It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, southern cone time, on Oct. 13, 2014. The Pataxo indigenous people of the far southern region of the state of Bahía, in the northeast of Brazil, form three barricades across the BR101 Highway in the region of Monte Pascoal, in the city of Itamaraju, one of the main roads connecting the northern and southern parts of the country.
They have blocked the highway that runs along the edge of their territory with branches, sticks, and old tires, stopping hundreds of trucks transporting merchandise from transnational corporations. It doesn’t take police long to arrive. The indigenous people are aware of the possibility of repression. Some have painted their bodies with a mixture of colors– yellow, red, black–colors that their grandfathers used to announce war. Others contrast in white, the sign of peace. Indelible colors on the skin of these people, survivors of an unjust war that has lasted for over five centuries.
The atmosphere grew tense as Federal Police came in, although this was no surprise to the Pataxo. They have been long been rejected by cattle farmers, businessmen and people living in cities close to Monte Pascoal–one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the world. The area conserves what’s left of the Mata Atlántica, a formation of neotropical vegetation present in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
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The day they closed down the freeway, many locals openly expressed their hostility. Walking through the streets, you could hear the pejorative comments such as, “These Indians are going to steal all of our land.”
“Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation,” explains Domingos Andrade, of the Indigenous Missionary Center (CIMI), to the Americas Program. Until recently, indigenous groups possessed 8,627 hectares of land, authorized in the 1990s. But the biggest part of this territory is sand and is not suitable for agriculture.
“The National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) just completed a study that ‘confirms’ that these lands are indigenous, but the government has not authorized it. It is a policy of the government not to demarcate indigenous territories because of pressure from agribusiness,” argues Andrade.
Nomacaxhi Pataxo explains to the Americas Program that the town of Pataxo is fighting for the demarcation of its territory. “We want our lands so that our children can live and in order to conserve our culture. The government together with corporations have destroyed the natural environment with their development policies,” he affirms. He is of indigenous descent and lives in the town Boca da Mata, at the entrance of the forest.
What Nomacaxchi does not know is that a few kilometers from there, his relatives from the town Boca da Mata are working on a project that represents another a way to commercialize and exploit the forests. This threat, though less-perceptible than the huge infrastructure projects or like the deforestation for livestock farming, still exists. It is a project in Monte Pascoal for carbon offset credits. When asked about the existence of the project in the region, Pataxo confirms it. “There are reforestation projects carried out by indigenous people with money from the federal government, but we were unaware of the sale of carbon credits.”
These mechanisms are guided by a concept of the forest that is very different than the indigenous one. The indigenous concept takes into account nature’s time scale and knows how to communicate with it. Time for conservation in terms of carbon accumulation is different, has been thought up by the world’s biggest corporations, who are now betting on nature in the world’s principal stock markets, such as Wall Street and the London Stock Exchange. It is they who plan the ways in which the value of biodiversity is calculated, as the number of those who are expulsed or who become refugees in the name of conservation continues to grow globally. It is principally native towns that are affected.
The Conference of the Parties (COP 20), where the world’s governments will continue discussing climate change and solutions to it, took place in Peru in December of last year. The Global Movement for Tropical Forests (MMBT), with the participation of 40 countries, is preparing to present the failures and deficiencies of the REDD and REDD+ programs. Brazil has been one of its principal fields for research, since this country is home to most of continuous tropical rainforests in the world, and contains around 20% of the animal and plant species on the planet.
In 2007 and in COP 11, which took place in Montreal, climate change was considered a central issue and thus it was argued that it was necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, better know by its English initials as REDD.
REDD is the platform for a new market for the exchange of carbon credits, or pollution permits, by the world’s corporations that produce carbon dioxide emissions. Through the Kyoto Protocol a cap on CO2 emissions was put into place by corporations and signatory countries, however they have the possibility to continue polluting if they invest in what is called Clean Development Mechanisms—such as the controversial wind farms or hydroelectric dams.
Another option that they have is to buy carbon credits from other corporations that are investing in conservation or reforestation programs, such as the REDD program. But to negotiate these types of credits, it is necessary to have intact forests since the trees function as a carbon sink and release oxygen into the atmosphere. The so-alled “pollution permits” allow industries to continue to pollute while “offsetting” their emissions by paying so that in another part of the world they stop cutting down forests and reforest. This is the system created for compensating for CO2 emitted in the production processes of big industry, or by corporate agribusiness or livestock farming.
“There is speculation around the price of these carbon credits in the stock market since they tend to increase when pollution levels increase and the forests are not sufficiently able absorb the carbon dioxide emitted by big industry,” says Winne Overbeek from MMBT.
There are two types of carbon markets: those of enforced regulation and voluntary ones. The regulated market is the one that corporations and governments use and through which, by law, they must report their greenhouse gas emissions. The second is the voluntary market, which includes all the credit transactions of carbon offsets that are not subject to regulatory obligation, with the goal of reducing overall emissions, such as the one in Brazil.
The private sector can buy carbon credits directly from corporate projects or from the carbon funds such as the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, which includes representation from the capitals of Norway, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, who have mobilized financing for activities that sequester carbon emissions in forest and agricultural systems, such as the new initiative where 280 million dollars have been designated for the so-called, “Sustainable Forest Landscapes,” whose principal objective is to back the productive sector of livestock farming and so-called “intelligent agriculture.”
Monte Pascoal is a small accident of geography, with an altitude of 536 meters, located on the outskirts of the city of Itamaraju, municipality in the state of Bahía, in Brazil. It was the first piece of land seen by Pedro Álvares Cabral in April in the year 1500, when the Portuguese landed on Brazilian soil. According to the official history, the hill is a landmark in the “discovery” of Brazil. For the Pataxo people, who have inhabited this place for hundreds of generations, it marks the beginning of the destruction of their territory.
Nomacaxhi Pataxo, with certainty, affirms that the Pataxo culture was born in this territory. “Our grandparents lived here long before, and it was they who taught us to live with the forest, because it is our house and because it is where we eat. We have been here since before the arrival of the Portuguese.”
Just as first waves of European colonization in Brazil arrived to this particular region, now in this same Pataxo territory, a new type of colonization is arriving with the REDD project. The project for forest carbon offsets has been sold as a pilot project for the financing for the restoration of “degraded” forests through the sale of carbon credits.
The MMBT launched a first report based on a study that was carried out in 2013 about the impact and evolution of the project in the region, carried out by Jutta Kill. According to the MMBT report, the big international conservation non-profit organizations and regional conservation groups have promoted the initiative of designating ecological corridors in the Atlantic Forests, originally proposed by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, with the support of the World Bank. The objective is to create an ecological corridor between the parks of Monte Pascoal and Pau Brasil, some 60 kilometers away from one another, forming the Ecological Corridor of Monte Pascoal-Pau Brazil.
The giant conservation NGOs, such as Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy also participated in the development of a conservation project in this time period and designated funds for part of the initiative. Financial contributions were also received from eucalyptus plantation corporations, Veracel and Aracruz, facilitated by the group IBIO, which has close ties to Veracel, which owns more than 100 thousand hectares of eucalyptus trees planted in the extreme southern part of Bahía. During the 1990s the activities of Veracel were suspended due to their involvement in deforestation activities.
The Nature Conservancy, according to the study, has proposed the inclusion of a carbon offset component of approximately 1,000 hectares in an initiative to conserve a total of 24,000 hectares. In 2008, 17 hectares were restored as part of a carbon offset contract with Kraft Foods, a global food production company and corporate partner of Conservation International. In 2009, a carbon contract was signed for 30 years with Natura Cosmetics, for the restoration of 250 hectares of “degraded territories” which would sequester 316 tons of CO2.
In 2010, the carbon-offset project was announced as the first forest restoration project in Brazil after having received a climate certification called Community and Biodiversity. This standard is used by many REDD projects and others of forest carbon compensation as evidence of the social and environmental benefits that the project supposedly should provide. The Monte Pascoal Forest Restoration project was awarded the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Gold Level. The objective of the CCB standards is to indicate that a project offers other social benefits, beyond the minimum requirements of certification.
What is left for communities?
One of the objectives of this project is to provide “valuable technical skills, employment, and income to local communities,” states the MMBT document. At least three Pataxo towns have been involved in the reforestation project.
Cooplantar–a local cooperative formed with the objective of carrying out the reforestation effort, of planting trees and doing maintenance work for the Monte Pascoal project–plays an important role in justifying the expedition of the CCB gold level certification, states the report. “And while the initiative without a doubt has provided a little bit of training and skills in the planting and maintenance of trees, and, at the beginning, some employment and income, many of the members of the cooperative were unemployed at the time of the research [in 2013], and others had begun to take jobs as day laborers on cattle farms, coffee and cayenne pepper plantations, or in the tourism industry.”
Another problem found by the study is the lack of understanding by the local community involved in the project with regard to the allocation of forests that serve as a carbon sink, their commercialization and who comes out ahead within this market.
The Monte Pascoal project of carbon compensation is linked to the carbon contract of 250 hectares with Natura Cosmetics, according to the information gathered, and can be found currently in the “waiting phase” section. At the completion of the report, only 56 hectares of the 250 that were contracted had been re-established.
The project, according to MMBT, had difficulties when the Forestry Code of the country was modified in 2012, reducing the obligations of private landowners to restore forests. As a result, the owners lost interest in offering their lands to be restored as part of the compensation project.
Brazil in REDD
Brazil is also one of the research fields of the initiative REDDX, which has undertaken a wide range of research around modes of financing the conservation of forests, investment and the commercialization of sustainable forest products. According to the data documented by REDDX, between 2009 and 2011, there was a financing flow for REDD projects in Brazil to the order of $598,604,833 US dollars.
The study generally lays out the most relevant players that structure this flow, including donors such as the World Bank, the UN Environment Program, the multilateral institutions. Resources are channeled through government agencies, as in the case of Germany using the German national development bank KFW, the Agency of German International Cooperation—GIZ, Norway, the United Kingdom—FCO, United States—USAID and private foundations such as Moore, Ford, Packard, Climate Works, Petrobras, among others.
“Most of the money, based on what we were able to map out, goes to consulting companies that do the inventory of carbon in the forests and do the carbon monitoring. The smallest part goes to the communities. Many things are promised in the name of sustainable development, but the experience has been that they are not fulfilled. Indigenous people are not pushed out, they end up as workers in this new marketplace,” says Overbeek.
According to the member of MMBT there is little information about how the articulation between the different actors regarding the implementation of projects works, nor about their results. The REDDX initiative addresses the lack of clarity around the project on its website. “The financial commitments at a high level (multilateral, bilateral, or governmental), continue to be limited in terms of the information regarding exactly how much money is really flowing to the countries, the types of activities financed by REDD+ during this initial period and the organization actually developing and implementing these activities.”
“We are in a transition phase from which the idea of REDD was launched. We calculate that there are between 200 and 300 projects total in the world. They are still pilot projects. We are seeing an effort on the part of governments, corporations and big conservation non-profits to invest more and more in these types of projects in different countries,” says Overbeek, and offers the case of Mozambique as an example. ‘They are already dividing up 60% of the national territory for this type of project. The state of Acre, in northern Brazil, is also organized so that the entire territory is transformed into an area of environmental business services, they are even creating specific legislation for it.”
One thing is certain, assures the member of the MMBT: the position of governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations is to increase investments in these lucrative projects in the forests that still exist around the world.
“They are going to continue earning money in the same way in which they always have, exploiting the nature environment, and on the other hand, continue with the process of the accumulation of these mechanisms of ecosystem services. The prediction is that they will have complete control over the forest areas, including protected areas, the National Parks, Peace Parks, among other concepts that they use.”
The historic caretakers of the forests are the most affected
What the MMBT has observed across the world is a process of the criminalization of small towns and communities of native people that live in the forests. “The use of the forests by the traditional peoples appears in the preliminary studies of the REDD projects across the world as a primary cause of deforestation. Above the levels that have been caused by big corporations,” affirms Overbeek.
Organizations such as WWF, CI, and TNC, backed by the United Nations, encourage conservation in such a way that native people lose their autonomy and self-determination over their own territory. “These organizations are the ones that have driven the policies, along with governments, to create the national parks. These are the NGOs that oversee these projects and they are the ones who end up being the principal actors in this market,” argues the researcher from MMBT.
Jutta Kill affirms that, “Conservation International, for example, has raised over 3 billion dollars, promising to save valuable places. Beyond the conservation of the land, they have been involved in the extraction of petroleum, logging, and development. BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell are represented on their board of directors.”
For a long time, indigenous people have used the method of growing crops best known as itinerant, migratory or nomadic agriculture, or of slash and burn. This form of subsistence agriculture practiced in vast regions and in the vegetation of the forest of tropical rainforests. Indigenous people open a clearing in the vegetation, burning the trees, so that the ashes can be integrated into the soil. “This has been the reason they’ve been criminalized. We at the MMBT have fought hard to denounce this conception of conservation. We have forests because there have been people conserving the forests and they have been the indigenous people, but the non-profit organizations have considered them as enemies of conservation, they have been driven out in the name of conservation.”
Overbeek emphasizes that the principal cause of climate change has been and continues to be the burning of fossil fuels, present in all the chains of production of merchandise. “Deforestation is being used to distract attention from the real cause of the problem, since deforestation is responsible for 15% of global carbon emissions and after this deforestation is agribusiness, real-estate development, and livestock farming.”
For decades, the processes of destruction that the extractive industry and phases of merchandise production produced were called “market failures” or “negative externalities.” “The carbon market and principally the REDD program came about in a context of economic and ecological crises that are one and the same, and do not seek to confront the causes of the problem, but instead see it as an opportunity to continue earning profits,” argues Overbeek.
The Americas Program reached out to Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy to clarify questions such as the implementation of the carbon offset program in the Monte Pascoal-Pau Corridor in Brazil, their operations in Brazil, how they work with indigenous groups in the region of Monte Pascoal, who benefits from the REDD project and if the indigenous groups will be able to use the areas the are being reforested, since they are now natural conservation areas.
Neither of the Brazilian offices of the two international organizations responded to the request, stating that they did not have the time.