Civil society organisations in the Brazilian Cerrado have issued a statement denouncing the “alarming increase in violence and violations of rights of the communities” associated with a government-driven agricultural project.
The signatories to the statement, the Articulation of the Populations Impacted by Matopiba and the National Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado, have accused armed groups of threatening and intimidating members of traditional communities who have been struggling against large-scale agribusiness activities in the state of Piauí.
Piauí is one of four states in northeast Brazil where the federal government has been promoting the MATOPIBA Agricultural Development Plan. This is one of Brazil’s latest agricultural frontiers, where cattle ranching and soy plantations have pushed into the Cerrado biome, the world’s most biodiverse savannah.
The statement highlights the plight of the Morro D’água community, who are reportedly being forced off their land for the project. Members of the community claim that they were approached by armed men in the service of a farm owner. The communities have criticised police inaction over the case.
The Cerrado lost nearly 19,000 Km2 of native vegetation between 2013 and 2015 to large-scale agriculture. The biome, which has so far lost over 50 percent of its original area, has been deforested at higher rates than the Amazon in the past decade. In the four states targeted by the MATOPIBA project, the main deforestation frontier, 62 percent of agricultural expansion in recent years has replaced native vegetation.
More than 60 companies, among them Walmart, Unilever, Nestlé, McDonald’s, Carrefour and Danone, have joined the Manifesto do Cerrado – a campaign launched by environmental organisations last year – and committed to fight deforestation in the Cerrado by monitoring their soy and beef purchases from the region.
The Articulation of the Populations Impacted by MATOPIBA and the National Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado have attributed the expansion of agribusiness in the Cerrado to foreign investments “in real estate acquired illegally by entrepreneurs and farmers”. They have also denounced the Land State Regularization, a law which has aggravated the conflict by allowing the “regularization of land soon after being invaded by farmers and companies”.