Eucalyptus monoculture dominates the landscape in Espírito Santo. This is not an innocent tree planting project; in fact, some regional estimations report up to 80% of the lands are enclosed by eucalyptus and sugar cane monocultures. This is the case in the municipalities of Conceição da Barra and São Mateus located in the far northeast of the state.
Eucalyptus plantations were installed during the military dictatorship and began operating in territories including traditional lands of the Tupinikim and Guarani Indigenous Peoples as well as in Quilombola regions. Communities have struggled for decades to survive the continued land evictions, waterway contamination, pesticide* poisonings, depletion of their livelihoods and biodiversity, destruction of the Atlantic Forest, exploited labor under appalling conditions, and continued threats from the eucalyptus industry.
Eucalyptus is a fast growing tree that has a six year rotation cycle in tropical climates at low altitude. Brazil is the first country to allow research on genetically modified eucalyptus trees that would produce more pulp, grow faster, and at higher altitudes. The eucalyptus is pulped in one of the largest paper pulp factories in the world installed by Aracruz Celluose, now Fibria. Plantar SA is subcontracted in the region to manage the majority of the work in the fields.
In 2008, Plantar SA** began a women’s worker program to supposedly “empower women” from Quilombola communities by employing them as “guardians” of the plantations. The work came with long hours, direct contact with dangerous pesticides and little to no support from the company. Exploitative work programs such as these often serve to create internal conflicts between and within communities and damage local organizing efforts.
Quilombola communities are a recognized cultural group of African descendents made slaves by Portuguese colonizer. They organized many revolts and set up their own communities. Quilombola people have legal rights to their lands in Brazil but are severely discriminated against. The exploiting companies in the region take advantage of these inequalities.
Plantar SA not only has profited by destroying livelihoods, it has destroyed the social and local environment. Some areas of the plantations are considered “carbon offsetting” projects under the slogan of “reducing greenhouse gases”. This allows the company to generate carbon credits and sell them onto polluters in carbon markets. By sustaining an environmentally destructive model of monocultures and steel production, offset projects do nothing to improve the climate.
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** Plantar SA is a plantation and steel company responsible for the destructive and expansive monocultures in Minas Gerais and also operates outsourced field labor in ES for Fibria, formerly Aracruz Cellulose.