The human side of the sugar rush in Brazil
In the State of Mato Grosso do Sul 51 indigenous territories are going through the formal recognition and demarcation process (required to give the indigenous communities legal rights over their land). Many other communities are waiting to have their territories recognized. These processes are being impeded as a result of political pressure from agribusinesses.
The state has seen a huge expansion in sugar farming in recent years - the area of land planted with sugar cane tripled in just seven years from 160 thousand hectares in 2007 to 570 thousand hectares between in 2012. The state has the highest rate of violence against indigenous peoples - 37 of the 60 indigenous people murdered in Brazil in 2012 were killed in the State and 567 of the 1067 cases of violence against indigenous people happened there. There are clear links between agribusiness expansion and the extraordinary level of violence against indigenous people.
There are many land disputes involving indiginous communities across Mato Grosso do Sul State. We will show you the human side of this bitter conflict.
Sugar production in Brazil
Sugar production doubled in Brazil between 2000 and 2010, driven by rising international sugar prices and domestic demand for ethanol, which is widely used in motor vehicles.
In order to deliver these huge leaps in production the area of land planted with sugar cane has expanded rapidly. Between 2000 and 2010, sugar cane land occupation in the six main states – Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Paraná and Mato Grosso – expanded by 4.2 million hectares to around 7.6 million hectares.
Land conflicts in Brazil
Land conflicts have long been a problem in Brazil, caused by the lack of state presence in many areas of this vast country; uncertainty over land ownership; the power of agribusinesses; and poor management of clashes between indigenous communities and farmers.
The number of land conflicts has risen in recent years. In 2012, 36 people were killed as a result of land conflicts – a 24 percent increase over the previous year; and 37 percent of recorded conflicts (396 out of 1067) were in sugar cane regions.
Landless people and smallholders with no documented proof that they own their land are the main victims. Indigenous people and ‘Quilombolas’ (descendants of slaves who escaped and established communities in the countryside centuries ago) represent more than a quarter of all people in Brazil affected by land conflicts.
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