Eucalyptus pulp: Land theft for paper tissues

Posted: 5 October 2006 in Aracruz, Brazil, Germany, Procter & Gamble

Ozon on Berlin and Brandenburg TV last night featured a six minute programme by Patrick Hafner about the Tupinikim and Guarani Indians and their struggle against Aracruz. A translation of the text is below and you can watch the programme here.



When the Guarani Indians want to hunt an animal, they take a long time. Their weapons have not changed for hundreds of years. Only the forest has gradually disappeared. Today there is just one plant here: Eucalyptus, covering more than 100,000 thousand hectares. The Brazilian coastal rainforest had to make way for it. The wood harvesting machinery is constantly in use, 24 hours a day. The eucalyptus trees supply the raw materials for the ever hungrier paper and hygiene article industry. Because the trunk has hardly any branches, it is the best shape for processing. In the pulp mill the wood will be chipped, pulverized and cooked. Day after day more than 10,000 tonnes of wood goes through the shredder. All for export.The Indians that are surrounded by the Eucalyptus plantations have for years resisted the forestry business. Approximately 6,000 Guarani and Tupinikim have declared war and mobilize for battle against the “green desert”, as they call it. The Indians say that the firm has stolen their land and destroyed the forest. They want to show us where their settlement previously stood. The older people still remember that.

Villager: “We don’t lead a healthy life any more. When the eucalyptus came into our village, it displaced everything else. There is hardly any water, the fish are disappearing and there is less and less to hunt. Earlier we had crabs, mussels and oysters. Today all are gone. Yet with the help of God, we will get back our land.”

The opponent of the Indians is called Aracruz Celulose and operates one of the world’s largest pulp firms in the Brazilian state Espirito Santo. Chemically bleached pulp is indispensable for the manufacture of pure, white hygiene paper. Above all pulp from short fibre eucalyptus makes paper handkerchiefs and toilet paper very soft. Aracruz manufactures about one-third of the worldwide consumption.

The Brazillian consitution includes the following sentence: “Land, that is traditionally inhabited by Indians, is to be seen as their propertyand the right to use the land, rivers and lakes should lie exclusively with them.” The sentence has not yet been taken seriously by the legal authorities. The Indians have taken the law into their own hands and have cut a 15 kilometre-long strip through the plantations to mark their land.

Toninho, Chief of Boa Esperanca: “From the traditions of our ancestors we know that this was always our country. The studies produced about the property rights are irrelevant for us. When you understand the essence of our people, you understand that we fight for the land, because this is the birthplace of our culture.”

Aracruz would lose US$100 million if it returned the land and defends itself against the demands.

Carlos Roxo, Aracruz-director for sustainability: “The Indians didn’t live on this land as a community. Therefore they could not be evicted. There might have been a few descendants of Indians living here and there. They were fully integrated into society as landowners and sold us all possession titles, according to a completely legal process.”

The anthropologists of the state Indian protection authority (FUNAI) see things differently: The Guarani and Tupinikim were there for a long time, before the cellulose company came. Here, for example, they lived in Olho d’Agua which they had to leave when the pulp company arrived in the early 1970s. In May 2005, the Indians rebuilt the village. For nine months they lived peacefully in their huts. However, then came the federal police. They flattened everything with excavators and caterpillars. The villagers were injured by rubber bullets. Aracruz had obtained the eviction order at court.

Paulo, chairperson of the headman’s council: “They massacred us 500 years ago in the colonization period and now they hunt us Indians again as if we were wild animals. We will always carry these scars within ourselves.”

The Indians feel disfranchised and powerless in their own land. They want to get closer to the cause of the problem. That is in Germany. On 4th May 2006, the environmental organization Robin Wood blockaded the work gate of a paper factory in Neuss belonging to Procter and Gamble, the biggest branded article manufacturer in the world. The headmen Toninho and Paulo came specially from Brazil. They demand that the Tempo manufacturer gives up the business connection with Aracruz.

Is it thinkable for Procter & Gamble to do without pulp from South America?

Jörg Uhl, press spokesperson at Procter and Gamble: “It is possible. But it would need a lot of research and development to meet the high quality requirements which we have for our products and for pulp.”

Have you already thought, as have other firms in the field, about the possibility of using recycled paper to manufacture hygienic articles where pulp is consumed?

Uhl: “We have looked very intensively into the area of using recycled paper and pulp but we feel that the quality demands that we have would not be met through the use of recycled paper.”

The Indians have not yet got back the land. Their hunting ground remains limited to small areas along the river where the clearing of the rain forest is forbidden.

I’ve taken a couple of liberties with the translation. Every day 10,000 tonnes of wood (and not forest as stated in the programme) is fed into Aracruz’s pulp mill. The wood doesn’t even come from a forest. It comes from industrial tree monocultures. And eucalyptus provides short fibre pulp (and not long fibre as stated in the programme).

And on the website are these final two sentences (which don’t seem to be in the broadcast – at least not the version posted): “Only the Brazilian Ministry of Justice can solve the conflict now. He has to decide whether to return the 11,000 hectares demanded by FUNAI, finally, to the Indians.”

Oh, and I nearly forgot. Here’s a photo of Paulo, Toninho and me at the Procter & Gamble paper factory in Neuss.



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