Raizen, a joint venture of oil giant Shell and Brazilian energy company Cosan, has agreed to give up its plans to buy sugar cane grown on Indigenous lands in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The deal was reached after months of campaigning by Guarani farmers and Indigenous rights organization Survival International, as well as pressure from Brazilian authorities.
Raizen, which was established in 2010 and produces 2.2 billion liters of ethanol annually, had been obtaining some of the sugar cane used for its ethanol production on land claimed by the Guarani in Mato Grosso. In the agreement signed yesterday with Indigenous affairs body Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI), which will go into effect this November, Raizen promised not to source sugar cane from any lands declared by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice as belonging to Indigenous tribes. It also promised to consult FUNAI to avoid further investment or expansion in conflict areas that might be recognized as Indigenous lands in the future. The company said in a statement that the decision reflected its “commitment to combine sustainable development with the well-being of the local communities,” and that it hoped its withdrawal would be used “as a good example for other companies to follow.”
Guarani leaders and Indigenous rights activists have welcomed the news. Survival International director Stephen Corry said,“Raizen’s decision is excellent news for the Guarani, who have been…squeezed off their land by sugar cane production.” Valdelice Veron, a Guarani Indian living in Mato Grosso, said the rivers in her community had been polluted by pesticides, but now “we will be able to drink from our land again.”
It is highly unusual for a major company to back down on business opportunities on Indigenous land, but pressure has mounted as tensions between the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and large-scale farmers have increased and violent clashes erupted—including the death last year of Guarani leader Nísio Gomez. Conflicts over Indigenous-claimed lands and the resources on them remain a major unsolved issue in Brazil ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, the high-level meetings of which are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro next week.
Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies voted yesterday in favor of a measure easing forest preservation requirements in the Amazon region. The vote comes only a week after Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira announced the creation of a high-level deforestation commission tasked with “suffocating deforestation.”
Under the new law, commercial farmers would be allowed to clear previously restricted areas such as hilltops and slopes, along with land only 50 feet away from rivers and streams. It would also make it easier for landholders to meet conservation quotas for their properties and offer amnesty to some who have illegally cleared land in the past.
Supporters of the amendments argue the changes are necessary in order to boost agricultural production and economic development. Critics and environmentalists contend that current laws are already too weak and poorly enforced. Production can be increased, they say, by increasing output in areas already cleared for farming.
The bill will now move to the senate, where it will likely be amended before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff has said she will veto any legislation that includes amnesty for prior deforestation violations.
After 17 long years in a legal battle, Ecuadorian farmers and environmentalists rejoiced this week when an Ecuadorian judge ruled that Chevron Corporation (Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001) was guilty of polluting the Amazon jungle. The judge ordered Chevron to pay a $8.6 billion fine and an equal amount in punitive damages. If Chevron does not publically apologize within 15 days, the company would be ordered to pay twice the amount. But the battle is far from over.
Ecuadorian farmers in the Amazon accused Chevron of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon River basin between 1972 and 1992. Farmers reported higher cancer rates, polluted water supplies and subsequent damage to crops and farm animals. Plaintiffs say $8.6 billion is not nearly enough and were hoping for at least $27 billion. With the hope to receive more money, the 30,000 Ecuadoreans represented in the lawsuit announced that they will appeal the settlement amount.
The Organization of American States (OAS) heard arguments this week from Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro on the Nicaraguan military’s alleged “incursion” on to Costa Rican soil. And now, with tensions continuing to heat up, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza arrives in San José tonight for talks with Minister of Foreign Relations René Castro and President Laura Chinchilla. He will continue to Managua on Saturday morning to meet with President Daniel Ortega.
The dispute is over Isla Calero on the San Juan River. On Monday, Costa Rica’s security ministry reported seeing a Nicaraguan flag, five soldiers and tents on Isla Calero, an island Costa Rica claims as its own. Costa Rica says this is a violation of its national sovereignty.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been trading barbs over who is violating whose sovereignty and who is even sending troops on whose turf since Nicaragua’s San Juan River dredging project began last month.
Costa Rica first decried alleged environmental foul play by Nicaragua, claiming it dumped sediment from the river dredge and then cut down Costa Rican trees, all on its side of the San Juan. Costa Rican Security Minister José María Tijerino also accused Nicaragua of secretly planning to carve a canal across its territory. Costa Rica deployed well-armed and camouflaged police to the border, while the authorities sought communication through diplomatic channels.
Recent news on the management of water has not been very uplifting. Disagreements between countries that share water resources are leading to increasing conflicts over control of and access to this vital resource.
For example, the ongoing dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over the San Juan River has reached such levels of discord that Nicaragua has suggested bringing the case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for resolution. This is just one of the many global disagreements over water, which are bound to escalate as water availability continues to be on the decline. But long-term planning and cooperation can help prevent future conflicts.
Everyday, one in three people around the world are affected by water scarcity. While populations grow worldwide, the demand for water increases twice as fast. Conflict should then not come as a surprise. Fresh, clean water is need not only for drinking, but also for agriculture, recreation, energy generation, and many other uses.
Aquifers—renewable underground sources of water—may present an untapped resource to help satisfy our water demands.