First came sugar. For four centuries, it was the main sugarcane product in Brazil. But since the 1970s sugarcane has grown and diversified as a source of energy: ethanol, electricity and biogas.
The Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo recorded 932 flooded premises on Feb. 10, 2020. The Mexican city of Tula de Allende was under water for 48 hours in September 2021. In Lima it almost never rains, but the rivers in the Peruvian capital overflowed in 2017 and left several outlying municipalities covered with mud.
For three weeks, the Brazilian government concealed the fact that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest increased by nearly 22 percent last year, accentuating a trend that threatens to derail efforts to curb global warming.
The number of victims of serious burns, some fatal, has increased in Brazil. Without money to buy cooking gas, the price of which rose 30 percent this year, many poor families resort to ethanol and people are injured in household accidents.
Basic sanitation, a sector that is undervalued because, according to politicians, it does not bring in votes, has gained relevance in Brazil due to the pandemic that has hit the poor especially hard and the drought that threatens millions of people.
As most of the world seeks to modify its energy mix to mitigate climate change, Brazil has also been forced to do so to adapt to the climate crisis whose effects are being felt in the country due to the scarcity of rainfall.
The sea of soybeans that sprouts every November will spread even further in the state of Mato Grosso if three new railway lines that would boost soy production in central-western Brazil and growing parts of the Amazon rainforest are built.
Twenty years after the blackout that prompted nine months of rationing to keep the power grid from collapsing, Brazil may see a repeat of the traumatic situation, this time with a more obvious climate change undertone.
Health, fiscal, environmental and political crises have not prevented Brazil from attracting private capital to expand infrastructure, according to the sector's minister, Tarcísio de Freitas.
"Rainfall is fundamental; the streams and rivers we have would not suffice for irrigation, even if they were the Amazon River," said Dirceu Dezem, referring to the amount of water required for the extensive crops in Brazil’s midwest.
"Biogas is worth gold to us, we can no longer live without it," Claudete Volkswey, a poultry farmer in the municipality of Toledo, in the southwestern state of Paraná, Brazil, said enthusiastically about the new source of energy that has allowed her to get a good night’s sleep again, because she no longer has to get up to stoke the fire every two hours.
"We are no longer familiar with the Xingú River," whose waters govern "our way of life, our income, our food and our navigation," lamented Bel Juruna, a young indigenous leader from Brazil´s Amazon rainforest.
"Showing solidarity is consuming the energy generated in your own municipality" - this is the motto of a project of distributed electricity generation in one of Brazil's many poor neighbourhoods.
No one died of hunger during the worst drought in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, between 2011 and 2018, in sharp contrast to the past when scarce rainfall caused deaths, looting, a mass exodus to the South and bloody conflicts.
After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.
Solar energy has continued to expand in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic and should contribute to the economic recovery in the wake of the health crisis.
Electric transport, still limited in Latin America despite its urban benefits, could expand during the post-pandemic economic recovery, says Adalberto Maluf, president of the Brazilian Association of Electric Vehicles (ABVE).
The first priority in the COVID-19 pandemic was to save lives, in an effort to avoid even more devastating economic losses if strict lockdown and isolation were not put in place.
"It used to be complicated, I would have lunch with the flies," recalls Pedro Colombari, laughing, on his 400-hectare farm where he fattens 5,000 pigs and raises 400 cattle outside of a small town in southern Brazil.
"Slave labour is not declining; it has taken on new forms and is growing; it expanded to new sectors where it did not previously exist," said Ivanete da Silva Sousa, an activist in the fight against modern-day slavery in northern Brazil.
Fomenting biogas production among agricultural producers may seem at first glance to be a distraction from the purpose of Itaipu, the giant hydroelectric power plant shared by Brazil and Paraguay, but in fact it is part of their energy business strategy.