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Agribusiness: new discourses, old practices in the Brazilian field

An article by Jamilli Medeiros de Oliveira da Silva1

The advance of palm oil production in the state of Pará has been gaining increasing attention in academic circles and in media, following the global expansion of the crop as an alternative fuel source. The oil crisis of the 1970s drew attention to alternative energy sources, encouraging a new race to meet the energy demands of the industrialising world. During this period, the National Alcohol Program (Proálcool) intitiative was launched in Brazil as an alternative for the national economy to respond to the energy demand in Brazil (Rothman, Furtado, 2005). In 1990, this energy demand also turned attention to the potential of producing vegetable oil as an alternative energy source for the production of agrofuels in the search for "clean energy" with strong economic potential.

In the state of Pará, the consolidation of production palm happened in a gradual manner, through several projects that were, or are, part of the government's agenda. Its large scale cultivation began in the state of Bahia, with the palm oil workers coming on ships principally from Mozambique, Benin and Angola. In the Amazonian region of Pará, north of the country, its expansion occurred from the decade of 1950 through the initiative of the Northern Agricultural Institute (IAN) which would lead, later, to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation - Embrapa Eastern Amazon. In 1955, an agreement between IAN and Superintendent's Office of the Amazon Economic Recovery Plan (Sudam) and a subsequent agreement with the French company 'Institut de Recherches Pour Les Huileset Lesoleagineux' (IRHO) in 1967, were measures for organizing and incetivising the expansion of palm oil. Since then, cultivation has become a key part of the alternative rural development discourse in the Amazon.

With the opening to private initiatives in 1970 the 'Palm of Para' enterprise was created that stimulated the expansion of monoculture ( HOMMA, 2016) and also the creation of new businesses such as Marborges, Brazil Bioenergy and Agropalma among others who came tot the State of Para, and more specifically Northeastern Pará, a potential the locus for the expansion for their business.

It is important to emphasise that the logic of cultivation this palm oil in the context of the search for alternative sources of energy following the 1970 oil crisis, driven further by the economic crisis of this decade, and the appropriation of favourable agroclimatic and hydraulic factors of the Amazon region amenable to this monoculture.The National Programme for the Production and Use of Biodiesel (PNPB), created in 2004 , came to promote agrofuel production in the country through the then Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA) , with the aim of demonstrating to the world Brazil's search for new sources of renewable energy, and proposing the inclusion of family agriculture in this supplychain through the 'Social Fuel Seal' ( SCS) .

In short, companies that possess the seal, SCS, can access the most generous subsidies via the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), in addition to having access to 80% of the captive market for this energy source. For this, the companies must fulfill some obligations the peasant farmers and integrate them, with the offer of technical assistance and training, signing contracts and a commitment to purchase the prime material that they provide.

In the year 2010 , the Green Palm Plan was launced by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's in the city of Tomé-Cu, a city located in Northeast Pará. In the same year was created the Sustainable Production of Palm Oil Programme (PSOP), providing more structure to the project of pal oil expansion with an agro - ecological zoning undertaken done to define the area s suitable to its cultivation.

Studies such as the diagnostics of palm production, available in 2018, reveals the large growth of oil palm cultivation in Brazil between the year's 2009 to 2016, from 106,000 hectares (ha) to 236,000 ha in this period , creating a scenario whereby Para boasts 88% of total production. The diagnosis also points out that Brazil still much potential to expand in terms of productive area, and the demand for this oilseed while emphasising a discourse of environmental and social sustainability of the project (BRAZIL, 2018) . In this cirumstance, the Northeast of Para,and more specifically the city of Acará the focus of this study - becomes key to these policies of expansion and of monoculture for national and multinational companies on account of the climatic aptitude and potential extension of cultivated land.

The municipality under study is the thrid greatest producer of oilseed, with some 195,000 tonnes of biodiesel in the year 2016 (IBGE, 2016) . Production is focused on the food industry, cosmetics and agrofuel manufacturing, and is starting to compete with differentiated logics of life that are already established there, such as the Afro-descendent quilombola communities, indigenous communities and rural settlements.

With regard to this potential for expansion, in 2012 two consortia stood out: Bioplama / Vale and Biocombistível PBIO / GALP, at which time they represented about 1/3 of planted palm oil (VILLELA, 2014).

Specifically, the Biopalma / Vale Company, incorporated as a closed corporation controlled by the MSP group, entered the market in 2007. In 2009, a joint venture took place between that company and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, known as the Brazilian Consortium of Production of Palm Oil (CBOP), with Vale initially owning 41% and Biopalma 59% of the shares. In 2012, Vale increased its stake to 70%, paying 173 million reais to Biopalma (CIARELLI, 2011). By 2017, the consortium's ownership interest was composed of 98.12% of VALE S.A., 1.23% of MSP Fundo de Participação and 0.65% of Bio Participação S.A.

The production of Biolpalma / VALE, in particular, is destined for food industry, cosmetics and for the production of agrofuel. The area they commanded by 2016 was composed of 156,536 ha of their own land, of which 56,487 thousand ha are destined to the oil palm plantation. The work of Biopalma / Vale in the state of Pará is important in our investigation process, since the company's logic of capital expansion and property ownership has moved it in the direction of the quilombola communities in Alto Acará, studied by this research.

The consequences of oil palm expansion in the quilombola communities of Alto Acará.

The quilombola territory studied is formed by six communities: Vila Formosa, Turé III, 19 of Maçaranduba, Monte Sião, Ipitinga Grande and Ipitinga Mirim. Together, they have been fighting for a definitive title of their territory since 2009, organizing themselves around the Association of Quilombola Residents and Farmers of Alto Acará (Amarqualta). The territory of Amarqualta has already undergone the recognition process of the Palmares Cultural Foundation and had its area demarcated by the Land Institute of Pará (Iterpa) and the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), since part of its land is Federal owned and another part is State owned. Its territory has an area of 18,000 km ², which represents approximately 22 thousand hectares.

The quilombola families of the territory of Amarqualta live under the logic of autonomy of the production of their lands, autonomy that is linked to freedom in working time, in choosing what to plant according to the need of family consumption, in relation to kinship , neighborhood and mutual assistance. There is also a strong relationship with nature, understanding that it is vital to their way of life, which implies the basic need to preserve the forests that provide them with native fruits and game. Alongside this is the the waters of the Acará River and Igarapés - smaller branches of in the Amazon basin – that are used to fish, drink, bathe, cook, wash clothes and dishes, provide leisure for many children, besides serving as a way of accessing the cities of Acará and Tomé-Açu and the other nearby communities through small boats and canoes.

In this sense, Bombardi (2004: 202) states that "labor time is determined by two factors in peasant units: the first is the need of the family and the second is nature, whether it be in a cosmic rhythm, or by the crop cycle. " In this way, we understand that the logic of life of peoples connected to the land also happens in an immaterial way, based on the well-being of the family and not on the need for profit. In other words, the peasant identity described by Woortmann (1990) is based on the triplex: land, labor and family, which differentiates them from the production logic of palm oil agribusiness. It is from this differentiation of the function of the land in the eyes of those that use it that we can visualize that for the quilombolas their value lies in the reproduction and maintenance of their way of life, and for companies from the point of view of price and incomes. This difference is the cause of conflict, due to the contemporary expansion of the palm oil areas to the proximities of the communities.

It was from the advance of palm oil that the Amarqualta communities organized around their ethnic identity to fight for their territory against the predatory logic of palm oil production. The oil palm in the region has been installed since 2007 under the slogan of sustainable development, based on social, economic and environmental responsibility, as well as emphasizing responsibility for the green economy, on the basis that monoculture expands across previously deforested areas, hence contributing to carbon sequestration and to rural development as a whole. Backhouse (2013) explains that such a "sustainability" discourse aims to legitimize the advance of agribusiness and justify the violent process of privatization of land through the rhetoric of climate protection and the environment. Thus, it was from this differentiation how to look at land; as a land of labou or a land of and business (MARTINS, 1981), that the residents of Amarqualta organized themselves to fight against violation of their territory.

Since then, several leaders and other residents have started to denounce processes such as the pollution of their rivers and streams due to the spraying of pesticides in palm oil plantations. Another issue, also related to water, is the loss in its volume in local rivers and streams. In addition, there have been reports of widespread illegal logging in recent years in the Turé III community, which may be linked to local farmers and loggers.

In the year 2014, the Evandro Chagas Institute carried out a study in which the contamination of river waters by pesticides in areas of palm oil expansion in the state of Pará was detected. This study had as collection points the Municipalities of Concórdia do Pará, Bujaru , São Domingos do Capim and Acará. Cases of pesticide contamination have been spreading in Brazil, as shown by Bombardi's studies (2012, 2013, 2017), revealing that Brazil consumes 20% of all agrochemicals marketed worldwide, and that their extensive use has caused the death of thousands of people in the field. Several studies also point out the serious consequences related to the contamination of water, soil and air by these products. Nevertheless, in June 2018 President Michel Temer sanctioned law 6,299 / 2002, which aims to expand the range of pesticides in extensive Brazilian agriculture.

In view of this, the quilombola populations mobilisation have become movements of revolt and denunciations to all these suffered violence in a manner that is often invisible and camouflaged by speeches and marketing in which the agribusiness and new "renewable" sources of energies are called labelled as beneficial , but yet rely on the predatory extraction of soil and water, vital resources for the maintenance and reproduction of the life of these original populations, which carry with them a sense of identity and belonging to nature.

Nazildo dos Santos Brito - one of the leaders of Amarqualta territory - did not stop, he fought to organize the communities to react against those who kill and deforest the forests, against those who pollute their rivers and soils, fought against all violence caused to his family and companions, even though he was threatened with death several times - as he himself told us. On the night of April 14, 2018, when he returned to his house in one of the branches of the Amaqualta territory, Nazildo was assassinated. What was once a threat came to fruition and took away his life. The land which for him had a such broad representation was now nourished by his blood. Nazildo is gone, but he left a great legacy of struggle and resistance for his companions who continue to articulate this in the face of the expansion of the palm oil agribusiness oil palm toward them, struggling, existing, for his way of life and production in and of the land and "[...] by different modes of feeling, acting and thinking" (PORTO-GONÇALVES, 2012, p. 130).



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1 Masters Programme in Geography - Unesp Rio Claro; visiting researcher at University of Strathclyde; Grant awarded by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa no Estado de São Paulo – Fapesp.

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