which is located 80 km from the Bolivian border. The group is headed by the French-Belgium utility GDF Suez and includes two public enterprises from Brazil as well as Mizha Energia, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui.

At the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, which are still under construction, the reservoirs have been completed and roughly 50 turbines are being installed in each dam. When they are fully operative, they will have an installed capacity of over 3,500 MW.

Claudio Maretti, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Amazon Initiative, said “there is neither evidence nor conclusive studies proving that the dams built on the Madera river are the cause of the floods in the Bolivian-Brazilian Amazon territories in the first few months of 2014 – at least not yet.”

In a statement, Maretti recommended “integrated conservation planning, monitoring of the impacts of infrastructure projects on the connectivity and flow of the rivers, on aquatic biodiversity, on fishing resources and on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the major alterations imposed by human beings.”

The intensity of the rainfall was recognised in a study by the Fundación Milenio which compared last year’s rains in the northern department or region of Beni – the most heavily affected – and the highlands in the south of Bolivia, and concluded that “it has rained twice as much as normal.”

Several alerts were issued, such as on Feb. 23 for communities near the Piraí river, which runs south to north across the department of Santa Cruz, just south of Beni.

At that time, an “extraordinary rise” in the water level of the river, the highest in 31 years, reached 7.5 metres, trapped a dozen people on a tiny island, and forced the urgent evacuation of the local population.

The statistics are included in a report by SEARPI (the Water Channeling and. Regularisation Service of the Piraí River) in the city of Santa Cruz, to which IPS had access.

The plentiful waters of the river run into the Beni plains and contributed to the flooding, along with the heavy rain in the country’s Andes highlands and valleys.

The highest water level in the Piraí river was 16 metres in 1983, according to SEARPI records.

Flores, the environmentalist, acknowledged that there has been “extraordinarily excessive” rainfall, which she attributed to the impact of climate change on the departments of La Paz in the northwest, Cochabamba in the centre, and the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Reyes and San Borja, in Beni.

Molina, the vice president of FOBOMADE, cited “intensified incursions of flows of water from the tropical south Atlantic towards the south of the Amazon basin,” as an explanation for the heavy rainfall.

She and Flores both mentioned deforestation at the headwaters of the Amazon basin as the third major factor that has aggravated the flooding.

In Cochabamba, former senator Gastón Cornejo is leading a push for an international environmental audit and a lawsuit in a United Nations court, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

“The state of Bolivia has been negligent and has maintained an irresponsible silence,” he told IPS.

Molina proposes taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to denounce the environmental damage reportedly caused by the Brazilian dams.

With reporting by Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro.

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Port Development Brings Progress to Brazil – At a Price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 09:05:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133135 “We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast. The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation […]

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View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SÃO LUIS, Brazil, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

“We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast.

The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation since 1986, has strengthened the influence of its owner, the giant mining company Vale, in São Luis. The terminal currently exports 110 million tonnes a year of iron ore, consolidating a logistical corridor of decisive importance for local economic development.

Ships too big for China



The 23-metre draught in Ponta da Madeira allows Valemax ships to dock in the harbour. They are the largest mineral cargo vessels in the world, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, and have been in operation since 2011.


China, the principal customer for Vale’s iron ore, should be the main destination of these megaships, but it banned them from its ports as too large. However, a Chinese shipyard is building 12 of these vessels for Vale. South Korea is building another seven.


Vale’s goal is to have 35 Valemax ships, 16 of which would be chartered. Their size cheapens transport costs and helps the company compete with Australia, a mining power that is closer to the large Asian market. Moreover, the giant ships reduce greenhouse gas emission per tonne of mineral transported by 35 percent, Vale said.

To get its ore to China, Vale, the world’s second largest mining transnational,
uses transfer stations in the Philippines, and will shortly open a distribution centre in Malaysia to transfer goods to smaller ships. Two Brazilan ports and six abroad currently accept Valemax vessels.

Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajás, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made Vale the world leader in iron ore production. The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.

Beside it, a Vale plant converts iron ore to spherical pellets.

These activities create thousands of jobs, especially in Vale’s area of direct influence, Itaqui-Bacanga, an area of 58 poor districts in the southwest of São Luis.

Young people aspire to work there because the pay is good, and Vale’s human resources policies, inherited from its long life as a state company (1942-1997), guarantee job stability. An employee “is only fired if he or she really messes around a lot,” an executive told IPS.

Vale also offers a lot of temporary work for the expansion of the port, and its railroad track, so far one-way, is in the process of being made two-way, with the aim of doubling mining exports from 2018.

Because of these and other local projects, the economy of the surrounding neighbourhoods is booming, said George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB). Three plants are planned, for pulp and paper, cement and fertilisers, as well as a coal-fired thermoelectric station, among others.

Some 55 kilometres further south, in the municipality of Bacabeira, the state oil company Petrobras will build the Premium I refinery, which will be the largest in Brazil when it opens in 2018. The project will be put out to tender in April, and at its peak will employ 25,000 workers, the company says.

The employment boom boosts consumption, trade and services, “but this is not the development we want. We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” Pereira said.

Sanitation, drinking water, transport, teachers and doctors are scarce, while there is an excess of violence, drugs and prostitution in the poor districts, where the population is soaring, he said. Close to 200,000 people already live there, and two more housing estates are under construction, he said.

In this context, Vale “does good works, but in isolation, without transformative programmes to develop the entire area,” Pereira criticised. The priorities are education and sanitation, he said.

Ironically, the association that criticises and puts pressure on Vale is its own creature. It arose from the company’s social investment, required by the state National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) as a condition for financing the iron ore pellet plant.

ACIB is governed by representatives of the five divisions that make up Itaqui-Bacanga and was created 10 years ago to mobilise the local population for an urban clean-up project. Its overheads and its headquarters, a two-story building, are funded by Vale, Pereira said.

Among the company’s numerous social action projects, some are outstanding for their effectiveness, such as extensions to the Itaqui-Bacanga Centre for Professional Education, an educational centre belonging to the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service (SENAI).

This year the centre is providing technical education for 10,000 students, twice the enrolment it had in 2013 and five times that of 2010, thanks to 14 new classrooms and five new laboratories.

Three other centres along the corridor between Carajás and São Luis are supported by similar partnerships between Vale and SENAI, Janaina Pinheiro, Vale’s human resources manager, told IPS.

In 2013, SENAI trained 65,000 students in Maranhão, compared to 10,000 a decade ago, state director Marco Moura told IPS.

Industrialisation in São Luis is concentrated around the ports on São Marcos bay. Near Ponta da Madeira is the state port of Itaqui, which has handled cargo of all kinds since the 1970s, and this year will see the addition of a grain terminal to export soya and maize from the new agricultural frontiers in the centre and north of the country.

Some of Brazil’s new ports were created with the goal of becoming industrial hubs, including Suape and Pecém, in the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Ceará. They were planned as industrial-port complexes and have been boosting the local economies for the past decade.

Both these ports have Petrobras refineries, and Suape has a petrochemical plant and eight shipyards, while Pecém has a steelworks and electricity generating plants. Many companies are locating in the enormous industrial zones on the landward side of the two ports.

The São Luis ports were unconnected to that wave of industrialisation because they belong to the poorest Brazilian region, which is backward and neglected compared to other hubs in the northeast.

The bay’s deep water, suitable for large-draught vessels, its location facing the North Atlantic, and the Carajás railway link, were advantages for the Ponta da Madeira terminal.

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But there have been victims, the 73-year-old Santico reminded IPS, for instance “between 80 and 100” artisanal fisherfolk from Boqueirão, who were evicted from their fishing village on the beach and resettled in different districts.

A few years later, many of them have returned to fish in the São Marcos bay, in spite of this being banned, and they have settled on a small stretch of beach not occupied by the port, he said.

“We had no other trade, and we were hungry,” he said. They eventually built eight rough cabins from poles and palm leaves, some for living in and others just for fishing equipment.

Santico has a house in a nearby district and a cabin on the beach for the gear he uses for his sporadic night-time fishing expeditions. “There are hardly any fish left, and only a few prawns,” after new underwater concrete breakers were built to control tidal currents, he said.

As a result, fisherfolk negotiated with Vale and three years ago the company donated food baskets for 52 fisherfolk, worth between 308 and 725 dollars. “That’s how we survive,” Santico said.

Thousands of other families were evicted to make way for docks and port installations. Itaqui was, in fact, the name of a district that disappeared.

More city districts are now threatened by the industrial zone under construction next to the highway. Vila Maranhão fears extinction, squeezed between the railway and the new industrial hub, and only a few kilometres from a coal-fired thermoelectric plant, a large aluminium industry and stockpiled minerals.

“There is no official word yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we are evicted from here,” predicted Lamartine de Moura, a 71-year-old ACIB director who has lived in Vila Maranhão for 23 years. “If we’re not forced out by expropriation, we will be by the pollution,” she told IPS.

A university study found heavy metals in the local stream, and mineral dust in the air stains the houses and spreads respiratory diseases, she said.

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Brazilian Innovation for Under-financed Mozambican Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:15:41 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132711 Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector. Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings […]

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Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector.

Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings of Festival, a new strawberry variety originated in the United States.

Laldás produced seven tonnes of strawberries, employing eight workers. He sold all his produce in Maputo, and in January was the lead vendor in that market, because there was already a shortage of the fruit in South Africa, his main competitor.Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

“The fruit is very good quality, it does not require as many chemical products as the South African strawberries and its harvesting season is longer than the native variety that I was growing before,” he told IPS.

Laldás is the first Mozambican producer to benefit from Brazilian and U.S. aid through technical support to the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme (PSAL).

Created in 2012, the project brings together the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to expand production and distribution capabioities for fruit and vegetables in this African country.

First of all, studies were needed to adapt seeds to the local climate.

IIAM received more than 90 varieties of tomato, cabbage, lettuce, carrot and pepper, which are being tested at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, 25 kilometres from Maputo.

“The results of the trials are encouraging; we identified 17 varieties that have the desired phytosanitary characteristics, and are ready to be distributed to farmers.

“We are waiting for them to be registered and approved under the seal of Mozambique,” IIAM researcher Carvalho Ecole told IPS, regretting that his country has not registered new fruit and vegetable varieties for the past 50 years.

Fruit and vegetable growing is a key sector for generating employment and income among small farmers, as this produce represents 20 percent of family expenditure, according to Ecole.

“For a long time, horticulture was neglected. When talking about food security the government thought only about maize, sorghum and cassava,” Ecole said. Moreover, “our producers still do not have credit or financing,” he complained.

South Africa is the largest supplier of fruit and vegetables for southern Mozambique. IIAM figures show that prior to 2010, nearly all the onions, 65 percent of tomatoes and 57 percent of cabbages consumed in the cities of Maputo and Matola were South African. And those proportions have been maintained.

As a result, prices are high. A kilo of tomatoes costs between 50 and 60 meticals (between 1.60 and 2 dollars) and onions a little less. When the new varieties that have been tested are available for national small farmers, prices will be lower, Ecole said.

Mozambique also imports mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, strawberries and other fruit from South Africa.

“We need to train and empower local small farmers so that in the years to come they can produce enough to supply the domestic market,” José Bellini, EMBRAPA’s coordinator in Mozambique, told IPS.

Agricultural cooperation is the path chosen by Brazil, ever since the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government (2003-2011), to consolidate its development aid policy, especially in Africa.

Embrapa, a state body made up of 47 research centres located throughout Brazil and several agencies abroad, has worked to transfer part of the knowledge of tropical agriculture accumulated over its 41 years of existence to other countries of the developing South. Its office for Africa was installed in Ghana.

But Brazil’s presence in Mozambique became unequalled with the creation of ProSAVANA, the Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique, supported by the Brazilian and Japanese cooperation agencies (ABC and JICA, respectively), inspired by the experience that made the South American power a granary for the world and the largest exporter of soya.

The goal in the next two decades is to benefit directly 400,000 small and medium farmers and indirectly another 3.6 million, strengthening production and productivity in the northern Nacala Corridor.

Brazil is to build a laboratory for soil and plant analysis in the city of Lichinga. Embrapa is training IIAM researchers and modernising two local research centres.

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

Small farmers and activists are afraid that it will reproduce Brazilian problems, such as the predominance of agribusiness, monoculture, the concentration of land tenure and production by only a few transnational companies, in a country like Mozambique where 80 percent of the population is engaged in family agriculture.

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Supporting the PSAL makes sense in a very different way. It focuses on vegetable growing, and is clearly aimed at small producers and improving local nutrition. But it suffers from limitations of scale and resources.

“We cannot improve our production system without investment. We have taken a giant step, there is more research and technology transfer, but large investments are needed as well,” said Ecole.

Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

Thirty percent of the country’s population are hungry, according to 2012 figures from the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security. And nearly 80,000 children under the age of five die every year from malnutrition, according to Save the Children, an NGO.

There is no justification for these figures in Mozambique, which has a favourable climate and plentiful labour for large-scale agricultural production, Ecole said.

Namaacha illustrates the contradiction. It is the only district in the country that produces strawberries. It was able to supply the entire Maputo market, but many producers were bankrupted by lack of credit, said Cecília Ruth Bila, the head of the fruits section in IIAM.

“The small farmers find it difficult to get financing, and our banks do not help much, so producers give up,” she complained.

Nearly 150 strawberry farmers in Namaacha gave up growing them in the last five years because they lacked access to credit, according to information from the section.

Laldás is one of the few to continue. Perhaps that is why his dreams are so ambitious. This year he has asked for 150,000 seedlings to expand his growing area to three hectares, and meanwhile he is seeking financing to put in electricity, three greenhouses, an irrigation system and a small improvement industry.

“It will cost me a total of nearly six million meticals [nearly 200,000 dollars],” he said with optimism.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Rich Railroad Brings Few Opportunities in Brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/rich-railroad-brings-opportunities-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rich-railroad-brings-opportunities-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/rich-railroad-brings-opportunities-brazil/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 01:03:22 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132246 The Carajás railroad, regarded as the most efficient in Brazil, runs a loss-making passenger service for the benefit of the population. But this does little to make amends for its original sin: it was created to export minerals and crosses an area of chronic poverty. Three decades after it was built, the Carajás corridor, or […]

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Informal vendors sell food and drinks to passengers on the Carajás Railroad at Alto Alegre do Pindaré, in the northwest of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. This source of income will disappear when the trains are modernised and their windows sealed shut. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Informal vendors sell food and drinks to passengers on the Carajás Railroad at Alto Alegre do Pindaré, in the northwest of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. This source of income will disappear when the trains are modernised and their windows sealed shut. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTO ALEGRE DO PINDARÉ/SÃO LUIS, Brazil, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

The Carajás railroad, regarded as the most efficient in Brazil, runs a loss-making passenger service for the benefit of the population. But this does little to make amends for its original sin: it was created to export minerals and crosses an area of chronic poverty.

Three decades after it was built, the Carajás corridor, or area of influence, of the railway that transports one-third of the iron ore exported by Brazil remains a supplier of cheap labour for more prosperous regions and large projects in the Amazon, IPS found in a visit to the region.“The Vale train has brought me only woe and loss." -- Evangelista da Silva

Auzilandia, a village of 12,000 people and humble dwellings either side of the tracks, “is empty” at the end of every year, according to Leide Diniz. Her husband has gone, “for the second time,” over 3,000 kilometres south to the state of Santa Catarina, a three-day bus journey.

He left their three children with her in November to work in a restaurant during the tourist season in the southern hemisphere summer. “He earns some money and comes back,” said his wife, who accepts the situation because “there are no jobs here.”

For the past few years most of the unemployed workers in Alto Alegre do Pindaré, a municipality of 31,000 people, have migrated to Santa Catarina for seasonal work. Auzilandia is part of this municipality in the heartland of Maranhão, a transition state between the semi-arid northeast of Brazil and the Amazon rainforest.

The main street of Auzilandia, a village of 12,000 people in the municipality of Alto Alegre do Pindaré. Many adults here migrate 3,000 kilometres to the south in the southern hemisphere summer for work, because of the lack of opportunities in this village bisected by the Carajás Railroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The main street of Auzilandia, a village of 12,000 people in the municipality of Alto Alegre do Pindaré. Many adults here migrate 3,000 kilometres to the south in the southern hemisphere summer for work, because of the lack of opportunities in this village bisected by the Carajás Railroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two-thirds of the 892 kilometres of the Carajás Railroad go through Maranhão, but this state continues to send workers to many other regions of the country, in general for temporary or precarious work, like artisanal gold mining in Amazonia or harvesting sugarcane.

It is also the main source of the victims of modern slavery, especially in stock raising and charcoal making. Its Human Development Index is next to last among the 27 Brazilian states and its per capita income is the lowest.

The Carajás Railroad and the transnational Brazilian mining giant Vale, that has the concession, will have a new opportunity to aid local development. Its tracks, so far one-way,  are in the process of being made two-way, and mining extraction in the Serra dos Carajás (Carajás mountains) in the Amazonian state of Pará is about to be doubled up.

From 2018, some 230 million tonnes a year of the highest grade iron ore on the world market will be extracted.

The railway widening will extend to the deep water port of Ponta da Madeira in São Luis, the capital of Maranhão, which exports the production of  Carajás, including manganese, copper and other minerals that make Vale the second largest minerals exporter in the world.

An investment of 19.5 billion dollars is required, most of it in logistics.

Accidents, in spite of safety measures

His grandparents were working in the field, his mother was hand-pounding rice in a mortar and his older brother was cutting his hair. No one noticed when the 15-month-old baby crawled across the patio, through the gate and reached the railway a few metres away.

This is how Leidiane de Oliveira Conceição relates the tragic story of how she lost her son.

“The Vale train has brought me only woe and loss. The worst thing was when it killed my grandson, but once it also ran over 14 bred (pregnant) cows of mine,” complained grandfather Evangelista da Silva, who is claiming an indemnity for land taken over by the railway.

Vale’s trains are regarded as the safest in Brazil.

Safety features include electronic barriers, viaducts, information campaigns and 24-hour patrols that remove “more than 80 at-risk people a month,” like those intoxicated with drink or visually impaired, according to Elmer Vinhote, a supervisor at the Carajás Railroad operational control centre.

Accidents and crashes have fallen from 20 in 2009 to “three or four” a year now, he said.

But accidents and legal disputes seem inevitable. Mario Farias’ mother was killed by a train in 1996 and they have still not received the indemnity. In Auzilandia, an inebriated old man was saved by the patrol a few months ago, according to local people.

Dozens of families complain of cracks in their houses, caused by the construction of a viaduct over the rails, and are claiming new houses further away, or indemnities.

At its peak, railroad construction will employ 8,645 workers, Vale said. There will be 1,438 permanent jobs when the dual-track railway comes into operation and the priority will be to hire local people, the company promised.

A drop in the bucket towards development in such a vast area of influence. The most significant aid will come from the social investments of this company, one of the most profitable in Brazil.

A new mining bill, to be approved this year, will compel a small proportion of Vale’s income to be spent for the benefit of municipalities that are indirectly impacted by its activities.

To ensure these and other resources and to make better use of them, the 23 municipalities on the path of the railroad in Maranhão have joined forces to coordinate their actions and their relations with Vale.

The company assessed local economic interests and designed “projects for each micro-region along the railroad,” according to Zenaldo Oliveira, Vale’s director of logistics operations. In one community it may fund a cassava flour mill, in another fruit growing and juice production, he said.

Vale, founded by the state in 1942 and privatised in 1997, only supports education, health and income generation initiatives, he said, because these have been identified as the major problems hindering local development.

At present, with a single track for both directions, there are 12 freight trains daily from Carajás to São Luis. The trains are said to be the longest in the world, with 330 railcars, four locomotives, and each carrying more than 30,000 tonnes of minerals, totalling over 100 million tonnes a year.

On the return journey they carry fuel, fertiliser and other products consumed in the interior.

Passenger trains operating at subsidised fares, because “the local population is unable to afford the real cost,” provide the “social benefit” of cheap, permanent transport in a region where the rains often make roads impassable, Oliveira said.

At 15 stops, especially at Alto Alegre do Pindaré, vendors of cold drinks and food, most of them women, swarm to the train offering their wares to the railroad’s 360,000 passengers a year through the open windows.

This precarious income may disappear with the new project, as the cars will be air conditioned and the windows will be closed. “We will seek solutions” before the changeover, perhaps organising vendor cooperatives, Vale’s Oliveira said.

A workers and vendors cooperative has existed in Alto Alegre for some time, founded with support from Vale. Ten years ago it used to sell food to the railroad’s canteen, but “only for a short time,” according to its 58-year-old coordinator, Alice Cunegundes, a mother of three.

Afterwards the cooperative, which had as many as 93 members, supplied up to 3,000 meals a day to the mayor’s office, until the present mayor, elected in 2012, cancelled the arrangement, knocking the stuffing out of the initiative, she complained.

Supporting enterprise, improving schools and training thousands of workers are some of the social and environmental actions of Vale and its Foundation.

But “they are one-off projects that do not promote effective development in the territory,” said George Pereira, the executive secretary of the Itaquí-Bacanga Community Association, another “product of Vale’s social investments,” which serves 58 neighbourhoods around Ponta da Madeira.

Moreover, they are inadequate compensation for the damages suffered by the population of the Carajás corridor, according to Justiça Nos Trilhos (Justice on the Tracks), a campaign made up of social and religious movements to defend the rights of the people affected by the railroad.

In 2012, its denunciations and those of Articulaçao Internacional dos Atingidos pela Vale (International Network of People Affected by Vale) led to the company being selected for The Public Eye award, created by international organisations like Greenpeace to single out the worst corporate offenders against human rights and the environment.

Fatal accidents, pollution with mineral dust and cracks in houses close to the railway line are some of the impacts on local people.

The railroad must answer for its own sins as well as those of its twin partner, iron mining. It is also part of the Programa Grande Carajás (Grand Carajás Programme), a group of mining, steel, aluminium, pulp and paper, ranching and hydropower companies with which the government intended to develop the eastern Amazon region in the 1980s.

The programme created accelerated deforestation, lethal pollution around iron industry centres, slave labour and other forms of violence, while there was little progress in human development, acording to the statistics.

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Iron Hell in Brazil’s Amazon Region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 15:08:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131346 “My nephew was eight years old when he stepped in the ‘munha’ [charcoal dust] and burned his legs up to the knees,” said Angelita Alves de Oliveira from a corner of Brazil’s Amazonia that has become a deadly hazard for local people. Treatment in faraway hospitals did not save the boy’s life, because “his blood […]

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Florencio de Souza Bezerra points with his foot to a mound of dangerously inflammable charcoal dust on a roadside in Piquiá de Baixo. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Florencio de Souza Bezerra points with his foot to a mound of dangerously inflammable charcoal dust on a roadside in Piquiá de Baixo. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PIQUIÁ DE BAIXO, Brazil, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

“My nephew was eight years old when he stepped in the ‘munha’ [charcoal dust] and burned his legs up to the knees,” said Angelita Alves de Oliveira from a corner of Brazil’s Amazonia that has become a deadly hazard for local people.

Treatment in faraway hospitals did not save the boy’s life, because “his blood had become toxic, the doctor said,” said Oliveira, 61, who has been working as a teacher for the last 30 years. “My sister was never the same after she lost her youngest child.”

Oliveira’s own husband suffered from similar burns, as the scars on his legs show."An examination a year ago showed shadows on my lungs, and the doctor accused me of being a long-time smoker, but I have never touched a cigarette.” -- Angelita Alves de Oliveira

“Munha” is pulverised charcoal waste left over from the production of pig-iron, an intermediate in steel production. It has made the village of Piquiá de Baixo, in the Brazil’s eastern Amazon region, a tragic case study in industrial pollution.

Piquiá is a rural village in Açailandia municipality in the state of Maranhão, which grew out of workers’ camps set up in 1958 to build the Belém-Brasilia highway, a major axis of development and integration in the centre-north of Brazil, which was responsible for several environmental and social disasters.

The railway that opened in 1985 to transport iron ore from the huge mining province of Carajás sealed the fate of Açailandia as a logistics crossroads and steel industry hub. Piquiá de Baizo was hemmed in by five pig-iron plants, the railway and large mining storehouses.

Making charcoal to feed the steel furnaces was added to traditional cattle ranching, and transformed Açailandia into a focal point for deforestation and slave labour.

These blights have receded in the face of state persecution and various pressures. But pollution in Piquiá has worsened, according to the testimonies of people interviewed by IPS.

Pulverised charcoal waste is still a menace. Dryness makes it inflammable at the lightest touch. This is what cost Oliveira’s nephew his life in 1993, when few people knew how lethal the black dust was.

A family smiles for the camera from the shade of a tree. The highway separates them from the pig-iron plants that are making like impossible in their neighbourhood. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A family smiles for the camera from the shade of a tree. The highway separates them from the pig-iron plants that are making like impossible in their neighbourhood. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

People took heed and accidents have become less frequent, but they have not been eradicated. A child of seven was burned to the waist in 1999 and died three weeks later.

“I have seen cows incinerated,” said Florencio de Souza Bezerra, who used to be a small-scale farmer and is now an active member of the Piquiá Residents Community Association. He has lived in Piquiá for 10 years with his nine children and two grandchildren, in a big wooden house with a large yard.

Mounds of munha can be seen in the streets where the steel plant trucks pass, and in at least one unroofed materials storehouse that IPS was able to enter unrestricted.

But the most frequent complaint of local people is the air pollution. “Just over a year ago a girl died from iron dust in her lungs and cancer, after 15 days in intensive care,” said Bezerra.

In the village square, he points out the houses where residents have died of respiratory illnesses.

Oliveira said “an examination a year ago showed shadows on my lungs, and the doctor accused me of being a long-time smoker, but I have never touched a cigarette.” She wants to “give life and hope” to her grandchildren, who live here “exposed to pollution 24 hours a day.”

“I have lived a long time, but my grandchildren haven’t,” said Oliveira. Her house is next to the Gusa Nordeste plant, one of the five industrial units that produce pig-iron.

The situation worsened “two years ago,” she said, when the company started producing cement. Now it spreads clouds of black dust that cover everything in seconds and, some mornings, make her house invisible from the main road, only 30 metres away.

For the company this has spelled progress, as they can use blast furnace slag as an input for cement production, avoiding bulky waste and providing the local construction market with a product that formerly had to be hauled in from a long way away.

Gusa Nordeste proclaims that it is being responsible for the environment because it uses munha as a fuel, saving granulated charcoal, and utilises gas derived from pig-iron production to generate all its electrical energy needs.

But the truth, recognised by the justice system, several authorities and the industry itself, is that air, water and soil pollution have made it impossible for the people of Piquiá de Baixo to continue to live where they have been for over four decades.

A proposal to resettle the 312 families living in Piquiá de Baixo on 38 hectares of land six kilometres from its present location has been approved by the justice system and the municipal council.

In December, justice authorities ordered the expropriation of the land and valued it at the equivalent of 450,000 dollars, but the owner is demanding four times that sum, so the residents of Piquiá are still waiting.

The community has come up with its own urban project, including the designs for the houses, the school, the square, shops and churches, said Antonio Soffientini, a member of Justice on the Rails, a network of dozens of organisations supporting those affected by the Carajás mining region.

Eroded street and dilapidated houses in Piquiá de Baixo. Residents have long waited for relocation on land expropriated by the justice system. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Eroded street and dilapidated houses in Piquiá de Baixo. Residents have long waited for relocation on land expropriated by the justice system. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the mountain range of Serra dos Carajás, the giant mining company Vale extracts close to 110 million tonnes of iron ore a year. The ore is transported by rail 892 kilometres to the port of Ponta da Madeira in São Luis, the capital of Maranhão, to be exported.

A small proportion of the iron ore remains in Açailandia. As the supplier to the local pig-iron industry, Vale has direct responsibility for the pollution, according to Justice on the Rails.

“Vale could stop supplying ore until the industry instals filters and puts an end to the dreadful situation in Piquiá,” said Soffientini, an Italian member of the Catholic order of Comboni missionaries.

That would create an unemployment crisis in Açailandia, said Zenaldo Oliveira, Vale’s global director of logistics operations.

This steelmaking hub has already experienced a decline in activity since 2008. The 6,000 jobs it provided then have fallen to 3,500 today, according to Jarles Adelino, the president of the Açailandia metalworkers union.

The union leader complained of the high price charged by Vale for its iron ore, which amounts to half the cost of pig-iron production.

However, the declining activity is not apparent in the city of Açailandia, with its hotels filled to capacity and other signs of prosperity. Several plants in the surrounding area offer temporary work, said Adelino, and each position at a pig-iron plant generates 10 indirect jobs.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Development Follows Devastation from Brazilian Dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/development-follows-devastation-brazilian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-follows-devastation-brazilian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/development-follows-devastation-brazilian-dam/#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 23:08:47 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130157 Valdenor de Melo has been waiting for 27 years for the land and cash compensation he is due because his old farm was left underwater when the Itaparica hydroelectric dam was built on the São Francisco river in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. “I’ll get them, I’m confident,” he told IPS, although he is worried it will […]

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A farmer proudly displays his watermelon crop in the municipality of Gloria, in Bahía state, where he was resettled after the family’s land was submerged by the Itaparica dam in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A farmer proudly displays his watermelon crop in the municipality of Gloria, in Bahía state, where he was resettled after the family’s land was submerged by the Itaparica dam in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PETROLANDIA, Brazil , Jan 13 2014 (IPS)

Valdenor de Melo has been waiting for 27 years for the land and cash compensation he is due because his old farm was left underwater when the Itaparica hydroelectric dam was built on the São Francisco river in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast.

“I’ll get them, I’m confident,” he told IPS, although he is worried it will be after he retires as a farmer. But the 60-year-old at least has a solid brick house, where he lives with part of his family in a purpose-built farming village where all of the homes look alike.

The Melo family is one of the 10,500 families displaced in 1988, according to official data, by the reservoir of the Itaparica dam, which generates 1,480 MW of electricity.

But the real number of people forced off their land by the dam is nearly double that – close to 80,000 people, Russell Parry Scott, an anthropologist from the U.S., wrote in his book “Negociações e resistências persistentes”, published in Portuguese. The book is based on studies carried out at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Northeast Brazil, where he is a professor.

Melo’s undying hope is based on the process that began with the construction of the dam and the 828-sq-km reservoir, which submerged four towns as well as riverbank fields along a 150-km stretch of the border between the states of Bahía and Pernambuco.

Unlike other hydropower plants in Brazil, the Itaparica dam triggered a successful, organised movement by the rural families who were displaced.

Rural workers associations from 13 municipalities came together in the Pólo Sindical dos Trabalhadores Rurais do Submédio São Francisco – the rural workers union of the lower-middle São Francisco river – and began to hold protests when construction began, in 1979.

The demonstrations drew up to 5,000 protesters, who blocked roads and occupied towns set to be flooded, as well as the offices of the construction company and the construction sites, in some cases for a number of days, defying harsh police crackdowns.

After a seven-year battle, the state-run São Francisco Hydroelectric Company, which owns 15 plants and supplies the Northeast with electricity, gave in and signed the 1986 Agreement to resettle rural families, pay them compensation for the property they lost, and provide them with monthly maintenance subsidies pending the first harvest on their new land.

Under the agreement, a total of 6,187 rural families were to be resettled in new homes, with up to six hectares of irrigated land and a more extensive area of dryland for each family.

The amount of land varied according to the number of family members who could work it, with women counting for 60 percent of the value assigned to men.

The Pólo Sindical took part in drafting the resettlement plan and kept up the pressure on the company and the government, as the programme suffered delays.

The end of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and the return to democracy empowered social movements and favoured the Pólo Sindical’s triumph.

The more resistance the displaced small farmers faced, the more their tenacity grew. They sought to prevent a repeat of the abuses of earlier years, when thousands of Brazilians were forced off their land and out of their towns and only given meagre cash compensation, or none at all if they did not have legal title to their land, when other hydroelectric dams were built on the São Francisco river.

The rural families who accepted the resettlement agreement – 85 percent of those who were displaced, according to Scott – were relocated to 126 new “agrovilas” or farming villages scattered throughout several municipalities, with an average of about 50 families each.

“We managed to get part of the families resettled, but many left – they didn’t believe in our movement, they preferred to take the compensation payment,” and they moved to the impoverished outskirts of Brazil’s larger cities, the general coordinator of the Pólo Sindical, Adimilson Nunis, told IPS.

The agrovilas were built with the necessary infrastructure in sanitation, electricity, water, schools, administrative and health posts, he said. And the villages were placed around 12 areas of land that were to be irrigated, where each family had their most productive land.

But the irrigation equipment that would enable the families to start producing on the land did not start arriving until 1993, four years after cultivation was set to begin, and only in three of the 12 areas. Irrigated production began on six other areas within the following five years.

But the Melo family had the bad luck of being resettled in the Proyeto Jurante in the municipality of Gloria – one of the three agrovilas still under construction.

Most of the residents gave up and moved away. “In agrovila 5 only one family stayed, and only three stayed in agrovila 9,” waiting for the irrigation equipment, said Maria de Fátima Melo, Valdenor’s daughter, who hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a farmer, once the irrigation project is set up.

But she got a municipal job as a nurse “just in case,” she told IPS.

The nine projects that have been operating since the 1990s have brought higher incomes and technological advances to 4,910 families, according to the São Francisco and Parnaíba valley development company, CODEVASF, the government agency in charge of managing the irrigation systems and providing technical assistance.

Gloria is now a watermelon-producing area. The resettlement project contributed to that when irrigation equipment was received in 1993 by 123 families relocated to three agrovilas, who also run an experimental centre, Dorgival Araujo Melo, a farmer and town councillor for the Green Party, told IPS.

“Irrigation is the solution for the Northeast, but with water-saving technologies” to adapt to the region’s semiarid climate, he argued.

He is proud of having managed, in his irrigation area, to replace wasteful sprinkler systems with drip irrigation tubing.

“Life improved with the new house, the nearby school, and the irrigated land,” said Ana de Souza Xavier. But, she added, she liked it better when the neighbours didn’t live so close together, and when she had a large yard “for raising goats and chickens and growing vegetables.”

Her husband Oswaldo Xavier, meanwhile, said he did not like the isolation of rural life.

The couple, whose three grown children are independent and have received higher education, were resettled in another agrovila near Petrolandia, a city built to replace another that was flooded when the reservoir was filled.

With three hectares of irrigated land and 22 hectares of dryland that they have been farming for the past 20 years, the family has prospered growing coconuts.

“Before this we suffered from the failure of crops of beans and watermelons,” her husband told IPS.

The experience in Itaparica, where nearly 20,000 hectares of irrigated land are worked by family farmers, represents an alternative form of agricultural development, different from the model of large-scale production of crops for both domestic consumption and export, requiring large investments and technologies that are unaffordable for small farmers.

But it is unlikely that Itaparica will inspire similar solutions for conflicts generated by other megaprojects, such as the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Amazon rainforest.

As of 2010, the costs of the rural resettlement programme were equivalent to 85 percent of the total investment in the construction of the hydroelectric plant, and in 2014 will be equivalent to 100 percent, according to Brazil’s court of audit, which oversees the state’s financial administration.

Settling each family from the Itaparica dam cost four times more than in other government-backed irrigation projects, it reported.

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Farmers in Mozambique Fear Brazilian-Style Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model/#comments Sat, 28 Dec 2013 12:08:57 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129776 Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country. He […]

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Population density is high in rural Mozambique. Credit: Courtesy of União Nacional de Camponeses

Population density is high in rural Mozambique. Credit: Courtesy of União Nacional de Camponeses

By Amos Zacarias
NAMPULA, Mozambique , Dec 28 2013 (IPS)

Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country.

He got nowhere filing a complaint with the authorities in the district of Monapo, where he lives, in the province of Nampula. And at the age of 78, he can’t wait much longer.

Brígida Mohamad, a 50-year-old widow, is worried about one of her seven children, whose land was also invaded by a company.

“My son has nowhere to grow his crops; our ‘machambas’ [farms] aren’t for sale,” she complained when she met with IPS in Nacololo, the village in Monapo where she has lived her whole life.

These are two cases that help explain the fear among small farmers regarding the Programme of Triangular Cooperation for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannahs of Mozambique (ProSavana), which is backed by the cooperation agencies of Brazil (ABC) and Japan (JICA).

Inspired by the technology for tropical agriculture developed in Brazil, ProSavana is aimed at increasing production in the Nacala Corridor, a 14.5-million-hectare area in central and northern Mozambique that has agricultural potential similar to the Cerrado region – Brazil’s savannah.Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

But in certain parts of the Corridor, it is possible to go two kilometres without seeing a house, as the families who depend on subsistence farming are spread out and isolated, on farms averaging 1.5 hectares in size.

Cassava is the basis of the local diet. The small farmers also grow maize, pumpkins, sunflowers and sweet potatoes for their own consumption, as well as cash crops: cotton, tobacco and cashew nuts.

The prospect of turning the Corridor into the country’s breadbasket, where agricultural exports are facilitated by the Nacala port on the Indian Ocean, is expected to intensify conflicts over land by attracting companies focused on large-scale, high-yield production on immense estates that displace traditional farming populations.

The arrival of these big investors is a terrible thing, Mohamad said. She is opposed not only to the changes directly brought about by ProSavana, but to others that could be accelerated due to the programme’s influence.

The coordinator of ProSavana, Calisto Bias, told IPS that peasant farmers will not lose their land. He added that the main objective of the programme is to support farmers living in the Corridor and help improve their production techniques.

But Sheila Rafi, natural resources officer with Livaningo, a Mozambican environmental organisation, said the way of life of local communities will be disrupted because the investors will bring in new employer-employee relations as local people produce crops for the companies, and monoculture will undermine the tradition of “producing a little of everything for their own diet.”

Generating jobs by means of investment and value chains is one of ProSavana’s stated missions. Another is modernising and diversifying agriculture with a view to boosting productivity and output, according to the website created by the Agriculture Ministry.

But the greatest fear, the biggest threat, is land-grabbing. Many are trying to protect their land by obtaining the “land usage right” based on customary occupancy (known as DUAT). But the certificate does not actually guarantee a thing, local farmers told IPS.

Under the laws of this southeast African nation, all land belongs to the state and cannot be sold or mortgaged. Farmers can apply to the government for a DUAT for up to 50 years.

Some 250 small farmers in Nacololo gathered Dec. 11 outside the home of the local chief to demand explanations about the alleged grabbing of nearly 600 hectares of land by Suni, a South African company.

The district of Malema, 230 km from the city of Nampula, is also experiencing turbulent times. Major agribusiness companies like Japan’s Nitori Holding Company operate in that area. Nitori was granted a concession to grow cotton on 20,000 hectares of land, and the people who live there will be resettled elsewhere.

Another of the companies is Agromoz (Agribusiness de Moçambique SA), a joint venture between Brazil, Mozambique and Portugal, which is producing soy on 10,000 hectares.

The lack of information from the government has exacerbated worries about what is going to happen. “We only heard from the media and civil society organisations that there’s a programme called ProSavana; the government hasn’t told us anything yet,” said Razão.

Costa Estevão, president of the Nampula Provincial Nucleus of Small-Scale Farmers, said “We aren’t opposed to development, but we want policies that benefit small farmers and we want them to explain to us what ProSavana is.”

The triangular agreement, which was reached in 2011 and combines Japan’s import market with Brazil’s know-how and Mozambique’s land, has already proved fertile ground for controversy.

Social organisations from the three countries have mobilised against ProSavana, rejecting it or demanding that it be reformulated.

Brazil wants “to export a model that is in conflict,” said Fátima Mello, director of international relations for the Brazilian organisation FASE and an active participant in the People’s Triangular Conference on ProSavana, held in Maputo in August.

Millions of landless peasants, a major rural exodus, fierce land disputes, deforestation and unprecedented use of pesticides and herbicides have been the result of the model that has prioritised agribusiness, monoculture for export and large corporations, say activists who defend family farming as one of the keys to food security.

An important component of that model is the Japan-Brazil Cooperation Programme for Development of the Cerrado, which got underway in 1978 in central Brazil and is now serving as an inspiration for ProSavana.

The technology that will be transferred to farmers in the Nacala Corridor comes from Brazil.

The Brazilian governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa, is training extension workers and staff at Mozambique’s Institute for Agricultural Research (IIAM), in ProSavana’s first project, which will run from 2011 to 2016.

Brazilian participation is also decisive in the rest of the components of the programme: the master plan assessing the rural areas and crops with good potential in the Corridor, and the project for extension and models.

“The breadth and grandeur of the ProSavana Programme contrast with the failure of the law and the total absence of a deep, broad, transparent and democratic public debate,” says an open letter signed by 23 Mozambican social organisations and movements and 43 international organisations.

The letter, addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Japan and Mozambique and signed May 23 in Maputo, also called for the environmental impact assessment required by law.

The signatories demanded the immediate suspension of the programme, an official dialogue with all affected segments of society, a priority on family farming and agroecology, and a policy based on food sovereignty.

They also said that all of the resources allocated to ProSavana should be “reallocated to efforts to define and implement a National Plan for the Support of Sustainable Family Farming.”

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Caring for Water Is a Must for Brazil’s Energy Industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/caring-water-must-brazils-energy-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caring-water-must-brazils-energy-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/caring-water-must-brazils-energy-industry/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 08:23:28 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129653 As they build huge hydropower dams, the Brazilian government and companies have run into resistance from environmentalists, indigenous groups and social movements. But the binational Itaipú plant is an exception, where cooperation is the name of the game. Involved in a total of 65 environmental, social and productive activities, the Cultivando Agua Boa (Cultivating Good […]

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The Paraná river, reduced in size by the concrete behemoth of the binational Itaipú dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Paraná river, reduced in size by the concrete behemoth of the binational Itaipú dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
FOZ DE IGUAÇU, Brazil , Dec 20 2013 (IPS)

As they build huge hydropower dams, the Brazilian government and companies have run into resistance from environmentalists, indigenous groups and social movements. But the binational Itaipú plant is an exception, where cooperation is the name of the game.

Involved in a total of 65 environmental, social and productive activities, the Cultivando Agua Boa (Cultivating Good Water – CAB) programme is led and supported by activists. Sectors of the government are considering using it as a model to be replicated in other major infrastructure projects, to mitigate impacts and conflicts.

Compared to what is happening in the rest of the hydroelectric dam projects, “it’s a stride forward,” said Robson Formica, head of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in the southern state of Paraná, where the giant Itaipú hydropower complex is located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Itaipú Binacional, the company that operates the hydroelectric plant, decided to guarantee efficient long-term electricity generation by caring for the Paraná river basin to ensure both the quantity and quality of the water. That has paved the way for cooperation with environmentalists.

More than 80 percent of Brazil’s electricity comes from its rivers, which means the country’s energy security depends on rainfall and on the best possible use of water.

Itaipú’s CAB programme was launched in 2003, two decades after thousands of rural and indigenous families were displaced in order to flood their land and fill the 1,350-sq-km reservoir. The dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric power producer.

Formica said CAB’s activities are “important, but limited and isolated.”

“They fail to establish a policy for local development, or for structural changes in the area in question,” added the head of MAB, which estimates that hydroelectric dams have displaced around one million people in Brazil.

The demand that the company take over functions that normally fall to the state has gained force as mega-dams and other infrastructure projects that drastically modify extensive areas of rainforest and other habitats mushroom around the country.

In addition, environmental laws are requiring compensation for damage caused.

In the case of Itaipú, that requirement is particularly justified. It is an unusual company, run by two different national governments, and it brought in revenue of 3.8 billion dollars in 2012.

The land and rivers where the complex operates along the border between Brazil and Paraguay contain the enormous hydroelectric plant, the reservoir, 104,000 hectares of land that is under environmental conservation, the University of Latin American Integration and the Itaipú Technological Park.

The CAB programme is active in 29 municipalities in Brazil covering a total surface area of 8,339 sq km, with one million inhabitants, along a 170-km stretch of the Paraná river and reservoir.

The programme’s 65 activities include assistance to indigenous communities, aquaculture, medicinal plants, biogas and environmental education – a concerted effort connected by the central aim of taking care of the water.

For example, CAB’s sustainable rural development activities revolve around organic agriculture as the top priority, aimed at reducing the pesticides polluting the reservoir.

“We started out with 186 families; today there are 1,180 families participating, and there are 2,000 organic gardens,” said Nelton Friedrich, Itaipú director of coordination and the environment.

The Itaipú Platform of Renewable Energies was also created, to protect the rivers from animal manure. The manure is converted into biogas, which generates electricity, thus creating another source of income for local farmers while curbing pollution of the water.

Family farming is the main livelihood around the reservoir, where there are millions of pigs, barnyard fowl and cattle on 26,000 smallholdings. If allowed to run into the water, the manure would cause excessive build-up of nutrients and the proliferation of aquatic weeds, which reduce the oxygen in the water.

This process is called eutrophication, explained Cícero Bley, Itaipú’s superintendent of renewable energies. “Pollution by organic waste is more common than pollution by toxic agrochemicals,” and in some cases makes constant cleaning of reservoirs necessary, he said.

It takes nearly 30 days to renew the water in the Itaipú reservoir, compared to much shorter time-frames in other dams.

On the Madeira river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Rondônia, where the Santo Antonio and Jirau hydroelectric dams just began to operate, it takes just two or three days to renew the water in the reservoirs, said Domingo Fernandez, Itaipú’s chief researcher on fish.

Clean-up and reforestation are thus clearly necessary along the banks of the reservoir to keep the water healthy and productive. The CAB programme planted more than 24 million trees around the Itaipú reservoir.

The initiatives follow a methodology that is also key, expanding the activities to the entire watershed, “because nature organises itself by watershed,” Friedrich said.

The model followed is based on the concept of shared responsibility, involving all local actors, from public and private companies to civil society and universities, with community participation – a kind of “direct democracy,” he explained.

To that end, management committees were created in the 29 municipalities, made up of an average of 57 representatives of different sectors, after numerous meetings were held for awareness-raising and debate on problems that have arisen.

The so-called water pacts, which are community commitments signed in ceremonies, drive the design and collective implementation of the plans and projects.

These initiatives point out a good path to follow, but are far from filling Itaipú’s social debt, said Aluizio Palmar, founder of the Centre for Human Rights and Popular Memory and a former secretary of the environment and communication in Foz de Iguaçú, the Brazilian municipality where the binational dam operates.

Construction of the hydropower plant between 1975 and 1983 displaced rural families, many of whom did not hold legal title to their land, which they needed to obtain compensation. The families joined the ranks of the people living in the favelas or slums, and the rates of violence in Foz de Iguaçú shot up, Palmar pointed out.

The monetary rewards, such as royalties, mainly benefited the city governments, which used the money to build shiny new government buildings and tourist attractions, while dedicating very little to cover the needs of the local population, Palmar complained.

Nevertheless, the situation at Itaipú stands in contrast with the situation in other parts of the country, especially on the São Francisco river, where there is a national clamour for the river to be cleaned up and revitalised, and where there is only an incipient programme coordinated by the environment ministry.

Five large hydroelectric dams with a total combined output of 10,827 MW – equivalent to 77 percent of Itaipú’s production – harness the increasingly scarce water in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast.

The main portion of the river crosses the impoverished region, and besides the frequent droughts, the São Francisco suffers from sedimentation and pollution caused by human activities, such as deforestation along the riverbank, the dumping of untreated sewage, and agribusiness projects irrigated with water from the river.

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Oil Palm Changes Rural Culture in Brazilian Amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/oil-palm-changes-rural-culture-in-brazilian-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-palm-changes-rural-culture-in-brazilian-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/oil-palm-changes-rural-culture-in-brazilian-amazon/#comments Wed, 20 Nov 2013 15:24:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128960 Thousands of small farming families in Pará, in the Amazon jungle in northeast Brazil, have turned to the African oil palm as a new source of income, through contracts with biofuel companies. Strange bedfellows, which poses cultural and economic challenges. The small farm of Antônio de Oliveira smells like a mixture of oranges, black pepper […]

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Antônio de Oliveira on the patio at his farm where he dries achiote, one of the traditional Amazonian crops that now grow side by side with oil palm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

Antônio de Oliveira on the patio at his farm where he dries achiote, one of the traditional Amazonian crops that now grow side by side with oil palm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CONCORDIA DE PARÁ/MOJÚ/ACARÁ, Brazil , Nov 20 2013 (IPS)

Thousands of small farming families in Pará, in the Amazon jungle in northeast Brazil, have turned to the African oil palm as a new source of income, through contracts with biofuel companies. Strange bedfellows, which poses cultural and economic challenges.

The small farm of Antônio de Oliveira smells like a mixture of oranges, black pepper and achiote or annatto (Bixa orellana), a shrub whose fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain a natural dye that has coloured his farm red.

“I didn’t know anything about oil palm…it’s really different to work with, it’s a queer bird, and complicated,” said Oliveira, who signed a contract with the biofuel company Biopalma three years ago to plant African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), known as “dendê” in Brazil.

Biopalma belongs to the Vale mining company, and has 60,000 hectares of oil palm of its own. In addition, it buys the output of small farmers through its Family Agriculture programme.

The company plans to use palm oil to produce biodiesel to run the machinery and vehicles at its mines.

“I wasn’t prepared for dendê. I don’t like to have to count how many plants I have or to make a square neat plot to plant them. I planted them here and there,” the 65-year-old farmer tells IPS, explaining that he used to make a living selling black pepper, oranges and achiote.

Oliveira began to work at the age of 10 “from sunup to sundown” as a day labourer, and says he regrets that he received so little education. “When I write something, my wife tells me a lot of letters are missing,” he says, laughing.

He learned math out of necessity, and uses it to calculate his yield of fruit from the oil palm, for example, which takes five years to begin to fully produce.

Currently, he harvests some 8,000 kilos every two weeks, earning around 120 dollars a ton. But he says that barely covers expenses, because he has to pay four assistants.

But unlike black pepper, which produces one harvest a year, oil palm fruit is harvested every 15 days. So he hopes to soon buy a “really nice” pickup truck, to transport his produce and take his family on trips.

“My dream is to see [the southern city of] Rio Grande do Sul. When it’s warm; I won’t go when it’s cold,” he says with a smile, explaining that he is used to the warm climate of the rainforest.

“Some of the farmers who are associates of the company have problems managing their businesses,” Biopalma technician Charles Vilarino tells IPS. “But Oliveira already works with several products, and in practice he is a small businessman. He has to keep track of how much money is coming in and going out, how much he spends on each harvest.”

The firm has signed up 350 families to produce palm oil fruit, and by 2015 plans to incorporate 1,650 more, on a total of 20,000 hectares.

When they join the oil palm programmes and agree to dedicate up to 10 hectares of land to cultivating the palm fruit, farmers receive credit from the federal government as well as technical assistance and a guarantee that their output will be purchased for 30 years.

But difficulties abound. In the north of the state of Pará many farmers have no means of transport to carry their products to market, and there is no strong tradition of setting up cooperatives to come up with collective solutions to their problems.

“They told me that soon we’ll have to carry the fruit to the [Biopalma] plant [in the municipality of Mojú], and I don’t have a truck yet. What’ll I do?” says a worried Oliveira.

Biopalma acts as an intermediary for institutions like the Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Enterprises (SEBRAE) to offer farmers courses in management and cooperatives.

“We can’t force them to organise in cooperatives,” Biopalma’s analyst of communications and social projects Sauer Teles tells IPS. “That has to come from them, our associates. But we brought in SEBRAE because they were interested.”

The Biofuel Watch Centre, created by Repórter Brasil, an investigative reporting NGO that provides journalists with news on environmental and social justice issues, produced a report in June on the incompatibility of the dendê culture with family farming in Pará.

The study says Eco Dendê, a government programme that offers credit to farmers to get involved in palm oil cultivation, “holds out a promising future that the family farmers are dreaming of, but its promises of profits could end up being false.”

“So much has been promised, and so little has been discussed about its impact on the traditional way of life of these rural communities,” says Judge Marcus Barberino, who specialises in labour relations in the countryside, and was quoted by the report.

Belém Bionergia, a joint venture between Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras and Portugal’s Galp Energia, will also promote the planting of dendê for the production of biodiesel.

The company has contracts with 280 families, and plans to expand that number to a total of 600 families.

On the way to an interview with one of the families, IPS came across the farm of a family that is not involved in the new dendê boom.

Of the eight members of the family, only the one-year-old baby was not working when IPS stopped in. The father, Reginaldo Dias, was toasting cassava flour in a wood-fired oven, the grandparents and children were peeling cassava roots, and Dias’s wife was grating cassava.

It is a form of survival, but a cultural ritual as well. The surplus cassava flour that the family won’t consume is sold at the market to buy “other things we need: sugar, beans and rice,” Dias tells IPS.

A few kilometres away lives José Ribamar Silva, involved in Belém Bionergia’s biodiesel programme.

A year and a half ago he planted dendê on 10 hectares of his farm. On the remaining 15 he continues to produce pineapple, black pepper, cassava and beans, along with achiote and other native Amazonian crops.

“There was a time when black pepper brought in a good profit, but not anymore – it’s too much work for too little money, so when the dendê arrived, I decided to join in,” Silva tells IPS.

He says he hopes the oil palm will make it possible for his kids to stay in school, adding that “their future is the most important thing for me.”

“You can’t jump into a ‘green’ model without addressing social questions,” says João Meirelles, director of the Peabirú Institute, which provides advice on social and environmental issues to companies involved in the oil palm sector.

When the big companies come in with their requirements, regulations and contracts with legal jargon, “it can produce a shock in a region with a different social and land tenure context, where there are basic unresolved problems,” he tells IPS.

In Pará, average monthly income is less than 50 dollars per person. Only four percent of small farmers have legal title to their land, and 40 to 50 percent of the local population is illiterate. Farmers continue to use the slash and burn technique to clear the rainforest and prepare the land for planting.

Agricultural techniques “do not change overnight,” Meirelles says. In his view, the expansion of oil palm in the Amazon rainforest, “based on mega-companies with a tradition of excellence, is incompatible to some extent with traditional family farming.”

But these companies, he says, can play “a transformative role,” strengthening the local communities’ connection to society and improving conditions among rural families in Pará.

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Las Pavas Extracts a Miracle from God http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/las-pavas-extracts-a-miracle-from-god/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=las-pavas-extracts-a-miracle-from-god http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/las-pavas-extracts-a-miracle-from-god/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 22:03:51 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128827 The rural community of Las Pavas in northern Colombia received this year’s National Peace Prize Wednesday in recognition of its peaceful struggle for land that is claimed by an oil palm company, in a case that became an international symbol of the conflict over land in this country. The day before, the members of the […]

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Carmen Moreno in the Las Pavas community kitchen. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

Carmen Moreno in the Las Pavas community kitchen. Credit: Gerald Bermúdez/IPS

By Constanza Vieira
LAS PAVAS/BOGOTÁ , Nov 14 2013 (IPS)

The rural community of Las Pavas in northern Colombia received this year’s National Peace Prize Wednesday in recognition of its peaceful struggle for land that is claimed by an oil palm company, in a case that became an international symbol of the conflict over land in this country.

The day before, the members of the community, organised in the Asociación Campesina de Buenos Aires (Asocab – Peasant Association of Buenos Aires), were formally recognised as victims of forced displacement in a ceremony held in the offices of the government’s Unit for Integral Assistance and Reparations for Victims in Bogotá.

Inclusion on the official Registry of Victims strengthens Asocab in its legal battle against the company with which it is disputing ownership of the land – Aportes San Isidro SA.

As of Oct. 1 the registry included the names of 5,087,092 victims of forced displacement, out of a total of 5,845,002 victims of crimes committed since 1985 in Colombia’s nearly half-century civil war.

Adjacent to the 1,338-hectare Las Pavas hacienda, Buenos Aires is a small village in the municipality of El Peñón in the northern province of Bolívar, some 270 km southeast of the provincial capital Cartagena de Indias.

The village, which has a single street, is on Papayal island located between the river of that name and the Magdalena river, which crosses Colombia from south to north.

People in this area live in villages like Buenos Aires and depend on fishing, farming and raising farm animals for a living.

Through the Unit for Integral Assistance and Reparations for Victims, the state has rectified its previous position, and now officially recognises that the community was forcibly displaced at least twice from Las Pavas, where they worked the land.

“This is an admission of judicial incomprehension because it wasn’t understood that this community was displaced from its source of livelihood, not its place of residence” in Buenos Aires, said Juan Felipe García with the Javeriana Pontifical University’s legal clinic on land, which is providing legal assistance to Asocab.

“Today we’re going to celebrate because the truth has triumphed,” he told IPS.The campesinos want to change the name of Las Pavas, “which reminds us of difficult times,” says Misael Payares. It will now be called Milagro de Dios (Miracle of God).

The decision benefits 464 people belonging to the 124 families grouped together in Asocab. However, it does not imply recognition of ownership of the Las Pavas land.

The dispute over ownership of the hacienda is a separate legal case, which is before the Council of State and could drag on for 10 more years, the director of the legal clinic, Roberto Vidal, told IPS.

“What lies ahead now is working with the community to decide what measures they want to prioritise; reaching all of the institutional agreements necessary; coordinating with the various institutions; and obtaining the reparations they are demanding,” the director of the Victims Unit, Paula Gaviria, told IPS.

“We have to wait for the authorities to comply,” said Asocab leader Misael Payares, “so that we can see our dream come true, which is to stay in Las Pavas.”

The hacienda has been at the centre of the wider dispute over land in Magdalena Medio, a stunningly beautiful region that used to be coveted by the drug barons because of its location, which is strategic in the logistics of the trafficking of cocaine by air.

On a nearby farm, Rancho Lindo, planes landed and took off until 1983. “Were they shipping firewood, manioc, yams, or what?” Payares quipped.

Since that year, Jesús Emilio Escobar Fernández, a cousin of and front man for notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar (1949-1993), has figured on paper as the owner of Las Pavas.

Up to 1963 the land was unused publicly owned rural property.

The hacienda was abandoned after 1992, as a result of the crackdown on Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel. An enormous tree growing out of a swimming pool is testament to the fact that the property was abandoned.

The people of Buenos Aires, who have large families and are often illiterate, decided then to plant crops on part of the land of Las Pavas, and set up the Association of Peasant Women of Buenos Aires.

Later they learned that, according to article 52 of a 1994 law, the owners of privately-owned rural land lost their property rights if the land was used for drug trafficking or if it had been abandoned for at least three years.

So they occupied Las Pavas, and Asocab was born in 1997, to cultivate cacao, plantain and oak.

The left-wing guerrillas (which emerged in Colombia in 1964) used to simply pass by Buenos Aires, on their way to a nearby hill covered with coca crops, which drew many temporary harvest workers.

Sometimes they would demand payment of a tax, in the form of a chicken or a pig, from the campesinos working Las Pavas, and once they shot and killed a man who they accused of being an army informant.

When the far-right paramilitaries (which began to be formed in 1981) arrived in the area along the Papayal river in 1998 and set up camp a 20-minute walk from Buenos Aires, the guerrillas pulled out.

The paramilitaries “started to kill people,” one of the founders of the women peasant association, Carmen Moreno – whose brother is ‘disappeared’ – told IPS.

Bodies missing the head or legs would float down the river past Buenos Aires. “Even the kids would see them. And they would come shouting ‘Mommy! Mommy! There’s a leg floating by….It’s a woman, mommy, because the toenails are painted!”

But all through those years, hunger would push the villagers, confined to Buenos Aires, to brave their fear and panic over and over again and return to Las Pavas to plant and harvest their crops.

In 2006 they began the legal proceedings to get the state to revoke the existing land title, under the 1994 law. They even applied for and were granted farming loans from state institutions.

But in 2007 it turned out that the front man Escobar Fernández had sold Las Pavas to the companies Aportes San Isidro and CI Tequendama – the latter of which belongs to the Daabon group.

These firms say that no authority informed them that the private ownership status of the land was in question – which made it legally impossible to buy or sell the land.

The companies set up an oil palm production project, drying up wetlands, diverting streams and blocking roads.

President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) made oil palm production his administration’s chief agribusiness strategy, and his successor Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) continued that policy.

The government decided that 66,000 hectares of oil palm should be grown in Papayal, and that a palm oil refinery to produce biofuels should be installed there.

Oil palm is the third-largest crop in Colombia, planted on more than 400,000 hectares and employing over 130,000 workers, according to the international organisation Solidaridad, which promotes responsible food production and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Oil palm has great production potential compared to other oil-producing plants, and its use is growing in the food, hygiene and cosmetics industries as well as the emerging biodiesel industry.

But in Las Pavas, palm oil is no longer being produced, and the legal battle continues.

In 2009, the companies in question got the police to evict the local campesinos. The incident cost Daabon its contract as the main palm oil supplier for The Body Shop cosmetics chain, whose parent company is L’Oreal.

Daabon preferred to pull out of the project rather than negotiate with Asocab, as The Body Shop had urged it to.

The local campesinos returned to Las Pavas in 2011. Since then they have been living there, some of them in shifts, in a settlement with two dirt roads running between improvised dwellings covered with black plastic.

In the hacienda house, Aportes San Isidro has posted armed men, without official authorisation.

The campesinos constantly complain about intimidation, destruction of crops, tires shot out on Asocab’s tractors, theft of livestock, or fires set to seeds stocks or nearby brush by incendiary device attacks on the camp.

“An outlaw group no longer has control; a few companies do,” said Payares.

“We haven’t had a human victim yet, because we have been smart enough to keep that from happening,” said Efraín Alvear, the community’s historian.

“Conquest without rifles” is the title of the book he has been writing by hand for years about the story of Asocab, he told IPS.

After their inclusion in the registry of victims and the award of the National Peace Prize, the campesinos plan to change the name of Las Pavas. “That name reminds us of difficult times,” says Misael Payares. It will now be called Milagro de Dios (Miracle of God).

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Oil Palm Expands on Deforested Land in Brazil’s Rainforest http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/oil-palm-expands-on-deforested-land-in-brazils-rainforest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-palm-expands-on-deforested-land-in-brazils-rainforest http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/oil-palm-expands-on-deforested-land-in-brazils-rainforest/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 15:58:59 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128797 The green of the oil palm plantations is unbroken along kilometre after kilometre of red soil, devastated in the past by loggers and ranchers. The oil palm, a sign of alarm for some and of hope for others, is here to stay in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará in the extreme north of this […]

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African palm mixed with native vegetation along a road in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

African palm mixed with native vegetation along a road in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MOJÚ/TOMÉ-AÇÚ, Pará, Brazil , Nov 13 2013 (IPS)

The green of the oil palm plantations is unbroken along kilometre after kilometre of red soil, devastated in the past by loggers and ranchers. The oil palm, a sign of alarm for some and of hope for others, is here to stay in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará in the extreme north of this country.

The vegetation along the road that sets out from Belém, the state capital, has lost the deep-green exuberance of the rainforest, which has been replaced by “dendê”, as the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is known in Brazil.

The traffic jams in the city give way to over 150 km of paved and dirt roads, lined by oil palm plantations and the occasional cattle pasture, and interrupted every once in a while by a small town.

According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil’s Amazon region lost 111,087 sq km of forest cover between 2004 and 2012, including 44,361 sq km in Pará.

The Agropalma company, which sells palm oil to the food, hygiene and cosmetics industries, set up shop 27 years ago on this land initially cleared to make way for cattle pasture. It now owns more than 39,000 km of dendê in Pará.

Rat poison

IPS had access to formal complaints that were investigated by the Pará public prosecutors office on the supposed use of banned rat poison in oil palm plantations.

The plantations reportedly use Klerat – authorised only for accredited companies, in urban settings – to combat wild rodents.

Klerat is a powerful anticoagulant that causes internal bleeding and does not kill immediately. If people hunt and eat an animal that has ingested the poison, they run the risk of being poisoned as well.

More recently it was followed by other companies, interested in biodiesel: Belém Bioenergia (BB), owned by the state-run Petrobras and the private Portuguese firm Galp Energia, and Biopalma, a palm oil producer that was purchased by the Vale mining company.

“It is an economically sustainable, environmentally correct and socially enriching project,” BB’ agribusiness director, Antônio Gonçalves Esmeraldo, told IPS.

According to the executive, BB chooses the land it buys based on agroecological mapping by the Brazilian governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa, which highlights areas that have already been deforested and degraded by cattle ranchers.

Oil palm employs 10,914 people in this state of nearly eight million people.

An 8,500-hectare estate leased by BB, which employed five people when it was dedicated to cattle-raising, will give work to 850 locals once it has been planted in oil palm, Esmeraldo said.

The company aims to plant oil palm on a total of 60,000 hectares by 2015. It has planted half of that so far, including 6,000 hectares tended by family farmers who will sell the company their output, and the rest of which are leased to large landholders.

Biopalma, for its part, will obtain oil from 60,000 hectares of its own, and from the harvest of another 20,000 hectares farmed by 2,000 small producers.

The aim is biodiesel to mix in a proportion of 20 percent with the gasoil used to run the mining company’s machinery and the locomotives of Vale, César Abreu, the firm’s director of bioenergy, told IPS.

According to Melquíades Santos Filho, Biopalma’s communications manager, dendê helps restore the biological balance of degraded land by mixing with native flora. He said his company has managed to get native species that are nearly extinct, like the jaguar, to reappear in the plantation forests.

In 2012, oil palm covered 140,000 hectares in Pará, and 67 percent of the production went to the food and cosmetics industries and 33 percent to biofuels, according to a study by agronomist D’Alembert Jaccoud.

The private sector projects extending that surface area to 329,000 hectares by 2015 and expanding the portion destined to biofuel to 47 percent, Jaccoud told IPS.

The government of Pará says that by 2022, oil palm plantations for biofuel will cover 700,000 hectares.

The Programme for the Sustainable Production of Palm Oil determines which degraded areas are apt for planting with oil palm. According to Embrapa, some 10.4 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land are available.

Processing the fruit of the oil palm in Biopalma, a municipality in Mojú in the northern state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Processing the fruit of the oil palm in Biopalma plant in Mojú, a municipality in the northern state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The expansion would make Brazil the world’s third-largest producer of palm oil, after Indonesia and Malaysia, according to the government of Pará.

But the fear is that this country will follow in the footsteps of Indonesia and Malaysia, which today supply 86 percent of the global market thanks to intense deforestation, partly by forest fires that create clouds of smoke that even affect the rest of Southeast Asia.

After Africa, where legal insecurity paves the way for land-grabbing by Chinese and European countries, “the other great frontier is the Amazon rainforest, where Brazil has the biggest stock of land,” Jaccoud said.

The National Biofuel Production Programme is fomenting the planting of oil palm. By law, gasoil vehicles in Brazil must use a mix of five percent biodiesel, and the goal is to reach seven percent. It would be “an obligatory captive market,” Jaccoud said.

The Ministry of Agrarian Development has staked its bets on biofuel, which is obtained from soy, sunflower, castor, canola and oil palm, among other species.

Proponents point out that biodiesel releases fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels and that it contributes to diversifying the country’s energy mix.

The government also hopes to reduce imports of gasoil.

And by promoting family farming of oil palm, it is working to generate income and jobs, while stimulating local economies in rural areas.

Jaccoud said that while the government’s programmes are well-intentioned, the necessary controls and oversight are still missing.

He said there is a danger that land ownership will become further concentrated, that consumption of pesticides will grow, and that the areas on the outskirts of large cities will become even poorer and more dangerous as a result of rural migration.

Guilherme Carvalho, an educator with the non-governmental programme FASE Amazônia, is worried that palm oil companies are trying “to force family farmers to invest in this monoculture crop and abandon food crops, which would create food insecurity, a loss of autonomy over their land and dependence on market prices.”

The contracts that Biopalma and BB sign with small farmers establish that they only have to use 10 hectares of their land for oil palm, while the rest remains free for growing food and other traditional crops.

But for now, family farms represent only a small part of the oil palm plantations in Pará.

João Meirelles, director of the Peabirú Institute, said oil palm is “an attempt to restore the jungle” in tropical areas, and is preferable to soy or cattle.

But he appealed to the “social responsibility” of companies, urging them to avoid the pitfalls of the sugar cane industry, where land is concentrated in a few hands and precarious labour conditions prevail among migrant workers.

Biopalma director Márcio Maia dismissed the argument that land ownership is overly concentrated.

“In the Amazon region there are major irregularities in land titling, which scares away important players who are interested in investing in this crop,” he said.

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Uruguay Keen to Become Regional Logistics Hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub/#comments Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:40:38 +0000 Pablo Tosquellas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128651 The small South American country of Uruguay could become a major logistics hub in the Southern Cone due to the deepwater port that the government is planning to build in a tourist area on the Atlantic ocean. The project is controversial, because it would convert an undeveloped natural tourism zone in the department (province) of […]

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Location of the projected terminal (in pink) on the coast of Rocha, between La Paloma (bottom left) and Cabo Polonio (upper right). Credit: Comisión Interministerial del Puerto de Aguas Profundas

Location of the projected terminal (in pink) on the coast of Rocha, between La Paloma (bottom left) and Cabo Polonio (upper right). Credit: Comisión Interministerial del Puerto de Aguas Profundas

By Pablo Tosquellas
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 6 2013 (IPS)

The small South American country of Uruguay could become a major logistics hub in the Southern Cone due to the deepwater port that the government is planning to build in a tourist area on the Atlantic ocean.

The project is controversial, because it would convert an undeveloped natural tourism zone in the department (province) of Rocha in the southeast of the country. And it would also compete with terminals in the country’s two giant neighbours: Brazil and Argentina.

There is already ongoing tension over trade issues between Uruguay and Argentina, and the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo have been rivals since Spanish colonial times.

Port rivalry grows

The late October decision by Buenos Aires to ban Argentine exports from being trucked to Uruguayan ports for shipment overseas has added a new element of uncertainty to the Rocha port project.

For now, the port of Montevideo is mainly affected, as a regional transport hub that receives shipments from numerous maritime and river terminals in Argentina and transfers cargo to ocean-going vessels. If Argentina’s ban is kept in place, port operations in Montevideo could drop by 25 percent.

Montevideo, Uruguay’s main port, has an annual cargo volume of just over 11 million tons, similar to its rival, Buenos Aires - the capital of a country with a territory 16 times larger and a population 13 times larger.

According to government sources consulted by IPS, the terminal will be built in stages, and because of its geographic location and its natural depth of 20 metres, it is being offered as a lower-cost shipment point for minerals and grains from neighbouring countries.

Enrique Pintado, Uruguay’s minister of transport and public works, told IPS that the project should be a kind of “cooperative” effort among all countries in the region, to save on shipping costs so that products reach their destination, mainly China and Southeast Asia, “with less distorted prices.”

According to a document from the Inter-ministerial Commission on the Deepwater Port, the terminal could generate 50 percent savings in logistics costs for certain trade flows from the region to Asia, and could eventually handle 50 million tons a year of cargo.

The minister said the capacity of other ports in the region is “saturated”, like Santos in the southeast of Brazil, which is Latin America’s biggest container port, which means “the waiting time for loading and unloading merchandise is excessive.”

The key to the success of the new port is its natural depth, according to Pablo Genta, under-secretary of transport and a member of the Inter-ministerial Commission.

Today, ports on the Atlantic that are about 12 metres deep can handle 60,000 tons of cargo per vessel. The port in Rocha could more than double that capacity, by serving ships carrying up to 160,000 tons, Genta told IPS.

The port of Santos handles more than 100 million tons of cargo annually.

“The port of Montevideo, in the best years, handles 12 million tons,” Genta said. “And the Buenos Aires terminal just barely reached 11 million tons last year.”

The port of Montevideo as seen from the Cerro neighbourhood. Credit: Daniel Stonek/CC BY 3.0

The port of Montevideo as seen from the Cerro neighbourhood. Credit: Daniel Stonek/CC BY 3.0

Uruguay wants to attract a significant portion of the grain and mineral cargo that Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay ship to China and Southeast Asia.

But the under-secretary stressed that Uruguay’s own future production justifies the plans for the port. He was referring to the Aratirí mining project in the centre of the country, where the Indian company Zamin Ferrous hopes to extract 18 million tons of iron ore a year which would be transported to the coast through a slurry pipeline.

Economic, topographical and marine hydrology studies are currently being carried out, as well as physical-chemical studies to establish an environmental baseline, with the aim of putting it out to tender in 2014.

A law passed in January approved construction of the port in the department of Rocha, in an area that contains the beach resort towns of Mar del Plata, El Palenque and San Francisco.

The port is to cover an area of 3,027 hectares, for which land will have to be expropriated. In July, the government called for expressions of interest from potential users of the terminal.

The coastline of Mar del Plata, El Palenque and San Francisco is sparsely inhabited. The white sands and waves and natural vegetation form part of a 46-km stretch of beach between La Paloma, Rocha’s main resort town, and Cabo Polonio, a remote beach village that is inaccessible by road, has no electricity or running water, and is home to a colony of southern sea lions and South America’s most important mobile sand dune area.

Opponents of the port, especially the Movement for a Sustainable Uruguay (MOVUS), argue that there is no clear evidence that neighbouring countries will be interested in using the port.

The only obvious freight use, they say, is by the planned Aratirí open-pit mine, which does not yet have all the permits it needs, and has run up against strong social and environmental opposition.

Legal action has been taken to challenge the approval of construction of the port.

Minister Pintado argued, however, that Uruguay cannot fail to take advantage of the fact that Asia “has been shifting its interest in investment and business westward and is breaking down the North-South economic logic.”

In the mid term, he said, the port would handle shipments of grains and bulk liquids, especially oil and its by-products.

The authorities estimate the cost at one billion dollars – an investment that will be made in stages, “like the layers of an onion,” Pintado said. Different terminals will be built as neighbouring countries and the private sector express interest.

Corporación Navíos SA, a shipping company that operates under the free-zone procedure in the port of Nueva Palmira at the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers, has closely followed the process and hopes to invest in the Rocha terminal, perhaps by means of a public-private contract.

The firm stores and transports freight that arrives in river barges from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Ruben Martínez, general manager of Corporación Navíos, told IPS that many of the company’s ocean-going ships set out with “incomplete” loads.

“There is merchandise, like iron ore, that requires larger vessels, which need a stop off at another port to complete their load,” he said. For that reason, he added, the activities in the ports of Nueva Palmira and Rocha could complement each other.

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South America – From Granary to Megaprojects for the World http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-america-from-granary-to-megaprojects-for-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-america-from-granary-to-megaprojects-for-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-america-from-granary-to-megaprojects-for-the-world/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 12:06:32 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128598 South America has gone from the world’s granary to the site of innumerable international infrastructure, energy and mining megaprojects. It is now facing a new dilemma: bolstering the economy with the promise of reducing inequality, in exchange for social and environmental costs that are taking their toll. The old developmentalist model is back. South America […]

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Belém do Pará, seen here from the Guamá river, is the epicentre of several Amazon rainforest megaprojects. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

Belém do Pará, seen here from the Guamá river, is the epicentre of several Amazon rainforest megaprojects. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BELÉM, Brazil , Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

South America has gone from the world’s granary to the site of innumerable international infrastructure, energy and mining megaprojects. It is now facing a new dilemma: bolstering the economy with the promise of reducing inequality, in exchange for social and environmental costs that are taking their toll.

The old developmentalist model is back. South America has grown, and with that growth has come rising demand for energy, bridges, roads and minerals – just as demand has grown in other emerging economies that today see this region as the new frontier in terms of supplies of strategic raw materials.

Latin America “has difficulties in digesting its own development…what are the traps, what are the alternatives?” Maria Amélia Enriquez, assistant secretary of industry, trade and mining in the Brazilian state of Pará, told IPS.The region that will supply electricity to half of Brazil suffers frequent blackouts. -- Fabiano de Oliveira, an activist with the Movement of People Affected by the Altamira Dams

Pará, in the extreme north of Brazil, forms part of the Amazon rainforest, which is shared by Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Venezuela and Surinam, where 320 major infrastructure works are planned for the next 20 years, according to João Meirelles, director of the Peabiru Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to generate value for the conservation of the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazon jungle.

Hydroelectric dams comprise more than one-third of all the megaprojects in Brazil. In the basin of the Tapajós river, a major tributary of the Amazon river that runs through the states of Pará, Amazonas and Mato Grosso, 42 dams are planned, including five large ones.

“We’re talking about an annual investment of at least 50 billion reals [some 23 billion dollars], dominated by at least 10 companies, including the Brazilian firms Camargo Corrêa and Odebrecht,” said Meirelles.

The mushrooming of megaprojects can be seen throughout the region – ports, roads, freeways, waterways, mining projects, agribusiness and steelworks.

“The old hasn’t died and the new hasn’t been born yet,” said Alfredo Wagner, coordinator of the New Social Mapping of the Amazon Project, referring to the economic model inspired “in the 1930s” and oriented today towards “the international commodities market.”

These issues were discussed at an Oct. 26-28 workshop on megaprojects for journalists organised by the IPS news agency and the U.S.-based Mott Foundation in Belém, the capital of Pará.

Men peeling cassava at the Ver-o-Peso market in Belém, Brazil. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

Men peeling cassava at the Ver-o-Peso market in Belém, Brazil. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

The region’s new transnational corporations, such as Brazil’s Odebrecht, are key players in the boom in megaprojects in the region, which receive financing from both private and public sources, in particular Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES).

In Venezuela, the company is involved in three major infrastructure projects.

The Tocoma dam is the last of the four hydropower plants to be built to harness the waters of the Caroní river, the second-biggest river in Venezuela, in the south of the country.

The Nigale suspension bridge over Lake Maracaibo in northwest Venezuela, to be completed in 2018, will be the third-longest in Latin America, and the project includes the construction of 11 kilometres of roads and railways and three artificial islands.

The Mercosur bridge, which will be the third bridge over the Orinoco river, is planned for 2015, to link southern and central Venezuela. It will be the second-largest bridge in Latin America.

According to the Venezuelan government, 30 major infrastructure works are in progress, as part of the 2013-2019 “Fatherland Plan”, with a total investment of 80 billion dollars.

“Are we looking at the evolution of late capitalism?” Wagner wondered.

In Brazil’s Amazon region, the highest-profile and most controversial megaproject is also in Pará: the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will flood more than 500 square km of jungle and displace over 16,000 people.

The dam, on the Xingú river, will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW and is considered essential by the government to supply Brazil’s energy needs.

A large part of the energy generated by the dams in the Amazon rainforest will be used by industry. Several industrial corporations are interested in investing in the construction of more dams, according to Meirelles, like the U.S.-based aluminium giant Alcoa and Brazil’s Votorantim Group, which has operations in the cement and concrete, mining, metallurgy and pulp and paper industries.

“The question is who ends up with the natural wealth extracted from the Amazon, and who benefits from these projects,” said Gilberto Souza, professor of economy at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA).

The expansion of the Vila do Conde port in the Pará city of Barcarena will improve the transport of aluminium and its raw materials, as well as the export of grains from central Brazil. But it will also displace several riverbank neighbourhoods.

With the new hydroelectric dams, Pará will produce half of the energy consumed in this country of 200 million people. A large proportion of the minerals produced in the state, which is rich in minerals but has the worst development indices in the country, goes to China, the world’s biggest consumer of iron ore, Souza noted.

The population of Altamira, the closest city to the Belo Monte dam, grew 50 percent in two years. As a result, the deficit in healthcare, education and housing grew, and violent crime and prostitution soared.

The area is facing problems like increased deforestation, the deterioration of water quality, and a reduction in the river populations of fish, a staple of the diet of local communities.

Ironically, the region that will supply electricity to half of Brazil suffers frequent blackouts, Fabiano de Oliveira, an activist with the Movement of People Affected by the Altamira Dams, told IPS.

Oliveira and other people living in communities affected by megaprojects complain that they have not been duly consulted.

Resistance movements are growing, but they are facing “one of their biggest contradictions: many of the people who are being relocated are at the same time employed” on the Belo Monte construction site, he explained.

Similar resistance has emerged against two major works in Chile.

The HidroAysén project in the Patagonia wilderness in southern Chile involves the construction of five large hydropower dams in the most biodiverse area in the country.

The 2,000-km transmission line required to carry electricity to the mining industry in the north will cross eight of the country’s 15 regions. But it will not supply any of them with energy.

Work on the project has been suspended by court rulings.

Further north, the Pascua Lama gold and silver mine, owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold corporation, straddles the border between Chile and Argentina in the Andes. Numerous lawsuits over water pollution and the destruction of two glaciers led to a legal decision in April to temporarily halt construction.

The company announced on Oct. 31 that it would indefinitely suspend development of the Pascua Lama mine, due to cost-overruns and a sharp drop in the price of gold.

In the Amazon region of Beni in Bolivia, indigenous communities are waiting for information on the impacts of the construction of the Cachuela Esperanza hydroelectric plant, with an installed capacity of 990 MW and a cost of two billion dollars, which will export electricity to Brazil.

Environmentalists warn that the flooding of some 1,000 square km of land will cause environmental imbalances, besides displacing local communities.

In Pará, José Etrusco, the manager of environment, safety and health in the Albras aluminium corporation, said big hydropower dams like Belo Monte represent the best cost-benefit ratio, even if they entail the relocation of native communities.

“We have to do it, or we’ll be left in the dark,” he argued.

In Colombia, the construction of a set of tunnels at the Alto de La Línea Andes mountain pass is generating another kind of controversy.

The tunnels are essential to creating an east-west road connection, from Venezuela through Bogotá and on to Buenaventura, Colombia’s only Pacific ocean port.

The route is the backbone of Colombia’s international trade, and provides a key outlet for Venezuela to the Pacific.

But while the first tunnel is being completed, environmentalists have pointed out that since 1999, the National Geological Service has been warning about the danger of eruption of the nearby Machín volcano – something that wasn’t even taken into account in the environmental impact assessment.

Forest engineer Paulo Barreto of Brazil’s Imazon institute said the question is “what is the real cost of these works?”: the environmental costs, such as the aggravation of climate change; socioeconomic costs, like the concentration of rural land ownership; and social problems in newly urbanised areas.

“Who is going to pay the bill?” asked Barreto.

UFPA professor of agrarian law José Benatti raised another question: who will employ the workers who have been drawn from other regions by the megaprojects, once the work is done?

Pedro Bara, with WWF Brazil, proposed a methodology for analysing the long-term impacts of major infrastructure works as a whole, rather than on a project by project basis.

As a foundation for that analysis, the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy, which Bara heads, carried out an exhaustive study of the different Amazon ecosystems that must be conserved in order to prevent the biome from disappearing.

That big-picture view, said Bara, should include regional planning, especially in sensitive shared areas like the Amazon rainforest.

With reporting by Estrella Gutiérrez (Caracas), Constanza Vieira (Bogotá), Marianela Jarroud (Santiago) and Franz Chávez (La Paz).

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Major New Andes Tunnel Turns Back on Volcano http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/major-new-andes-tunnel-turns-back-on-volcano/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=major-new-andes-tunnel-turns-back-on-volcano http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/major-new-andes-tunnel-turns-back-on-volcano/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 08:25:37 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128385 A new system of tunnels at the Alto de La Línea mountain pass in Colombia’s central Cordillera mountain range will open up a key logistics route for this country and neighbouring Venezuela. But it could be overcome by disaster if the Machín volcano erupts. The complex engineering feat includes two main one-way tunnels, 8.8 and […]

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Aerial view of the Machín volcano. Credit: Servicio Geológico Colombiano/Observatorio de Manizales

Aerial view of the Machín volcano. Credit: Servicio Geológico Colombiano/Observatorio de Manizales

By Constanza Vieira
FINCA GALICIA, Cordillera Central, Colombia , Oct 26 2013 (IPS)

A new system of tunnels at the Alto de La Línea mountain pass in Colombia’s central Cordillera mountain range will open up a key logistics route for this country and neighbouring Venezuela. But it could be overcome by disaster if the Machín volcano erupts.

The complex engineering feat includes two main one-way tunnels, 8.8 and 8.6 km long, as well as 21 short tunnels and 29 viaducts that will total 6.8 km in length.

The first of the main tunnels, which will be the longest road tunnel in Latin America, is to be completed by mid-2014. The firms that will build the second tunnel have not yet been selected.

Danger: volcano ahead

But in the department (province) of Tolima, the road passes six km from an unassuming hill which is actually the Machín volcano, one of Colombia’s most dangerous volcanoes, which has erupted six or seven times in the past 10,000 years. The most recent eruption occurred around 800 years ago.

Quick look at what would happen if the Machín volcano erupted:

* One million people directly affected
* Permanent relocation of the population from the area at risk
* The western and central parts of the country completely cut off
* Three important farming areas destroyed: Cajamarca; part of the province of Quindío; and the Tolima valley irrigation district
* Nearby towns covered with a layer of ash at least half a metre thick

“The most explosive volcanoes remain quiet for long periods of time,” said Marta Calvache, director of the Colombian Geological Service (SGC).

The SGC – formerly Ingeominas – drew up the first hazards map for the Machín volcano in 1998, which it amplified in 1999, 2000 and 2003.

The map recommends that the hazards posed by the volcano be taken into account in decision-making on “strategic medium and long-term plans for routes, especially roads.”

The La Línea tunnel and the Machín volcano are 15 km apart as the crow flies. If the volcano erupts, “the tunnel will be left without a road,” Calvache told IPS.

More than 100 monitoring stations keep an eye on the volcano 24/7. In 2008, authorities declared a yellow alert, which is still in place. (Green is for normal, yellow for alert, and red for warning and evacuation.)

Even the smallest eruption by Machín would be larger than the eruption of the Ruiz volcano, 45 km to the northeast, which in November 1985 spewed out 0.3 cubic km (km3) of lahar – mudflow or debris flow – which destroyed the town of Armero, killing 22,000 of its 28,000 inhabitants and leaving over 5,000 injured.

“Machín’s normal eruptions can cover several cubic kilometres. And the big ones have been approximately 20 km3,” Calvache said.

If the next one is big, “it will affect the entire central area of the country,” including parts of the provinces of Tolima, Quindío, Valle del Cauca and Cundinamarca that are home to nearly one million people combined, the geologist warned.

The Machín volcano’s eruptions “produce major pyroclastic flows (a fast-moving current of hot gas and rock). No one survives a pyroclastic flow, and the basin would be completely changed,” Calvache said.

“That change, in human terms, would be forever. It would be human beings who would have to adapt,” she said.

“The volcano has been changing,” she added. “What we don’t know is whether that change is headed towards an eruption or if it is simply being unruly and will go back to being calm again for many years.”

The authorities are apparently betting on the latter.

In the environmental impact assessment for the tunnel, “Machín isn’t mentioned as a risk factor,” environmentalist Néstor Jaime Ocampo, of the Cosmos Ecological Foundation based in Armenia, the capital of Quindío, told IPS.

One of the 29 viaducts that form part of the project to upgrade the La Línea highway and mountain pass. Constanza Vieira/IPS

One of the 29 viaducts that form part of the project to upgrade the La Línea highway and mountain pass. Constanza Vieira/IPS

Key route

The government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) declared the La Línea route “strategic” in 2005.

La Línea is essential for trade between Cúcuta, the main city on the border with Venezuela, in the northeast, and Colombia’s only Pacific Ocean port, Buenaventura, in the west.

The road runs through the wealthiest part of the country, the central highlands, where Bogotá is located.

“All of the freight that reaches Bogotá from the Pacific comes through here,” Luis Orlando Muñoz, the head of the Colombian Society of Engineers (SCI), told IPS. “Thousands of tonnes of imports and exports are transported daily. This is the country’s spinal column, when it comes to roads.”

Ocampo, the environmentalist, said “What is being built is a modern road corridor between Caracas and Buenaventura.” In other words, Venezuela’s outlet to the Pacific.

The corridor connects the Gulf of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea with Ecuador on the Pacific, and it forms part of the plans outlined by the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA).

Stressful driving

Like almost all roads in Colombia, the one joining Cúcuta and Buenaventura has just two lanes along most of its 1,020 km.

As it climbs into the central Cordillera range – the highest of the three branches of the Andes in Colombia – the road switchbacks through a stunning landscape of cloud forest, Quindio Wax Palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), and the royal purple flowers of the Glory Bush (Tibouchina lepidota), and past paddocks and cliffs.

Truckers treat the La Línea route with respect. Because of the frequent fog, steep inclines of up to 18 percent, and tight curves, the average speed is just 18 km an hour. It took IPS six hours to drive the 38 km between Ibagué and this mountain pass.

The need to control traffic on this narrow, busy road and the extreme poverty in the area have given rise to a strange occupation: human stoplights – men and women dressed in rags who use flags, flashlights and whistles to warn drivers that a semi-trailer truck is coming in the other direction, just around the next curve.

It is impossible for these huge trucks to avoid invading the other lane when taking a curve on the La Línea road. Drivers thank the human stoplights by tossing them a few coins.

The tunnel will ease traffic by cutting the distance by 10 km and saving drivers an 840-metre climb, which will reduce the average time it takes to drive across the Alto de La Línea pass by 87 percent for truck drivers (to 80 minutes) and by 72 percent for cars (to 30 minutes).

The average speed should increase to 60 km an hour, and accidents should be reduced by 75 percent, according to the Colombian Infrastructure Chamber.

Logistics and planning delays

Nearly 80 percent of Colombia’s domestic cargo is transported by road, according to the transport ministry.

But the country’s road infrastructure “is lagging by at least 30 years,” Diana Espinosa, the president of SCI – the engineers association – told IPS.

She attributed that to a lack of adequate state policies and to “the dedication of funds to financing the war [the nearly half-century armed conflict against left-wing guerrillas], which is causing us a huge lag in infrastructure.”

In the last decade, road freight traffic has increased multifold, reflecting the growth in foreign trade, especially imports.

The volume of imports is three times that of exports, according to the National Council on Economic and Social Policy, the national planning authority.

For that reason, the first main tunnel will serve traffic from Buenaventura to Bogotá.

Ignoring the risk

“People prefer the known risk to unknown solutions,” expert on natural disasters Gustavo Wilches-Chaux told IPS to explain why, despite the tragedy in Armero, no one is considering relocating Cajamarca, population 10,000 – the town that is closest to the Machín volcano.

To the contrary, the South Africa-based firm AngloGold Ashanti is moving forward with the massive La Colosa open-pit mine between Cajamarca and La Línea.

Ocampo said that “By pursuing economic activities in that area, like the La Colosa mine, we are inviting tens of thousands more people to live in an area of hazardous volcanic activity.”

“A blockage of the highway lasting just a few months would be a catastrophe – the country’s foreign trade would practically collapse,” the environmentalist said.

“This is not about our comfort, so our drive from Armenia to Ibagué will be 25 minutes shorter. This is for the comfort of the multinational companies. And it will be us who will pay a steep toll for going through that tunnel.”

The post Major New Andes Tunnel Turns Back on Volcano appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Africa in Debt to Brazil: Forgiveness Isn’t Always Free http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 23:25:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127412 The Brazilian government projects the cancellation of nearly 900 million dollars in debt owed by a dozen African countries as a gesture of solidarity. But others simply see an aim to expand the economic and political influence of South America’s powerhouse. The decision by the left-wing government of Dilma Rousseff, which is now being studied […]

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Brazil’s investments in Africa are steadily growing. The Odebrecht company leads the firms building the Cambambe hydropower complex on the Kwanza River in Angola. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brazil’s investments in Africa are steadily growing. The Odebrecht company leads the firms building the Cambambe hydropower complex on the Kwanza River in Angola. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 10 2013 (IPS)

The Brazilian government projects the cancellation of nearly 900 million dollars in debt owed by a dozen African countries as a gesture of solidarity. But others simply see an aim to expand the economic and political influence of South America’s powerhouse.

The decision by the left-wing government of Dilma Rousseff, which is now being studied by Congress, will especially benefit the Republic of Congo, which owes 350 million dollars, Tanzania (237 million), and Zambia (113 million).

The other beneficiaries are Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal and Sudan.

The decision was described by Rousseff as a “two-way street that benefits both the African countries and Brazil.”

But it was not interpreted the same way by the opposition, and some lawmakers are seeking to block congressional approval.

Cases that have been called into question include those of Republic of Congo, Gabon and Sudan, which are facing international legal action for cases of corruption and even genocide.

Authorities in those countries are “corrupt figures who buy Louis Vuitton and Mercedes Benz luxury cars. Writing off the debt of governments that enjoy such privileges sends the wrong message,” said Senator José Agripino of the opposition Democratic Party.

A statement issued by Brazil’s foreign ministry says the forgiveness of the debt is based on the rules and principles of the Paris Club of rich creditor nations, aimed at easing the debt burden of poor countries.

The communiqué said the move was not just something that occurred to Brazil in a vacuum, but formed part of “an international practice with clear objectives to keep the debt burden from being an impediment to economic growth and anti-poverty efforts.”

In an interview with IPS, political scientist Williams Gonçalves at the Rio de Janeiro State University said the argument raised about dictatorships and “supposedly corrupt governments…has nothing to do with international relations.”

Gonçalves said the critics “were not scandalised” when the United States and other economic powers “protected and financed dictatorships in Latin America.”

“And today they are protecting similar regimes in the Middle East,” he said. “Nor are the defenders of human rights and democracy raising their voices.”

Brazil’s foreign policy defends respect for national sovereignty, Gonçalves said.

“Attaching political strings and interfering in local political systems is a common practice by the United States and other major powers,” he said. “Just as we don’t want anyone to meddle in our political life, we suppose others feel the same way.”

There are other aspects to the controversy.

Senator Alvaro Dias of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party mentioned the economic objectives.

Cancellation of the debt would reopen credit lines at Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) and bolster the involvement of leading Brazilian business consortiums in the African countries in question.

Trade between Brazil and Africa climbed from five billion dollars in 2000 to 26.5 billion dollars in 2012, according to foreign ministry figures.

In Africa, Brazilian public and private enterprises have invested in sectors like oil, mining and major infrastructure works.

Marcelo Carreiro, a history professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told IPS that Brazil’s Africa policy has “strategic objectives” such as “the extension of a strategic security area and the expansion of market access.”

That is reflected by the selection of countries, many of which are in West Africa, geographically across the ocean from Brazil’s impoverished but fast-growing Northeast, he said.

That could give rise to “the creation of a geostrategic Brazilian sphere in the south Atlantic, responsible for conceptually expanding this country’s frontier towards the African coast,” he said.

This would safeguard “not only its strategic pre-salt area (the ultra-deep oil reserves hidden under a thick layer of salt off the coast of Brazil) but also the vast extension of Atlantic coast, in a ‘mare brasiliensis’,” protecting this country from future access by enemies to its territory.

The history professor said “this new carving up of Africa” is indicated by the inclusion of “the only country on the planet governed by a leader facing genocide charges,” the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

“Sudan is triply attractive for Brazil: it is rich in oil, in need of civil construction, and hungry for industrial and agricultural goods,” Carreiro said.

“It is possibly the most advantageous market in Africa, for the Brazilian economy,” he added.

Closer ties would bring additional advantages, such as support for Brazil’s aspirations to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

But Gonçalves is not shocked by this interpretation. “The forgiveness of the debts of small states by large economies is a common thing,” he said.

“The technical explanation for this cancellation is clearing the slate for those countries to pave the way for loans from the BNDES that favour the activities of large (Brazilian) companies,” he added.

But the political science expert does not see this as running counter to the principles of aid. “Solidarity and cooperation are carried out by means of loans and the implementation of projects,” he said.

“International economic relations occur under the capitalist system, which means the aim is always profit,” he said.

But the analyst believes that unlike other kinds of aid, “these projects will be carried out under financial conditions and with social objectives that do not awaken the interest of the big industrialised economies.”

Investments by South America’s giant also reach Africa through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), with a total of 50 million dollars in projects in agriculture, health and education in 2010.

Carreiro pointed out that shortly before the debt cancellation plan was announced in May, the Rousseff administration reported that ABC would be overhauled, and its aid would be increased by 300 million dollars, mainly for Africa.

“But that was apparently seen as too little, and Rousseff decided to speed up the decision, directly buying influence in key countries in Africa,” he said.

“Earmarking 300 million dollars for cooperation projects and writing off some 900 million dollars in debt for corrupt governments are two contradictory practices in a chaotic foreign policy,” Carreiro said.

A 2012 study by the Don Cabral Foundation showed that Brazil’s presence in Africa was growing, with 34 Brazilian multinational corporations operating in the continent. In the view of 44 percent of the companies surveyed, the government’s foreign policy over the last decade has fuelled expanding international involvement by Brazilian firms.

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Q&A: Room for Negotiation in Decisive Battle over the Amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/qa-room-for-negotiation-in-decisive-battle-over-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-room-for-negotiation-in-decisive-battle-over-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/qa-room-for-negotiation-in-decisive-battle-over-the-amazon/#comments Thu, 05 Sep 2013 14:42:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127303 Mario Osava interviews PEDRO BARA, head of the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy

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The circles show possible hydropower dams in the Tapajós river watershed. The colour indicates the level of impact of each dam, from very high (dark red) to low (yellow). Credit: Courtesy WWF-Brazil

The circles show possible hydropower dams in the Tapajós river watershed. The colour indicates the level of impact of each dam, from very high (dark red) to low (yellow). Credit: Courtesy WWF-Brazil

By Mario Osava
SÃO PAULO , Sep 5 2013 (IPS)

Everything indicates that the decisive battle between harnessing hydropower and preserving the Amazon will play out in the Tapajós river basin in Brazil. At stake there are a potential of nearly 30,000 MW and a vital part of the Amazon rainforest.

Eight of the 42 possible dams included in the government’s energy expansion plan up to 2021 are in that area.

The Tapajós river is one of the biggest tributaries of the Amazon river, in northern Brazil. Its watershed is more sparsely populated – just one million people in an area of 50 million hectares – than other areas where hydroelectric dams are being built, such as Belo Monte on the Xingú river.

Pedro Bara talking to activists and indigenous representatives. Credit: Denise Oliveira/WWF Living Amazon Initiative

Pedro Bara talking to activists and indigenous representatives. Credit: Denise Oliveira/WWF Living Amazon Initiative

For that reason the Brazilian government has promised to build them there without land access, transporting staff, equipment and material by air, and to reforest depleted quarries after construction is completed.

But the promises have not dissuaded the Mundurukú indigenous people from fighting against dams in the Amazon jungle.

There is also gold in that area, which means garimpeiros – illegal gold miners – are active along the Tapajós river, which is set to become the best route for transporting agribusiness products from the western state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest soy producer, if plans for an industrial waterway go ahead.

According to the World Wildlife Fund-Brazil (WWF-Brazil), the only way to protect essential ecosystems and species is by preserving a large central bloc of jungle and other smaller areas in the Tapajós watershed, while leaving open the Jamanxim river, one of its main tributaries.

WWF developed a methodology for defining priority environmental areas which, if used in the Tapajós watershed, could serve as a basis for negotiations to help work out the conflicts and come up with better decisions concerning hydropower dams.

This was explained by Pedro Bara, head of the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy, in the second part of this interview with IPS. Read the first part here.

Q: You are calling for the preservation of 30 percent of each one of 423 land and 299 aquatic ecosystems identified in the Amazon rainforest, as a basis for negotiating the expansion of hydroelectric dams without irrecoverable environmental losses. How would that be applied in the Tapajós river basin?

A: In Amazonia, given the scant knowledge about the broad range of biodiversity, we make an approximation. In the case of Tapajós we were able to define a “Noah’s ark”, with 93 land and 28 aquatic ecosystems, 46 species of birds, 17 mammals and 37 fish, as well as 20 aquatic habitats, defined by world-renowned experts.

Soil use and the expansion of agriculture and garimpeiro mining were also analysed and it was concluded that 22 percent of the territory is degraded. But 22 percent is covered by protected areas and 20 percent by indigenous reserves.

The evaluation takes into account the size of the dam, forest conservation and sustainable use units, and indigenous lands.

Q: And what conclusions were reached through the use of the tool you developed and the data collected?

A: What we want to conserve as a minimum is this large central bloc [Bara points on a map to an area around the spot where the Juruena and Teles Pires rivers converge, where the Tapajós river is born, and where at least four dams are planned].

The central bloc of the Tapajós river basin, whose preservation is essential. The black triangles indicate planned hydroelectric dams. The areas marked in light and dark blue show the size of the reservoirs. Credit: Courtesy WWF-Brazil

The central bloc of the Tapajós river basin, whose preservation is essential. The black triangles indicate planned hydroelectric dams. The areas marked in light and dark blue show the size of the reservoirs. Credit: Courtesy WWF-Brazil

The other areas selected are marked with these green spots. Some dams are unacceptable, like the Chacorão, because it is in the Mundurukú indigenous territory.

Q: But the government says it won’t flood any indigenous territory.

A: That’s because it hasn’t put that on the table or included it in the 10-year plan for energy expansion, because it is worried about a backlash. But the Mundurukú are aware of it, which is why they are reacting.

Q: What other hydropower plants are rejected under the criteria outlined by the WWF model?

A: The Escondido dam, also because it will flood around 1,000 square kilometres, to generate 1,248 MW. That is twice the area to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam, which will generate nearly 10 times more energy.

Between these two are the Salto Augusto and São Simão dams, which are also problematic because they are in the Juruena National Park.

All four of them are in the big central bloc that must be preserved.

Q: But would the government agree to negotiate about the [6,133 MW] São Luiz do Tapajós dam, which is strategic?

A: No, the [Brazilian government’s] Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE) [Energy Research Company] has made it clear that, although it considers our tool to be excellent, it is not open to negotiations on the São Luiz or the Jatobá dams.

With these dams, and others that will have a smaller impact, half of the basin’s potential could be achieved without compromising the biological and cultural diversity of the big central bloc. There is room for negotiating.

Q: The president of EPE, Mauricio Tolmasquim, said he supported the use of the tool in order to “preserve as much as possible” in the hydroelectric programme. Are there signs that the government is willing to negotiate?

A: Looking at the Tapajós watershed as a whole, important elements are missing for EPE to preserve as much as possible. Mainly because not all of the environmental permits are in federal jurisdiction, and without clear coordination between the states and the central government, contradictory decisions are produced.

I’m less optimistic with respect to the possibility of the government negotiating a hydroelectric programme in Tapajós. I think it still prefers one battle at a time, even if that is gradually hurting its image.

But one battle at a time, without knowing where you are heading, does not help the lives of those who depend on free-flowing rivers and the conservation of critical areas like the central bloc of the Tapajós basin.

On the other hand, we have seen that a broad, strategic debate is awakening more and more interest on the part of companies and financiers.

Q: But indigenous people, especially the Mundurukú, want to veto the dams. Do you think it is possible to convince them to negotiate?

A: We are in the process of approaching the indigenous leaders. There are many villages, some of which are very far apart, and the Mundurukú are facing the huge challenge of how to organise themselves in the face of a major works project that affects their territory and involves powerful interests.

They have to inform themselves, communicate, create participative spaces, deliberate.

But the negotiation will depend, obviously, on the government’s willingness to agree to a dialogue, which must start with discussing the application of International Labour Organisation Convention 169, on prior, informed consent for local communities, but would have to go far beyond that.

Q: Wouldn’t it help to have consistent development plans for the affected territory?

A: But they have to be drawn up long before the works begin, not like what happened in the case of Belo Monte, which is already 30 percent built, while the development plan just began to be drafted.

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Brazilian Hydroelectricity Giant Promotes Biogas http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/brazilian-hydroelectricity-giant-promotes-biogas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-hydroelectricity-giant-promotes-biogas http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/brazilian-hydroelectricity-giant-promotes-biogas/#comments Tue, 03 Sep 2013 14:07:09 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127258 After more than four decades of highly concentrated electricity generation, Brazil is leaving behind this worn-out model and moving towards distributed and decentralised power production.

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Test tubes in the biogas laboratory that Itaipú has established in its technology park in search of greater efficiency in the production and use of this energy source. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Test tubes in the biogas laboratory that Itaipú has established in its technology park in search of greater efficiency in the production and use of this energy source. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
FOZ DO IGUAÇU, Brazil , Sep 3 2013 (IPS)

The massive Itaipú hydroelectric dam, shared by Brazil and Paraguay, has now become a model for the micro-scale production of an energy source that is not only clean, but also helps to reduce pollution and promote local development: biogas.

Preventing the pollution of the reservoir with organic waste in order to preserve the energy-generating efficiency of the hydroelectric plant is a key goal for Itaipú. Its main socio-environmental programme, Cultivating Good Water, comprises 65 actions for the protection of the Paraná River Basin 3, the area affected by the dam on the Brazilian side, in the western part of the state of Paraná.

Producing biogas from animal manure fulfils this pollution-fighting function. But it also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and provides a source of income for local farmers, explained Cícero Bley, superintendent of Renewable Energies at Itaipú Binacional, in an interview with Tierramérica.

The prospect of incorporating the energy business into his farming activity was an exciting one for cattle farmer Gedson Vargas. His enthusiasm probably played a decisive role in his rise to the presidency of the Coperbiogás cooperative, despite the fact that he was a relative newcomer among the traditional inhabitants of the Ajuricaba River valley, many of whom are descendents of German immigrants.

In 2007, at the age of 51, and with three young children, Vargas realised a long-held dream by purchasing 17 hectares of land in the valley for the equivalent of around 100,000 dollars. “I have always lived in the countryside,” he noted, but he endured five years as a milk vendor in the city in order to save up the money to buy his plot of land.

“I started out with 12 borrowed cows, but I grew, and now I have 40, plus 12 calves,” he told Tierramérica. With these, he produces enough biogas for household consumption as well as a surplus supply. But he is limited by the small size of his current biodigester, a mere 10 cubic metres. He hopes to obtain a larger one through Itaipú, which might be one abandoned by a neighbour.

“It’s a lot of work, but it was the same before, since we had to clean the manure out of the stables,” he said. Now there are environmental benefits, the foul smell and mosquitoes are gone, and the river and a nearby lagoon are cleaner.

Moreover, after the biogas is extracted, what remains of the manure can be used as bio-fertiliser, “which improves the pasture land, and it’s free,” he remarked. The fact that he no longer needs to buy chemical fertilisers adds up to savings of around 150 dollars a month.

The only crop that Vargas grows is corn, on 10 hectares of his land, and he takes advantage of the entire plant, including the kernels, husks and stems, which he stores and uses to feed his cows during the Southern hemisphere winter. The recent purchase of a tractor is proof of how well business is going.

Not even the setbacks faced by the cooperative can dampen his enthusiasm. It all began in 2009 with the Agro-Energy Cooperative for Family Farmers in the Ajuricaba River Basin, later formalised as Coperbiogás. There were originally 41 families involved, but eight dropped out or left the valley.

For more than a year everything has been ready to generate electricity at the biogas micro thermoelectric plant, built with donations from Itaipú on land allocated by the municipal government of Marechal Cândido Rondon. The sale of electricity will provide additional income for the cooperative’s 33 member families.

The micro power plant has the necessary inputs from the family farm biodigesters connected to it by pipelines, but its operation is awaiting a decision from Compañía Paranaense de Energía (COPEL), the public power company in the state of Paraná that would purchase and distribute the electricity.

An alternative is direct sale to an agricultural cooperative, Cooperativa Agroindustrial Copagril, in Marechal Cândido Rondon, which has expressed interest.

But the “lungs” of the micro power plant, the large plastic tank that stores the biogas, already has leaks, as evidenced by the foul odour. It will need to be replaced with a more resistant and larger tank.

In addition, it will be necessary to install 1,200 metres of pipes and ensure a regular supply as well as reserves. The investment required is greater than what the cooperative can afford, Vargas acknowledged.

Technicians from Itaipú estimate that the cooperative members have a combined total of 1,000 cows and 3,000 pigs. The resulting 15,800 cubic metres of manure annually would generate 266,600 cubic metres of biogas and 445,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to supply 2,200 households.

For now, Coperbiogás offers the services of a small grain dryer, which uses biogas to generate hot air flows.

The Ajuricaba initiative plays a key role as a model for family farmers, who must work as a group in order to make an energy-producing enterprise like this feasible. The Uruguayan public power utility, for example, as already decided to replicate the project in its own country.

The experience could also be extended throughout the western region of Paraná itself, where 80 percent of rural landholdings cover at least 50 hectares, and there are 26,000 family farmers and significant agro-industrial production of cows, pigs and poultry, said Bley, an agronomist and recognised expert on alternative energy.

But the pioneer in the commercial production of biogas is a medium-sized enterprise. Granja Colombari, a farm with around 4,000 pigs in the municipality of São Miguel do Iguaçu, has been selling biogas electricity to COPEL since 2009.

Other biogas-powered thermoelectric plant projects are also underway, such as one on a large dairy farm and three being developed by a large commercial agricultural cooperative.

For more than four decades, electric power generation has been highly concentrated in the pursuit of greater efficiency, and Itaipú is a prime example of this. But this model has run its course, leading to the need for the incorporation of distributed and decentralised generation. Micro power generators will play an important role, because in addition to producing energy, they also contribute to local development and environmental improvement, stressed Bley.

The decision made by Itaipú to pursue this path “is not a publicity stunt, but rather the result of a deep conviction,” he said. That is why last year, in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), it created the International Centre for Renewable Energies, the first in the world with an emphasis on biogas, where Bley is the general director.

Rural economic activity is boosted with the income from energy generation and the “biogas economy”, including its supply, service and knowledge chains, but urban sanitation systems can also make use of wastewater, a significant source of gas, he added.

The biogas initiative in Ajuricaba, for example, has helped to foster a local small industry. Its blue biodigesters and black storage tanks, which can be seen next to the stables, are manufactured by BioKohler, a company incubated by Itaipú.

The new entrepreneurs embarked on this innovative venture 10 years ago on their father’s milk farm, in the same municipality of Marechal Cândido Rondon, Paulo Kohler told Tierramérica. They began by producing plastic biodigesters, and then his brother Pedro invented the fibreglass digesters that are used in Ajuricaba in three different sizes, ranging from 10 to 40 cubic metres.

Now they are working on producing concrete biodigesters, which are larger and more expensive, adapting stoves for biogas use, and improving the storage tanks. “We are just surviving,” but the biogas market is promising, said Paulo.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Q&A: Everyone Loses in War Over Amazon Dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/qa-everyone-loses-in-war-over-amazon-dams-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-everyone-loses-in-war-over-amazon-dams-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/qa-everyone-loses-in-war-over-amazon-dams-part-1/#comments Tue, 27 Aug 2013 18:36:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127063 Mario Osava interviews PEDRO BARA, head of the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy

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Pedro Bara explains to indigenous people and activists the tool developed by the WWF to guide negotiations over hydropower projects in the Amazon. Credit: Courtesy of Denise Oliveira/WWF Living Amazon Initiative

Pedro Bara explains to indigenous people and activists the tool developed by the WWF to guide negotiations over hydropower projects in the Amazon. Credit: Courtesy of Denise Oliveira/WWF Living Amazon Initiative

By Mario Osava
SAO PAULO, Aug 27 2013 (IPS)

In the war over major hydropower dams in the Amazon jungle, everyone loses – even the winners who manage to overcome the opposition and build them, but who suffer delays, costs that are difficult to recoup, and damage to their image.

“The polarisation impoverishes the debate on the use and preservation of natural resources,” Pedro Bara, head of the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy, said in this interview with IPS.

WWF stands out for seeking negotiated solutions to the dispute between economic questions and the preservation of nature. In the case of hydroelectric dams, it is calling for dialogue to resolve the confrontations between the business and government interests involved and a diverse array of opponents, including affected communities, and social, indigenous and environmental movements.

The aim is to outline a broad strategy for the Amazon rainforest, overcoming the project-by-project focus that is not based on any proven parameters.

To that end, the Brazilian chapter of WWF developed a tool based on scientific studies, which makes it possible to have an idea of what is needed to preserve water and biodiversity and keep the Amazon alive.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: How can nature be protected in the Amazon jungle in the face of encroachment by hydropower dams, cattle, soybeans, logging and mining companies, and roads?

A: Six years ago, we decided to ask ourselves what we would need to preserve of the Amazon rainforest from here on out. It’s not 100 percent of what’s left, but it can’t all be used for development either.

If we were completely familiar with the area’s biodiversity, it would be easy to define priority areas. But we don’t have enough information on biodiversity in the Amazon. I think we know about only 40 percent of the total, at the most.

We were forced to draw broad conclusions about biodiversity based on the variety of environments. Different environments will have different species. You make approximations. We have conducted several tests in Madre de Dios [a region in southeastern Peru] on how to plan the conservation of water in data-poor areas.

We concluded that by cross-referencing slope with surface run-off, water flows, vegetation and sources of water, you can get a good explanation of the variety of aquatic species and classify rivers by segments. We expanded that model to the entire Amazon basin.

Q: Did you choose Madre de Dios because the ecology there is representative of Amazonia?

A: No, it was because it contained different characteristics. If it was homogeneous it wouldn’t be useful. We had to work with a broad diversity of environments in order to test several models and select the best to apply in the entire Amazon region, where we identified 299 kinds of aquatic ecosystems.

At the same time, the [U.S.-based environmental conservation group] Nature Conservancy and NatureServe [an international network of biological inventories] developed a terrestrial ecological classification based on landforms, soil type, vegetation and climate.

They identified 423 terrestrial ecosystems in Amazonia. Conclusion: this biome is more diverse from a terrestrial than an aquatic point of view.

This is also an approximation, because there are many animal species that move around a lot.

But with the two models I can decide what to preserve. If I can preserve a representative, functional and resistant sample of the 299 aquatic and 423 terrestrial classifications, theoretically I’m preserving the heterogeneity and biodiversity of the Amazon.

Q: But how are the priority areas chosen?

A: By the best cost-benefit ratio, keeping the area to a minimum size based on a purely economic decision.

Q: How are cost and benefit measured?

A: Benefit is opportunity: for example, protected reserves and indigenous lands, where the cost of preserving is lower. Cost is threat: deforestation and the advance of the agricultural and livestock frontier are the terrestrial costs.

Within an ecosystem classification, the model chooses the area most distant from those threats, which drive up conservation costs.

It’s a software that assembles puzzles of thousands of micro-basins, each of which has its attributes, such as belonging to this or that aquatic or terrestrial classification, the proximity of roads, or the current level of degradation.

It avoids red zones, where costs are high, and selects the sample of ecosystem in a protected area. It makes thousands of cross-references to find the best solution.

We didn’t invent anything; we use methodologies from scientific research. The national water agency [ANA] carried out a similar project, the “strategic map of the rivers on the right side of the Amazon river”, which gave us a sense of certainty.

But there are cases where I don’t have options. Aquatic ecosystem 214, for example, only occurs in one spot. If it is affected, it would definitely be lost. It is irreplaceable. And there are many irreplaceable areas.

Q: So what can you preserve?

A: We set a target: preserving 30 percent of each kind of ecosystem. But it’s only an exercise; the actual decision depends on who is at the table discussing the parameters.

Thirty percent of the aquatic ecosystems, plus 30 percent of the terrestrial ecosystems, theoretically adds up to 60 percent. But because there is some overlap, it’s actually 55 percent. That’s reasonable, because today 40 percent is covered by nature reserves and indigenous territories. It’s an arbitrary number, but it has some technical value.

Q: An index to mark the negotiation?

A: That’s where we started: we reached a definition of what we want, in response to the challenge of the hydropower plants.

If we agree that an area must be preserved for the future, it has to have a free connection with the main channel – the Amazon river – since the watershed is unified. Conservation depends on the connectivity of waterways. If the power industry wants to dam all of the rivers [in a watershed], the future of a living Amazon would be compromised.

But everything is negotiable. Our tool offers the possibility of dialogue, not a pat solution. It’s a platform of strategic evaluation to look at the big picture, contextualise projects and reach decisions based on better information. Tomorrow someone could introduce the question of archaeological sites, of quilombos [communities of descendants of escaped African slaves], etc.

Q: How did the government react to this proposal?

A: The reception is always good, until a specific interest is touched. For us, the ideal was to discuss the entire Amazon basin, but we didn’t manage to organise a forum.

The path to that opened up thanks to a December 2010 inter-ministerial decree, which created a working group to analyse environmental and socioeconomic aspects, seeking to subsidise the selection of areas to exploit for hydropower. That was what we had wanted.

The Energy Research Company [EPE] of the Ministry of Mines and Energy wanted to learn about our tool. We trained people in the ministries. They carried out their analysis.

But two years have already gone by. That’s why we decided to go public with our proposals, before the [hydroelectric] projects on the Tapajós river progressed any further.

Q: And have there been any interesting reactions in the private sector?

A: The directors of an international bank praised our ideas, telling us that they’re scared to death of getting involved in a project and later having to face protests outside the doors of the bank. The BNDES [Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development] won’t be able to finance everything on its own.

Q: Can you cite a case where this tool pointed to better alternatives?

A: On the Teles Pires river [a tributary of the Tapajós], I found out that they were thinking of building a single dam, bigger than the current one, the Teles Pires dam, without the other two that had been planned, the São Manoel and Foz do Apiacás. It might have been a better alternative, with greater potential and a smaller cumulative impact.

The river has a natural barrier and the problem of connectivity is not such a major issue. There is a myth that small hydroelectric dams have a smaller impact, but if there is a string of them, the aquatic ecosystem is broken up more.

The post Q&A: Everyone Loses in War Over Amazon Dams appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Nicaragua’s New Canal Threatens Biggest Source of Water http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/nicaraguas-new-canal-threatens-biggest-source-of-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-new-canal-threatens-biggest-source-of-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/nicaraguas-new-canal-threatens-biggest-source-of-water/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 18:34:47 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126790 The canal to be built across Nicaragua threatens the largest source of freshwater in Central America, environmentalists warn.

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The San Juan River in Nicaragua, one possible route for the canal. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

The San Juan River in Nicaragua, one possible route for the canal. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Aug 23 2013 (IPS)

The law passed in Nicaragua to grant a concession to a Chinese company to build a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans repealed legislation that protects Lake Cocibolca and its tributaries.

Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, is the biggest source of freshwater in Central America and the second largest lake in Latin America after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

The alarm over the new threats to the lake was sounded by two local NGOs, the Nicaraguan Alliance on Climate Change (ANACC) and the National Risk Management Body (MNGR), in representation of 20 environmental groups in the country.

Law 840, dubbed “the great inter-oceanic canal law” by the press, was approved by the legislature in June, with the votes of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of President Daniel Ortega.

The canal, which will go across the lake, will be nearly four times longer than its rival, the Panama Canal.

The concession to build and run the canal for 50 years, extendable by another 50 years, was won by the Hong Kong-based Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. (HKND Group), owned by Chinese tycoon Wang Jing. The cost of building the canal is an estimated 40 billion dollars.

According to the MNGR, the new legislation repealed the laws that defend the country’s natural resources and bodies of water, included in the “legal compendium on potable water and sanitation”.

The compendium, compiled in 2011 by the national commission on potable water and sanitation and sewage, includes 85 laws, decrees, municipal ordinances, constitutional provisions, international treaties and administrative regulations that protect the country’s bodies of water.

But the canal law establishes that it is the state’s obligation to guarantee the concession-holder “access to and navigation rights on rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water in Nicaragua, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce such bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the studies for and the construction and operation of the canal.

Law 840 also revoked the principle of application of the general law on national waters, which established that Lake Cocibolca “must be considered a national reserve of potable water, being of the utmost interest to, and highest national priority for, national security.”

Nicaragua granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated, David Quintana of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development told Tierramérica*.

The proposed canal routes run through nature reserves that are home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, molluscs and crustaceans.

The assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, Víctor Campos, said the canal would simply destroy any chance of making Lake Cocibolca the source of water for all of Central America at some point in the future.

“Construction of the canal and conservation of water for human consumption are mutually exclusive – you either have a canal or you have a reservoir of water for the population,” Campos told Tierramérica.

The canal will be built across 190 km of land, while an additional 80 km of the route will go through Lake Cocibolca. It will serve larger ships than the Panama Canal.

Biologist Salvador Montenegro, director of the Research Centre for Aquatic Resources of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, told Tierramérica that the work on the lake will generate enormous amounts of sediment that will muddy the water and suffocate most of the fish and other forms of life.

Montenegro said the size of the canal – 520 metres wide and 27.6 metres deep – poses the worst environmental scenario for the lake and surrounding watersheds.

“A small oil leak, an earthquake, or the strong winds that blow in that area could cause an ecological catastrophe that would forever put an end to potential human consumption from the lake,” the activist said.

The same concern was voiced by Jaime Incer Barquero, a scientist who advises President Ortega on environmental issues.

“We are still in time to rectify this and not make the extremely serious mistake of endangering the biggest source of water in the country and Central America; no canal is worth as much as that lake,” Barquero told Tierramérica.

In the face of the barrage of criticism, the president has stated that the environmental impact study will be decisive in determining the future of the canal project and the route it will take.

But the environmental and technical authorities did not respond to the arguments of the possible environmental risks, and have merely stressed the economic benefits that the canal will bring to Nicaragua.

HKND spokesman Ronald MacLean has stated in several communiqués that the British consultancy Environmental Resources Management would carry out a professional environmental impact assessment of the different routes considered for the canal.

“Obviously, we also have to address the environmental question, because we will have to see what impact the project will have and what will be the cost of a remediation programme so that the final outcome is positive,” he said in an early August email sent out by the company’s public relations firm in Managua.

Meanwhile, environmental organisations, business groups and opposition sectors, as well as indigenous communities worried about threats to their land and their access to water, are preparing to bring legal action against the project.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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