Contesting the Amazon as an ‘Open Space for Development’ by Lee Pegler and Julienne Andrade Widmarck

The use of land for soya cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon has led to compelling debates on the sustainability of the movement of products globally through global value chains (GVC) and the democratic processes surrounding these. All of us, in the Global North and Global South alike, have played a role in stimulating the expansion of GVCs in the Amazon that has led to an increase in the precarity of livelihoods, landlessness, and health/environmental problems. Without sustained and imaginative strategies by local and transnational social movements, this disjuncture between the market, sustainable futures, and democratic processes may simply widen.


The Amazon does not leave the news. Fires of unprecedented scale have devastated the area and are still occurring at a fast pace[1]. The latest wave of fires in the Brazilian Amazon appears to be not just an ecological warning, but also part of a cyclical strategy for land recovery and sale and/or alternating use of soya and cows by farmers[2]. The lungs and waters of our collective ecological future are at stake[3]. Nevertheless, those of us in other parts of the world are not without responsibility for this. At the same time, we are open to the assertion that the fate of the Amazon is none of our business.

What happens in the Amazon is our business, however. For example, energy- and protein-inefficient soya for animal feed produced in the Amazon is promoted as a low-cost input for sale to European farmers from a value chain supported by Dutch capital and the Dutch state[4]. Whilst Dutch farmers react to EU directives to curb emissions[5], Dutch and European consumers continue to purchase meat and dairy products, produced thanks to soya supplied as bulk feed for cattle and pigs from unsustainable and conflictual locations such as the Brazilian Amazon[6].

Amazon squeezed from all sides—can it cope?

The soya Global Value Chain (GVC) emerging from the Brazilian Amazon is threatening local populations’ security, livelihoods, and health as widespread deforestation continues to make room for soya plantations[7]. Various national and multinational companies financing land, sourcing output, and providing infrastructure for this chain (e.g. for local ports) are reacting to an increased demand for soya, thus “doing what the market tells them to do”.

The Dutch government, one of the countries with the greatest demand for soya is, on one side of the chain, emphasizing their country’s sustainable policies, initiatives, and institutions[8]. On the other side of this chain (in Brazil), we have a national regime that sees the Amazon as an “open space” for commerce (for cows, soya, minerals, and tourism) and a civil society that is fighting to raise the voices of indigenous communities and small-scale farmers threatened by these developments[9]. Thus, while there is a push for more responsible soya production practices from outside and from within, this is countered by the Brazilian government’s aim to commercialize the Amazon further[10]. The Amazon is being squeezed from all sides—can it cope?

This particular debate on the soya GVC is being studied within the ISS/EUR Governance of Labour and Logistics for Sustainability (GOLLS) programme[11]. In a project about commodity traders and social movements, we are exploring the link between firms at a global level and their activities in this region/sector. What is evolving is called the Ferrogrão[12] (logistical train/road grain chain) and a waterway silo-platform-barge system (strongly supported by Dutch firms and government) for the more efficient movement of soya along the Tapajos river, up the Amazon River, and then onto Europe/the Netherlands/Rotterdam[13] (Figure 1 below).

_viewblob.php

Figure 1 – Logistic Plan of Soya GVC in Amazon. Credit: Portal of the Company of Planning and Logistics S.A. (EPL)

Ongoing resistance to land use changes

A key mechanism for resisting these plans, used by local communities, small-scale farmers, indigenous groups, and their social movement supporters, has been a process of participation and rights recognition through ILO Regulation 169[14] (ratified by Brazil in 2003). Along with campaigns urging farmers not to sell their land, this participation protocol process has been one of the flags of resistance of affected parties and their supporters[15]. This reliance on institutional regulation and push for greater transparency on land rights[16] has helped boost the morale of many and put some local players in a position of influence, but also greater precarity[17].

Experiences locally and in other contexts note how such struggles consume many resources and will be met by counteraction by firms and, at times, by the state[18]. This is also happening here. For example, the current Brazilian federal regime is further undermining this rights process via proposals[19] for land area freezes for the indigenous, increased rights to mining in protected territories, and in amended participation rights—groups may still have their say, but no veto over “development” proposals[20].

At a local level, NGOs have been asked to explain their activities to public representatives[21]. Indeed, the ambient surrounding our case studies (one where land has been appropriated and soya grown, the other a mainly mining community where soya from other regions is being stored) reflects these local political economy dynamics. In one location, capital accumulation is dominated by “the laws of small-scale mining,” whereas, in the soya production case study, even the more accepted model of concertation (“accumulation by legislation” – i.e. by rules) is under pressure[22].

This situation clearly requires more concerted public awareness and broader level (international) collective responses. This ISS-EUR/Brazilian research programme seeks to widen the scope of awareness and societal action on these themes. We plan to move beyond our present case studies to other logistical points and to carry out further participative studies of local (displaced) communities.

It is essential to take these issues up to centers of decision making in the Global North (much as is being done by indigenous leader gatherings across Europe and by action groups like the “Amsterdam Coalition for Democracy in Brazil”). Local and transnational social movements are under severe pressure to make their cases heard[23]. Without sustained and imaginative strategies by them and others, this disjuncture between the market, sustainable futures, and democratic processes may simply widen.


About the authors:

JulienneJulienne de Jesus Andrade Widmarck has been a PhD researcher at the ISS since 2018 and a PhD student in Applied Economics at the Federal University of Uberlândia from 2019. She was a substitute professor at the Federal University of Viçosa from 2017 to 2019. Currently, she is a consultant in Territorial Development, Agroindustry, and Business Planning. She has experience in the field of agricultural economics, with an emphasis on commodities exportation, econometric methods, and family farming. Outside the academic field, she develops financial empowerment activities and participates in the National Human Rights Movement in Brazil.

Lee 3Lee Pegler spent his early career working as an economist with the Australian Labour Movement. More recent times have seen him researching the labour implications of “new” management strategies of TNCs in Brazil/ Latin America. This interest expanded to a focus on the implications of value chain insertion on labour, both for formal and informal workers. Trained as an economist and sociologist (PhD – LSE), he currently works as Assistant Professor (Work, Organisation and Labour Rights) at the ISS.


Title Image Credit: Vinícius Mendonça/Ibama from FotosPublicas
References:
Amazon Aid Foundation. Illicit and Unregulated Gold Mining. Viewed: 21 April, 2020. < https://amazonaid.org/the-issues/gold-mining/>
Arsenault, C. Mendes, K. ( 2017, June 6). Amazon protectors: Brazil’s indigenous people struggle to stave off loggers, Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-landrights-indigenous/amazon-protectors-brazils-indigenous-people-struggle-to-stave-off-loggers-idUSKBN18X1MX
van Beek, S. (2018, November 15). All Eyes on the Amazon: the future of protecting forests in Brazil, Both Ends. Retrieved from:https://www.bothends.org/en/Whats-new/News/All-Eyes-on-the-Amazon-the-future-of-protecting-forests-in-Brazil/
Brum, E. (2019, August 13) In Bolsonaro’s burning Brazilian Amazon, all our futures are being consumed, The Guardian. Retrieved from:https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/23/amazon-rainforest-fires-deforestation-jair-bolsonaro
CAMPELO, L.; VECCHIONE GONCALVES, Marcela. Terras na Região do Cerrado Viram Alvo de Especuladores. Brasil de Fato, 06 fev. 2017.Retrieved from:  https://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/view/26898-brasil-terras-na-regiao-do-cerrado-viram-alvo-de-especuladores
CAMPELO,  L.; VECCHIONE GONCALVES, Marcela . Pará atende agronegócio e ignora comunidades as construir ferrovia, dizem lideranças. Brasil de Fato, Belém, 22 ago. 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2017/08/22/para-atende-agronegocio-e-ignora-comunidades-ao-construir-ferrovia-dizem-liderancas
FERN25 (2019, August 29). NGOS CALL FOR NEW LAWS TO END THE EU’S COMPLICITY IN AMAZON FIRES. Viewed: 23 April 2020. <https://www.fern.org/pt/noticias-e-recursos/ngos-call-for-new-laws-to-end-the-eus-complicity-in-amazon-fires-2008/>
Fonseca, A., Cardoso, D., Ribeiro, J., Salomão, R., Souza Jr., C., & Veríssimo, A. 2019. Boletim do desmatamento da Amazônia Legal (setembro 2019) SAD (p. 1). Belém: Imazon. Retrieved from: https://imazon.org.br/publicacoes/boletim-do-desmatamento-da-amazonia-legal-setembro-2019-sad/
Friedman, A. ( 2016, October 16). RELEASE: Secure Land Rights in Amazon Brings Billions in Economic and Climate Benefits, Says New WRI Report, World Resources Institute.  Retrieved from: https://www.wri.org/news/2016/10/release-secure-land-rights-amazon-brings-billions-economic-and-climate-benefits-says
Global Forest Atlas, Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region, Yale University, viewed 22 April 2020, <https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching>.
Government of the Netherlands. Aid for Trade offers possibilities for economic diversification. Viewed: 30 April 2020. < https://www.government.nl/topics/business-for-development/weblogs/2019/aid-for-trade-offers-possibilities-for-economic-diversification>
Grossman, D. ( 2016, June 13). Q&A: How a Soybean Boom Threatens the Amazon, Pulitzer Center. Retrieved from : https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/how-soybean-boom-threatens-amazon
Harari, I. (2018, March 06).Xinguanos insistem em consulta antes da concessão da Ferrogrão, Intituto Socioambiental. Retrieved from: http://amazonia.org.br/2018/11/justica-paralisa-concessao-da-ferrograo-por-insuficiencia-de-estudos-socioambientais
International Institute of Social Studies. Global Value Chains in Brazil and Netherlands/Governance of Labour & Logistics for Sustainability. Viewed: 28 April 2020, <https://www.iss.nl/en/research/research-projects/governance-labour-and-logistics-sustainability>
James, C.H. (2019, August 30). As the Amazon burns, cattle ranchers are blamed. But it’s complicated.  Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/08/amazon-burns-cattle-ranchers-blamed-complicated-relationship/
Krauss, C. Yaffe-Bellany, D.and Simões M. (2019, October 10). Why Amazon Fires Keep Raging 10 Years After a Deal to End Them. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/americas/amazon-fires-brazil-cattle.html
Kuijpers, K. (2018, March 18). THE NETHERLANDS INVOLVED IN DEFORESTATION AND LAND GRABBING IN BRAZIL,  Investico. Retrieved from: https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/nederland-werkt-mee-aan-ontbossing-en-landroof-in-brazilie/
Kuijpers, K. (2018, April 25). Investigation Dirty hands in Brazil ‘Sustainability is just a story’,  De Groene Amsterdammer. Retrieved from: https://www.groene.nl/artikel/duurzaamheid-is-slechts-een-verhaaltje
Londoño, E. Casado, L. ( 2020, April 19). As Bolsonaro Keeps Amazon Vows, Brazil’s Indigenous Fear ‘Ethnocide’, The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/19/world/americas/bolsonaro-brazil-amazon-indigenous.html
Passos, R. ( 2018, December 17). New Brazilian government to back rail freight development, International Railroad Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.railjournal.com/in_depth/new-government-set-to-back-rail-freight-network-development/
Phillips, D. ( 2018, December 10). Illegal mining in Amazon rainforest has become an ‘epidemic’, The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/10/illegal-mining-in-brazils-rainforests-has-become-an-epidemic
Phillips, D. ( 2020, March 10). ‘Project of death’: alarm at Bolsonaro’s plan for Amazon-spanning bridge, The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/10/brazil-amazon-bridge-project-bolsonaro
Relatório Reservado, As próximas rotas do Farallon no Brasil, viewed 22 April 2020, <https://relatorioreservado.com.br/noticias/as-proximas-rotas-do-farallon-no-brasil/>.
Schaart, E. (2019, October 16). Angry Dutch farmers swarm The Hague to protest green rules. Retrieved from :https://www.politico.eu/article/angry-dutch-farmers-swarm-the-hague-to-protest-green-rules/
Smith, K. (2020, Feb 20) Forest Fire: An update on the Amazon wildfires. Georgia State University. Retrieved from: https://news.gsu .edu/files/2020/02/fire-4429478_800.jpg
Terra de Direitos. Filme sobre a experiência de protocolos de consulta no Tapajós será exibido em Instituto na Holanda, viewed 28 April 2020. <https://terradedireitos.org.br/noticias/noticias/filme-sobre-a-experiencia-de-protocolos-de-consulta-no-tapajos-sera-exibido-em-instituto-na-holanda/23193>
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Indigenous and environmental rights under attack in Brazil, UN and Inter-American experts warn. Viewed: 23 April 2020, <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21704&LangID=E>.
Urzedo, D. I. (2019, August 24). Amazon, the ‘lungs of the planet’, is on fire – here are 5 things you need to know. The Print. Retrieved from: https://theprint.in/science/amazon-the-lungs-of-the-planet-is-on-fire-here-are-5-things-you-need-to-know/281055/
[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/americas/amazon-fires-brazil-cattle.html
[2] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/08/amazon-burns-cattle-ranchers-blamed-complicated-relationship/.
[3] https://imazon.org.br/publicacoes/boletim-do-desmatamento-da-amazonia-legal-setembro-2019-sad/
[4] https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching
[5] https://www.politico.eu/article/angry-dutch-farmers-swarm-the-hague-to-protest-green-rules/
[6] https://www.bothends.org/en/Whats-new/News/All-Eyes-on-the-Amazon-the-future-of-protecting-forests-in-Brazil/
[7] https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/how-soybean-boom-threatens-amazon
[8] https://www.government.nl/topics/business-for-development/weblogs/2019/aid-for-trade-offers-possibilities-for-economic-diversification
[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51489961
[10] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/23/amazon-rainforest-fires-deforestation-jair-bolsonaro
[11] https://www.iss.nl/en/research/research-projects/governance-labour-and-logistics-sustainability
[12] https://www.railjournal.com/in_depth/new-government-set-to-back-rail-freight-network-development/
[13] https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/dutch-support-soy-transport-mega-project-posing-major-risk-amazon/
[14] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21704&LangID=E
[15] https://terradedireitos.org.br/noticias/noticias/filme-sobre-a-experiencia-de-protocolos-de-consulta-no-tapajos-sera-exibido-em-instituto-na-holanda/23193
[16] https://www.wri.org/news/2016/10/release-secure-land-rights-amazon-brings-billions-economic-and-climate-benefits-says
[17] https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2017/08/22/para-atende-agronegocio-e-ignora-comunidades-ao-construir-ferrovia-dizem-liderancas
[18] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-landrights-indigenous/amazon-protectors-brazils-indigenous-people-struggle-to-stave-off-loggers-idUSKBN18X1MX
[19] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/10/brazil-amazon-bridge-project-bolsonaro
[20] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/19/world/americas/bolsonaro-brazil-amazon-indigenous.html
[21] https://www.fern.org/pt/noticias-e-recursos/ngos-call-for-new-laws-to-end-the-eus-complicity-in-amazon-fires-2008/. Also noted in author interviews with social actors in Santarem, October/November, 2019.
[22] https://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/view/26898-brasil-terras-na-regiao-do-cerrado-viram-alvo-de-especuladores  

 

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

1 Comment