On March 4 2008, more than 800 women of the Vía Campesina movement in Brazil invaded the Tarumã Plantation in the state of Río Grande do Sul. The farm’s monoculture of trees are grown on 2,100 hectares belonging to the Swedish-Finnish firm, Stora Enso, the second largest paper company in the world. The women began pulling out the eucalyptus trees in the morning, replacing them with native species in protest against the alarming spread of “green deserts” in the country. State governor Yeda Crusius rushed to defend the interests of the company, sending in a military brigade, which violently fired rubber bullets at those occupying the farm, wounding more than 50, and detaining the majority of those present by enclosing them in sports stadium.
The governess had personal interests at stake in this savage action: The main paper companies ravaging thousands of hectares with monoculture in the state (Aracruz Celulosa, Stora Enso, and Votorantin Paper and Cellulose) have made “contributions” to her government for more than 300 million dollars, according to public documents obtained at Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal by the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST).
Vía Campesina had complained before that the property was illegal, since it lies within 150 kilometers of the Uruguayan border. According to Brazilian law, foreigners are not allowed to own land this close to the border. Stora Enso tried to purchase the land through Derflin, its local subsidiary, but was denied the sale on account of the same law. The company then moved to create a front-company, the Azenglever agribusiness firm, which is owned by two Brazilians João Fernando Borges y Otávio Pontes (forestry director and vice president of Stora Enso for Latin America). They are two of the largest landowners in the state. Azenglever owns nearly 50 plantations and more than 45,000 hectares, but plans to expand this to 100,000 hectares
As the women of Vía Campesina declared, “Our action is legitimate, Stora Enso is illegal. Planting this green desert near the border is a crime against the law in our country, against the environment, and against our food sovereignty of our state, which everyday has fewer lands available for food production.” They also explained that despite repeated denunciations of evident legal abuse, the authorities have failed to act accordingly. This recent action is only one of many protests carried out by the women of Vía Campesina across Brazil marking March 8, World Women’s Day. These protests have taken aim at monocultivation of trees, sugar cane, against proliferation of transgenic corn, and other activities of multinational agribusinesses.
In 2006, hundreds of women invaded a plantation of the Aracruz company to denounce these companies, which in various parts of the country have displaced thousands of people from indigenous and farmer communities, or quilombolas (communities descended from escaped-slave settlements). They have also caused the contamination of water sources and subsoils with the intensive use of agro-toxins as well as the depletion of forest resources—fauna and flora—which are decimated in and around plantation lands.
The argument used by the companies and their government supporters to justify this model of enormous tree monoculture, which advances like a cancer in many countries of the Third World leveling communities and ecosystems, is the “necessity” of producing cellulose for the increasing demand for paper. Added to this is the push for the use of monocultures as a primary resource for agrofuels. In both cases, the underlying threat made by these companies is that to produce more they must use transgenic trees.
It’s important to identify who and what are behind this growing consumption of paper in the world, since the large paper companies, pulp mills, and the “paper tiger” governments supporting them use this growth in consumption to justify all kinds of abuses.
According to Chris Lang and reports by the World Rainforest Movement (www.wrm.org.uy), average per capita consumption of paper in 1961 was 25 kilograms; by 2005, this had jumped to 54 kilos. What the average obscures is that Northern industrialized countries consume an average of 125 kilos per person, while Southern countries consume just 20 kilos per person. The averages also obscure differences between northern countries: Finland, the largest per capita paper consumer in the world, consumes 334 kilos per person, the United States 312 and Japan 250. In China, per person consumption in 1960 was 4 kilos and in 2005 reached 44. But most of China’s paper consumption is used in packaging exported to the rest of the world, mainly Europe, Japan, and North America.
Indeed, most of global paper consumption goes into advertisements and packaging, which rose exponentially due to the dislocation of production, which used to be locally based. Also, the ruthless rise of large supermarket chains has displaced more direct sales that used to characterize producer-consumer relations at the local level.
For these reasons, the protest of the Vía Campesina women is in no way “merely” a local act; instead, it shows the world what lies behind what are absurdly called “forestation” projects designed to fatten the profits of multinationals at the expense of the resources and lives of rural communities.
Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher for the ETC Group. This article was originally published in Spanish by the Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI) and translated by NACLA.