[11/19/08] MST Informa #156: Agrofuels as an Obstacle to the Building of Sovereignty

Agrofuels, like ethanol, are part of an agricultural model that does not produce food, but on the contrary, increases environmental damage through deforestation, burning sugarcane, and other social consequences like the use of slave labor on the plantations.

Instead, big groups of foreigners and agribusinesses, who receive voluminous aid from the federal government though credit and tax exemptions, are buying up these lands.

Read below the final draft of a letter from the seminar entitled, “International Agrofuels as an obstacle to the construction of Food and Energy Security.” Seminar on International Agrofuels as an obstacle to the construction of Food and Energy Security São Paulo, November 17 19, 2008

We, organizations and social movements from Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Costa Rica, Bolivia, El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand, Holland, Sweden, Germany, and the United States, together in Sao Paulo, November 17 19, 2008, radically disagree with the model and strategy of the promotion of agrofuels: we understand that these are not vehicles for development, much less for sustainability. The strategy represents an obstacle necessary for structural change in the system of production, consumption, agriculture, and energy source which may respond effectively to the challenges of climatic changes.

We affirm that:

The model of industrial agriculture, of which agrofuels are a part, is intrinsically unsustainable, for it depends on the expansion of monocropping, concentration of land ownership, intensive use of agricultural chemicals, the exploitation of common natural goods like biodiversity, water and soil. Agrofuels represent a serious threat to food production. Independently of the crops used for production of energy, edible or not, this type of production will compete for arable land and for water.

The production of agrofuels on an industrial scale, by expanding into agricultural borders, adds to the expansion of the agribusiness machine--whose dynamic impacts and cumulative effects are the principle vehicle for deforestation and destruction of ecosystems around the world, and in Brazil is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon, the Savannah, and other areas.

In Brazil, the sugar-alcohol sector is sustainable only with public financing: the promotion of governmental agricultural programs for agrofuels historically has been characterized by incentives and direct government subsidies (like public financing from BNDES [the national development bank], a great part coming from FAT (workers' assistance fund) and indirect subsidies (like no penalties for tax evasion and pardoning of debt).

The sugar-alcohol sector counts on collusion with the government as well as not abiding by worker and environmental legislation. Among the impacts of ethanol production in Brazil, we highlight exploitation, degrading working conditions, and the use of slave labor; the contamination of soil, air and water and the reduction of biodiversity; the threat to the production of foods consumed in this country; and raising land prices and concentrating land ownership. The latter serves to weaken even more agrarian reform programs and promotes concomitantly a brutal invasion of the territories of traditional populations and indigenous peoples, and the expropriation of land from small and medium-sized farmers. Foreign ownership of land, be it through sales or through leasing, for the production of agriculturally-based energy is also a recent and extremely worrisome factor, for it mortgages areas of available agricultural lands and the structural conditions for the production of food.

We denounce the strategy of international diffusion of the Brazilian government's agri-energy model through the actions of its ministers, especially those from Itamaraty (foreign relations), and finance and research institutions (like BNDES and Embrapa). Such a model will reproduce this sector's same impacts and problems in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

We question the strategy of expanding agrofuels throughout the global market: We radically oppose the agreement for technology diffusion between Brazil and the US which hopes to standardize and make a commodity out of ethanol. We oppose the goal of substituting fuels in the European Union and in the United States, which will increase the demand for land for the production of biofuel in the countries of the South.

We warn that neither creating zones nor creating social and environmental criteria will make the model of the agribusiness exporter become sustainable. The proposals for socio-environmental certification of agrofuels do not minimize (as several experiments have shown, like FSC, RTSPO, and RTSB) but cover up the impacts, serving mainly as an instrument that international commerce uses to legitimize the model. The agro-ecological zoning of sugarcane proposed by the Brazilian government, like the diffusion of concepts like fallow, degraded or marginal lands, legitimize the expropriation of territories for the expansion of monocropping and hide the social conflicts.

We reaffirm our struggle of over a decade against GMO's: the advance of agrofuels, the second generation of ethanol, and the production of bioplastics are included as structural components of biotechnology, transgenics and synthetic biology, technologies that represent a new wave of threats to biodiversity.

The current model of production and consumption, as promoted by countries of the North, is not sustainable and places the life of the planet at risk. Faced with the structural crisis of the capitalistic system, which includes energy, environmental, food, financial and values issues, we must rethink this model of society and civilization.

We support an alternative model for energy security that cannot not be achieved at the expense of food security:

- Energy and food security is a right of people. It is they who should plan, produce and control energy and food in their own territories and attend their own necessities:

- Requires a new organization of a society's lifestyle in relation to countryside and city.

- Presupposes a food system supported by an agrarian reform coming from ecological bases adapted to the characteristics of each biosphere; a food system that is a real alternative to the problems of slavery in the fields, exploitation of rural workers and of land and its access; a food system that strengthens rural and local economies, a food system that values the local food and cultural customs; and a food system that diminishes the distances between production and consumption, and establishes commercial solidarity.

This system is also less dependent, more efficient and can actually be self-sufficient in terms of energy. It is more appropriate and resilient, and is the real solution to the climate crisis being caused by the agro-industrial model dependent on oil and now being reproduced in the strategy of agrofuels, and to which we are opposed.

Energy security presupposes a model of production and consumption of energy and the transportation of that energy based on rationality and economizing through changing the current standards of consumption, diminishing the planetary flux of the goods and energy in a globalized, economic system, and on models of mobility that prioritize collective and public transportation of such a quality that it diminishes the need for individual cars. It presupposes the substitution of fossil fuel by renewable sources of energy in a way that is decentralized and attends the local demands, including offering technical support and developing research aimed at people's interests.

Even less should it be under the control of big economic groups.

Food and energy security is based on the principles of democracy and decentralization, with popular participation in planning, decision-making, and management of the production of food and energy, including access and control of public funds. It is based on solidarity between people, considering the different potentials, necessities, and appropriate solutions in every country or region.

Energy and food are rights of the people, given to us through the earth, water and the diversity of nature. They cannot be treated as merchandise.

Brazilian organizing movements and entities: Via Campesina Brasil MMC, CPT, MPA, MAB, FEAB, CIMI, PJR, MST ABRA Associação Brasileira de Reforma Agrária Amigos da Terra Brasil ANA Articulação Nacional de Agroecologia Assembléia Popular CESE - Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviços CONTAG - Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura CTB Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil CUT Central Única dos Trabalhadores FASE FBOMS Fórum Brasileiro de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais para o Meio Ambiente e o Desenvolvimento FERAESP Federação dos Empregados Rurais Assalariados do Estado de São Paulo Fórum Carajás FETRAF - Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura Familiar Instituto EQUIT Intersindical Jubileu Sul Brasil Marcha Mundial das Mulheres Plataforma BNDES REAPI Rede Ambiental do Piauí RBJA - Rede Brasileira de Justiça Ambiental REBRIP Rede Brasileira pela Integração dos Povos Rede Alerta contra o Deserto Verde Rede Economia e Feminismo Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos Rede Educação Cidadã Repórter Brasil SPM - Serviço Pastoral Dos Migrantes Terra de Direitos International: ActionAid African Center for Biosafety, South África Aliança Social Continental ATALC Amigos da Terra América Latina e Caribe CEO Observatório Europeu de Corporações CIECA - República Dominicana Cone Sul Sustentável FIAN - FoodFirst Information & Action Network FOCO - Foro Ciudadano de Participación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos - Argentina Food and Water Watch Fundação Heinrich Boell Global Forest Coalition Global Justice Ecology Project, USA Grito Dos Excluidos/As Continental IFG International Forum on Globalization Misereor Oilwatch OWINFS Rede Nosso Mundo Não Está à Venda Oxfam RALLT Red por una América Latina Libre de Transgénicos Rede Internacional de Gênero e Comércio The Oakland Institute, USA WRM Movimento Mundial pelos Bosques Tropicais