RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Growing demand for sugar is fueling deadly land conflicts in Brazil as suppliers for food giants such as Coca-Cola occupy Indian reservations or kick off local communities from arable land to make way for sugar plantations, Oxfam said in a report.
Land grabbing for sugar crops is common in Brazil. In the northeastern state of Pernambuco, 53 families who had been living for nearly a century on 17 islands in the Sirinhaém estuary were evicted in 2002 after decades of pressure from Usina Trapiche SA, a large sugar mill that supplies Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, the report said.
A private militia hired by Trapiche in 1998 burned down the communities’ homes after local businessman Luiz Antônio de Andrade Bezerra bought the mill. They rebuilt their homes but continued to receive death threats. In 2002, the mill was successful in obtaining court rulings to kick the community off its land, it said.
Maria Nazareth dos Santos, 41, lived on an island in the estuary all her life until she was evicted by the company. She now lives in a two-bedroom brick house that floods during the rainy season.
"Some of the people who left the area early moved because of the threats," she told Oxfam. "But they got no compensation from the company and are now homeless."
In Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state, the local subsidiary of Bunge Ltd buys sugar from five farms that have established sugar plantations inside the Jatayvary Indian reserve, Oxfam said. While Coca-Cola buys sugar from Bunge in Brazil, it does not source its sugar from the Jatayvary land, the report said, citing the food company.
Sugar cane farming in Mato Grosso do Sul - a key agricultural state in Brazil - has more than tripled to 570,000 hectares last year, from 180,000 hectares in 2007, it said.
Pressure for land has led to land disputes over the past decade. Thirty-seven out of 60 indigenous people killed in Brazil in 2012 were killed in Mato Grosso do Sul, according to the report “Violence Against Indigenous People - 2012”, released by Brazil’s Indianist Missionary Council (CIMI).
More than half of the 1,076 cases related to violence against indigenous people in Brazil last year took place in the state, according to the CIMI report.