After our stay in Manaus we will
fly to Belém, the capital city of the
eastern Amazon state of
of approximately 1300 kilometres will take one hour. Pará has been
at the centre of most controversies over Amazon development programmes.
It is the location
of the largest development project in the whole of the Amazon, the Grande
Carajás Mining and Industrial Zone. It is also the site of some
of the most radical sustainable development initiatives.
We will attempt to
find out how these initiatives have affected people and why there has
been such fierce opposition to the industrial projects.
Pará is one
of the largest states in the Amazon region covering 1,253,164 square kilometres.
This is over five times the size of the UK or equal to the size of France,
Spain and the UK combined. Like all Amazon states it has a relatively
small population of 5,510,849 inhabitants, 52.45 per cent (2,596,388)
of whom live in cities. It encompasses the western reaches of the Amazon
river. It has 128 municipalities and its largest cities are the state
capital, Belém and Santarém, Marabá, Altamira, Castanhal
Belém is the
biggest port on the Amazon resting 120 kilometres from the Atlantic. It
is the economic centre of the northern region of Brazil. The Amazon dry
season hardly affects Belém and it is one of the wettest cities
in the world. Fortunately the period of our visit is slightly less wet
than the December–June period when it rains in abundance. The average
temperature will be about 32°c and it will be extremely humid.
We will visit the
Goeldi Museum in Belém, one of only two Brazilian research institutes
in the Amazon. The range of study at the institute is wide, including
the flora, fauna, peoples and the physical environment of the Amazon.
It has a zoo and a permanent exhibition, charting the geological, ecological,
archaeological and anthropological development of the Amazon.
We aim to travel
to the largest industrial plant in Latin America, the Albrás/Alunorte
aluminium and alumina complex. This is situated 40 kilometres from Belém.
It uses 20 per cent of the energy produced by Parás largest
dam at Tucuruí. It is responsible for supplying 15 per cent of
Japans aluminium consumption needs. The start-up of the alumina
plant was in October 1995 and in that year it produced 215,000 tonnes
of alumina. In 1996 it produced 826,000 tonnes. Its full capacity of 1.1
million tonnes was expected to be reached in 1997.
The next day we will
set off on a journey by boat to the source of Albrás/Alunorte plants
energy supply–the Tucuruí Dam. This journey could take up
to 29 hours travelling 350 kilometres south from Belém down the
Rio Tocantins. The boat journey will be a once in a lifetime experience
itself. We will hire a boat in Belém, fix hammocks and lie back
whilst we motor through the forest. It will be a good opportunity to see
how the Amazon river communities live and work.
the largest hydroelectric dam project in the world. It is 50 per cent
bigger than Brazils mammoth Itaipu Dam complex on the Rio Paraná
between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The Itaipu, which began operation
in 1984, cost US$20 billion and produces as much electricity as ten average
power stations. Tucuruí is now Brazils largest dam at over
12 kilometres long. It has a flooded reservoir covering 4000 square kilometres
of forest making it the fourth largest artificial lake in the world. It
is projected that it will supply eight million kilowatts of energy a year.
In the late 1960s, large deposits of bauxite were discovered in Pará.
(Bauxite is one of the main elements used in the production of aluminium.
By 1973 a consortium of Japanese aluminium companies–the Nippon
Amazon Aluminium Company–had started negotiations with Companhia
do Vale do Rio Doce (the Brazilian state mining and steel company) to
set up an aluminium plant by the Tocantins River, in Pará. This
is now the largest industrial plant in Latin America.)
Part of the plan
was to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Tocantins River to supply
electricity for the aluminium plant. The Japanese refused to invest in
either the dam or the necessary port facilities but the Brazilian Government
did, as it was committed to the development of the region. When work began
on the dam in 1977, Electronorte, the regional state electrical company,
constructed a purpose-built city for the dams workers. It has a
population of 60,000 and is a modern city with supermarkets, a hospital
and offices. The dam was completed in 1984 and began to back up water
in a 200 kilometre long lake which almost reached Marabá.
of this dam, like many others in the Amazon, has caused uproar amongst
environmentalists. They point out that the flooding killed 2.8 million
trees and inundated huge tracts of fertile lands. They add that forest
was not cleared before flooding and that this could affect the efficiency
of the dam turbines due to the effects of siltation. Malaria has also
been rife in areas where forest was not cleared and in areas downstream
of dams where the water became stagnant.
Dams such as the
Tucuruí, have also been criticised for their impact upon local
populations. Tucuruí displaced up to 35,000 people who received
little or no compensation. It flooded 100 kilometres of the TransAmazon
highway and partially flooded 800 farming plots. It flooded a section
of the Paracanã Indian Reserve. It also destroyed the homeland
of the Trocara Indian group.
The Brazilian Government
has defended the construction of hydroelectric schemes by pointing out
their substantial benefits to larger populations and the national and
regional economies. Thirty new dam projects are planned for 2010. They
will have the potential to meet 60 per cent of Brazils energy needs,
compared with five per cent in 1986. This is crucial for the development
of Brazil as it is a net importer of petroleum products.
We would like to
discuss the benefits and negative impact of the Tucuruí hydroelectric
complex with the Mayor of Tucuruí, Cláudio Furman, Electronorte
representatives and people from Tucuruí town and surrounding areas.
we travel via the city of Marabá to the Projeto Grande Carajás
Mining and Industrial Zone (PGC). We will travel a distance of 360 kilometres.
This project almost
defies description in terms of scale and potential. The whole project
covers an area of approximately 400,000 square kilometres (France is 543,000
square kilometres). The original plan was for a total investment of US$62
billion. It contains one of the worlds largest mining operations:
a huge system of open-cast mining operations, extracting iron ore, manganese,
bauxite, copper, nickel, potassium and gold. Minerals extracted from this
operation supply industries in Western countries. It produces export earnings
for Brazil and much-needed jobs for its workers. It has its own purpose-built
infrastructure of power station, transport and processing plants and a
900 kilometre rail link connecting it to new port facilities at a cost
of US$2.4 billion and aluminium plants on the Atlantic coast at São
Luís. The town of Carajás has been rebuilt and is exclusively
for Carajás workers. You cannot enter unless you have a permit.
The Tucuruí Dam supplies power to the Grande Carajás project.
Seven more dams are planned for the Rio Tocantins to supply the project
with power. The project was until recently owned and run by the state
mining and steel company. It was recently sold to private investors for
some US$3.2 billion as part of the Brazilian Governments state privatisation
In the late 1960s
a series of mineral discoveries were made in the Carajás region
of Pará. The area was found to contain the biggest iron ore deposit
in the world. Western companies immediately began to fight the Brazilian
Government for control over this wealth. The Meridonial Mining Company,
a subsidiary of United States Steel, the biggest steel company in the
world and CODIM, another multinational, competed for the control of the
deposits with the Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce. When iron prices dropped
on the world market, the foreign multinationals pulled out.
In 1970 the Brazilian
Government instituted a new development programme, the Programme for National
Integration (PIN). Its main function was to create infrastructure and
communication links between areas containing major mineral deposits. In
1974, the Government announced a further element to its development strategy–the
Polamazonia programme. Its key objective was to promote mining, lumbering,
ranching, fishing, agriculture and hydroelectric energy, in order to generate
export earnings. It focused on the development of three growth poles
centred upon mineral deposits. The Carajás area in Pará
received the bulk of the funding. As a result, more migrants began flooding
into the area, attracted by the prospect of employment. This migration
intensified land conflicts which were already underway at the edge of
the old Brazil nut groves.
In 1980, the Grande
Carajás project was officially launched. In the promotional literature
the aims of the programme were listed as: ...the harmonious growth
of the countrys diverse regions, industrial decentralisation, redirection
of migratory flows by generating new employment and payment of the external
out to contain one of the worlds largest mineral deposits, with
18 billion tons of high grade iron and smaller but significant amounts
of other minerals.
The mining operations
and associated infrastructure projects opened up the area to an unprecedented
level of development. The mining region has become the focus of the Governments
development strategy for the entire region. The mines stimulated road
building, encouraged new public services and opened up fresh agricultural
lands. In the 1996-97 period, Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce extracted
the equivalent of US$800 million of iron, gold and magnesium. The companys
turnover from Pará reached US$2.6 billion, constituting two-thirds
of Pará states exports. It is predicted that the revenue
could reach US$4 billion in the first half of the next century.
The Grande Carajás
project became the focus of severe criticism during the early 1980s. It
has been condemned for leading to a shortage of land and subsequent land
conflicts by encouraging the massive internal migration of peasant farmers
and workers. It has also attracted criticism for its pig-iron smelting
units which run along the Carajás railway and use cheap, unmanaged,
primary forest timber. The rail line was also criticised for cutting through
the Gaviões Indian Reserve. The construction of the Alcoa aluminium
plant at São Luís entailed the removal of 22,000 people
from their homes without compensation.
In 1990 a new Secretariat
for the Environment (SEMA) was created by the Brazilian Government and
was attached to the Presidents office. An outspoken environmentalist,
José Lutzenberger, was appointed as its head. He immediately imposed
restrictions on deforestation for charcoal production in the Grande Carajás
Companhia do Vale
do Rio Doce has responded
to such criticisms stating that of the 400,000 square kilometres of natural
forest area involved in the project, only 1.6 per cent is used for mining
and infrastructure. It claims that it maintains and protects over one
million hectares of untouched forest in the project area. It has a scheme
to recuperate used areas and reintegrate them into forest areas. It also
claims that it supplies health care, education and farming support to
Indian groups and has helped demarcate three Indian reserves within the
On our visit to the
project, which will last two days, we hope to talk to various groups.
We will discuss conflicting opinions about the project hopefully with
workers at Carajás, peasant farmer groups who live and work outside
the project, environmentalists and Xikrin Indians from the Cateté
Reserve, located within the projects boundaries.
Our final destination
in Pará should be a sustainable agroforestry initiative near the
city of Marabá. Sustainable agroforestry involves the cultivation
of plant and tree crops in a way which causes minimum disturbance to the
environment. There are many such initiatives being developed throughout
the Amazon and supporters argue that they represent a better form of development
than projects such as Carajás which necessitate the clearance of
large areas of forest.
The project is based
at the Agricultural and Environmental Centre of Tocantins (CAT). It is
a joint project between a farming union association, the Agrarian Foundation
of the Tocantins-Araguaia (FATA) and an agricultural research institute,
the Socio-Economic Laboratory of Tocantins (LASAT).
The project grew
from an awareness by peasant farmers that: their habitual cultivation
methods were destroying their livelihoods, as well as that precious legacy
of future generations, the Amazon rainforest. Supporters of the
project believe it is a means of small farmers meeting their own needs
without destroying their environment. It is funded by various foreign
donors, including Christian Aid, the European Union and the British Government.
The objective of
the project is to create an alternative agricultural model for the regions
small farmers. Traditionally, small farmers slash and burn the forest
and plant short-cycle staple crops. They use the surplus from the harvest
to buy cattle and cut more forest for pasture. There is a conflict over
alternatives to this model. The Socio-Economic Laboratory of Tocantins
is experimenting with ways of making existing techniques of rice cultivation
and its marketing and cattle rearing more efficient. The Agrarian Foundation
of the Tocantins- Araguaia, meanwhile, under its Agroforestry Project
(PAF) is focusing on the cultivation of tree crops to complement the short-cycle
staple crops. The aim is to plant perennial wood, fruit, spice and medicinal
crops and do away with cattle rearing and the need to slash and burn ever
larger areas of rainforest.
There are many problems
with implementing the sustainable agroforestry model. First, cattle rearing
remains the most financially rewarding activity for small farmers; second,
a large amount of investment, time (the farmer must wait for the tree
crops to grow) and labour power is needed to install this model; third,
there is no large overseas market for the produce. This has contributed
to the fact that, of the 16,000 small farmers in the Marabá area,
only 3000 are involved in the agroforestry project.
Another key part
of the Agricultural and Environmental Centre of Tocantins project, is
environmental education. A team at CAT runs courses for local teachers
on how to teach environmental awareness.
We want to visit
CAT and schools where teachers educate school students in environmental
awareness. We want to explore whether such projects, if applied throughout
the Amazon, are a viable alternative to large industrial projects such
Pará is a
scene of great contrasts. There are the massive development projects,
such as the Grande Carajás project which have the potential to
rapidly accelerate the economic and social development of the state. On
the other hand, sustainable development initiatives are being created,
involving the implementation of extractive forestry methods, after years
of opposition to mega-projects by environmental campaigners. There is
a contest between the progress that comes with large inputs of financial
investments and technology and efforts to preserve the forest using highly
labour-intensive working methods. The question is, which projects will
win out in this contest and who will benefit?
We end our visit
to Pará by returning to Marabá city to catch our plane to
our next destination, the federal capital of Brazil, Brasília.