Biofuels in Brazil: Alternative or Disaster?

Uploaded by TheVJMovement on 21.03.2011

Scientists say petroleum-fueled cars
are one of the leading causes of global warming.
And, as temperatures increase across the planet,
people are searching for sustainable answers.
Some say Brazil may have a clue.
Since the 1970s, Brazil has been retrofitting their cars
to run off of petroleum or ethanol,
which Brazil makes as a byproduct of sugar cane.
Filling stations across the country carry both at competitive prices.
Studies show that cars running on ethanol emit less than 20 percent the CO2 that petroleum does.
Yeah, it's the most "natural" fuel.
Brazil is now one of the world's leading ethanol producers.
This South American nation is also increasing biodiesel production,
using crops such as soy.
Over the last five years, Brazilians saved nearly 200 million tons of carbon dioxide
from entering the atmosphere
by the use of ethanol or ethanol-petroleum mixed fuel.
But these biofuels may not actually be as green as they appear.
Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement, or MST,
is one of the leading opponents of Brazil's biofuel production, such as ethanol.
They say it simply exacerbates the historic inequality in the Brazilian countryside
and occupies land that would otherwise be producing food.
This ethanol is going to make money for these companies and the rich.
Are we going to only plant ethanol on our land?
And the rice and beans. Who's going to give that to us?
The MST was formed by landless farmers in the early 1980s
in order to push the Brazilian government to carry out a much-needed land reform.
Under the constitution,
the Brazilian government has the power to buy up unproductive land
to hand over to landless farmers.
The MST has relied on the tactic of occupying disputed land,
in order to force the government to expedite land reform.
The movement has been widely successful.
Over the last two-and-a-half decades, more than 300,000 MST families
have been settled on 14 million hectares of Brazilian land.
The MST has built hundreds of schools and cooperatives,
and 100,000 member families are now camped in makeshift homes,
waiting to receive land from the Brazilian government.
And each day a new family arrives ...
But it hasn't been easy.
The police are often quick to expel the MST from their camps and disputed land,
and the movement has been violently confronted
by both the national guard and large landowners
who aren't interested in land redistribution.
Meanwhile, Brazil remains highly unequal.
Less than 2 percent of Brazil's population owns nearly half of Brazilian territory,
and control of the Brazilian countryside in some places
has been consolidating even further,
largely due to the growth of Brazil's agro-industry.
There has clearly been a huge land grab in recent years.
And this owes a lot to the fact
that you've had now lots of financial capital investments into these big firms.
Huge multinationals. Some of them are Scandinavian-based,
others are Swiss, others are American-based, and so forth.
The ones that have been buying a lot of land are for the biofuels,
or we should probably use the word agrofuels; it's probably a little more PC.
According to Brazil's Pastoral Land Commission,
over the last two decades, Brazilian production of rice and beans fell by 10 to 20 percent,
while the planting of sugar cane and soy,
from which ethanol and biodiesel are derived,
has nearly doubled.
The MST says the agrofuel boom
is simply the latest step in the growing Brazilian agro-industry,
something movement members were quick to acknowledge
as their primary enemy
during their 25th anniversary celebration in late January.
When the MST began, our main adversaries were the large landowners.
Now, the principle enemies of the MST are the multinational corporations,
which are taking over land that would be for agrarian reform.
The MST now understands
that the power of the agribusiness is large enough
to annihilate the goal at the heart of the MST struggle.
What is that? Agrarian reform.
Brazil's agro-industry has grown quickly.
Multinational corporations such as Cargill, Bunge and Monsanto
have increased their holdings in the region.
The agribusiness boom has also been supported
by the leftist Brazilian government of Luiz In┬Ěcio Lula da Silva,
who says it is helping to increase agricultural production
to feed the entire nation, and also give Brazil a foot in the global market.
In the first six years of the Lula administration, his government provided
seven times more money to agribusiness than to peasant farming.
This reality, however, has made land reform difficult.
Because once these companies come in,
and they start buying huge tracks of land,
one of the things that they do is affect the land market price.
So they immediately raise land market values,
which makes it harder for the government to pay for land expropriations,
or to go for full-out purchases of land.
So it really distorts the land market,
and affects the possibilities, therefore, for any further land redistribution.
So what you really see in many regards,
is sort of a territorial dispute,
between people who want the land to be held by family farmers,
peasants and small producers,
and those who would rather have the land controlled by large corporations,
that employ very, very few labor.
They often use a lot of agro-chemicals for their land,
and they do an intensive monoculture.
The MST says this is the reality across the country,
although the crop varies.
In the Northeast, it's sugar cane.
In the Midwest, it's soy.
Here in the South, it's also soy and paper pulp.
In the Southeast, it's paper pulp and sugar cane,
and in the Amazon, it's cattle, soy and a lot of deforestation.
In the Amazon,
because of all of the deforestation, the land is drying up.
Where there used to be streams, trees and animals,
it's turning into a desert.
And these hot spells are causing a lot of fires
that are destroying the jungle even further.
It's getting really bad,
because the businesses are only thinking about profit.
The deforestation in the Amazon
is responsible for 80 percent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions,
only one of the many social and environmental repercussions
of this industrial model of agricultural production.
They dust their crops over there, and they get my plants over here.
These are the pesticides for soy, right? - Yeah, soy.
And they kill the grapevines, the trees.
I had grapevines right here. They killed them.
Ethanol or biodiesel may be a renewable alternative to petroleum at the pump,
but the reality behind its production
is at the heart of an intense debate
now being played out in the Brazilian countryside.