Coalition of indigenous groups calls for boycott of companies that invade and exploit protected Brazilian lands.

By Marianne Brooker (*) - Ecologist - 16th May 2019

The coalition 'Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil' (APIB) is calling a boycott of companies that include  invaders of protected areas in their supply chains. 

To support this call the group has disclosed a list of foreign companies that have engaged in trade with Brazilian agribusiness agents accused of acting in areas of indigenous land conflicts and extracting resources from protected areas.

Besides the boycott, APIB's intention is to submit the data to the European Parliament and ask it to take action.

Human rights

Eloy Terena, APIB's legal counsel, said: "Traders in Europe and North America can help by cutting ties with these bad Brazilian actors, thus sending a clear signal to Jair Bolsonaro that the rest of the world will not tolerate his policies."

"If these companies continue to support Brazilian companies, they must also be blamed for the destruction of tropical forests and the abuse of indigenous peoples."

Sonia Guajajara, indigenous leader and executive coordinator of APIB, said: "We understand that sanctioning the products that are produced and bought in areas of indigenous conflicts is the only thing that can guarantee the rights constituted here in Brazil. 

"We have to charge those foreign countries and demand respect for territorial, environmental and human rights."

Illegal deforestation

AFIB's report lists investments made between 2017 and 2019 by European and US companies and analyses the main fines for illegal deforestation committed by 56 Brazilian companies, which were collected by the governmental agency IBAMA from 2017 to 2019.

Twenty-seven foreign companies importing commodities were identified as doing business with loggers, slaughterhouses and soy farmers, as well as donations to political parties linked to agribusiness.

A study published by the scientific journal Public Library of Science points out that between 2011 and 2012, 78 percent and 54 percent of logging in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso, respectively, were illegal.

Between 2017 and 2018, businessman Arnaldo Andrade Betzel, owner of the timber companies Benevides Madeiras and Argus, was fined $570,000 for illegal deforestation in Pará. Benevides Timber exported a total of 1,754 tons of timber to companies in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The APIB report also cites Tradelink Madeiras, a subsidiary of Tradelink Group based in Brazil, which was fined in 2016 for the sale of illegal timber. In 2017, the company was fined 11 times for irregular deforestation, totaling $ 260,000.

In the same year, the group was still reported for using slave labor in its supply chain. Between 2017 and 2019, Tradelink exported 2,203 tons of Amazonian timber to importers from Denmark, Canada and the United States.

Livestock and soy

Among the cattle farmers mentioned in the report are Agropecuária Santa Barbara Xinguara (AgroSB), Agropecuária Rio da Areia LTDA and the three main beef processors in Brazil: JBS, Marfrig and Minerva.

AgroSB is owned by an international fund managed by banker Daniel Dantas, and received the largest fines for illegal deforestation in the Amazon in 2017, totaling $20 million. The company was fined again in 2018.

Between 2017 and 2018, another company named Agropecuária Rio da Areia was fined five times for the same reason, totaling US $1.2 million. The triad cited accounts for more than half of all slaughtered cattle in the Amazon.

According to Greepeace and Chain Reaction Research, the main drivers of deforestation in the Amazon are the livestock and soy industries.

Five companies bought about 3,000 tonnes of soybeans and other grains from farms previously embargoed by IBAMA in Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia in April 2018. They are: ABC Indústria e Comércio SA, JJ Samar Agronegócios Eireli, Uniggel Proteção de Plantas Ltda, Cargill and Bunge. Called "Operation Shoyo", the lawsuit applied R $ 105.7 million in fines to companies and rural producers.

Indigenous rights

According to Funai, there are more than 400 demarcated indigenous territories across the country, or 12.2 percent of the territory, with some 500,000 inhabitants. The majority of them are located in the Amazon region and some live totally isolated.

Under Brazil’s constitution, indigenous people are not allowed to practice commercial farming on their reserves and mining is only permitted with congress’s approval.

Bolsonaro has threatened to change this. He wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased.

The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories.

The Brazilian president was elected with their help, vowing to freeze demarcations of new indigenous reserves, revoke the protected status of others, and free up commercial farming and mining on others.

Epic proportions

Deforestation in Brazil has reached such epic proportions that an area equivalent to 1 million football pitches was lost in just one year, according to Greenpeace.

Deforestation in Brazil has major implications for the balance of CO2 in the global atmosphere. A major study released in 2015 found the amount of carbon being absorbed and stored by the Amazon rainforest had fallen by around a third over the previous decade.

Another recent study found large carbon losses in Brazil and elsewhere are contributing to tropical forests turning from a global sink to a global source of emissions.

Deforestation increased by almost 14 percent with an area of 7,900 sq km (3,050 square miles) of forest cleared between August 2017 and July 2018, according to the governmental institution of special investigations.

Amazon restoration

The Amazon rainforest represents more than half of Earth’s remaining rainforest and covers an area of 5.5 billion sq km, about 60 per cent of which is in Brazil. 

The Amazon is under threat from illegal logging as well as farming, in particular from soybean plantations and pasture land for cattle.

LULUCF accounts for around a fifth of Brazil’s emissions. Illegal and legal deforestation, driven by cattle ranching, soy production for livestock feed and logging for timber and charcoal, continues to be a significant problem in Brazil today.

Brazil pledged in its NDC to achieve “zero illegal deforestation” in the Amazon by 2030. However, this represented a step backwards from its proposal in 2008 to achieve “zero net deforestation” by 2015.

Brazil has also promised to restore 12m hectares of deforested land by 2030 – the biggest commitment of its kind ever made by a single country. But these pledges will only become reality when agribusinesses stop invading and depleting the rainforests. 

Environmental crimes

The Bolsonaro government transferred the responsibility for demarcation of indigenous reserves to Brazil’s agriculture ministry, which is controlled by members of a powerful farming lobby that has long opposed indigenous land rights.

Bolsonaro also handed control of Brazil’s cash-strapped indigenous agency Funai to a new ministry of women, family and human rights presided over by a conservative evangelical pastor.

Bolsonaro and his environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, have both publicly attacked Brazil’s environmental protection agencies and what they call “an industry” of environmental fines.

The president - who has said the indigenous communities are being exploited and manipulated by non-governmental organisations - and his Environment Minister have also strongly criticised the environmental protection agency, Ibama, in charge of policing the Amazon to stop deforestation.

Bolsonaro has said he will reduce the power to inspect and punish environmental crimes. If he does that, Amazon deforestation could explode into an unimaginable situation. 


(*) Author Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from AFIB.



Deforestation of Brazilian Amazon surges to record high

Environmentalists fear 2019 will be one of worst years for deforestation in recent memory

Inspectors walk through an area affected by illegal mining in Pará state in Brazil’s Amazon basin



Inspectors walk through an area affected by illegal mining in Pará state in Brazil’s Amazon basin. The rainforest lost 739sq km during the 31 days of May Photograph: Vinicius Mendonca/AP


Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon surged last month to the highest May level since the current monitoring method began, prompting concerns that president Jair Bolsonaro is giving a free pass to illegal logging, farming and mining.

The world’s greatest rainforest – which is a vital provider of oxygen and carbon sequestration – lost 739sq km during the 31 days, equivalent to two football pitches every minute, according to data from the government’s satellite monitoring agency.

Although a single month is too short to confirm long-term trends, May is considered an important guide because it marks the start of the dry season, which is when most burning and other forms of forest clearance are carried out.

Unless the government sends a clear signal it will not tolerate a further acceleration, environmentalists fear there will be an increase in the coming months that could make 2019 one of the worst years for deforestation in recent memory.

“The government can’t deny these numbers from their own agency. The question now is what they’ll do about it,” said Carlos Souza, of the independent monitoring group Imazon. “By the end of July. we’ll have a clear idea of the impact of recent moves to dismantle environmental policies.”

Amazon deforestation graphic

Since the far-right Bolsonaro came to power in January, he has weakened the environment ministry, loosened controls on economic exploitation of the Amazon, halted demarcation of indigenous land and encouraged mining and farming interests to expand in the region.

Since the president criticised the government’s main monitoring agency as a “fines industry”, it has issued a fewer penalties than at any time in 11 years and the number of inspection operations is down 70% from last year.

His environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who was convicted for environmental fraud and had never visited the Amazon region before this year, has further undermined morale by failing to appoint regional chiefs and by firing veteran inspectors. Earlier this week, Folha reported he was moving to privatise the satellite monitoring of the forest.

He has also vexed donors Norway and Germany by proposing to weaken the voice of civil society in deciding how the $1.3bn Amazon Fund is spent.

In congress, the dominant agricultural lobby is pushing for further relaxations, including the breakup of protected areas.

Bolsonaro’s oldest son, Flavio, who is a senator, recently proposed a reform of the forest code that would remove the obligation of farmers in the Amazon to maintain forest cover on 50-80% of their property. This measure would reportedly open up an area larger than Iran for extractive industries. A growing wave of speculative land claims are being registered inside reserves, which is putting more pressure on the boundaries.

“The spike in deforestation is depressing, but hardly surprising: you have a government in Brazil who is dismantling nearly every environmental policy put in place since 1992 and who is harassing federal environmental agents, thus empowering environmental criminals,” said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, an NGO formed by a coalition of environmental groups. “However, we must wait and see how it will behave in June.”

Other factors might have contributed to the increase. The first few months of this year were cloudy and rainy, which made satellite monitoring more difficult, so some areas might have been missed by earlier sweeps. The bad weather could also have prompted loggers and farmers to delay land clearance until May. The economy, which is often a driver of deforestation during period of high beef and soy prices, has also been in the doldrums, though Bolsonaro has indicated that agribusiness can help to lift Brazil towards positive growth.

In this regard, he is echoing and amplifying the message of his predecessors as president, Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer, both of whom presided over periods of accelerated forest clearance as they became reliant on the rural lobby and commodity exports to China and Europe.

Another factor is an expansion of infrastructure projects, including roads and hydroelectric plants. The Brazilian state that suffered the greatest deforestation last month was Pará, which is home to the BR163 road through the Amazon and the Belo Monte dam.


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