A new cycle in the increasing of production of eucalyptus pulp for export began in northern Espirito Santo, the southern region of Bahia and north-eastern Minas Gerais, with the opening in 2002 of the new Aracruz Celulose mill. This company increased its annual pulp production from 1.2 to 2.0 million tons, and expects to reach 2.4 million tons. Veracel Celulose, jointly owned by Aracruz and the Swedish-Finnish Stora Enso, is currently building its first eucalyptus pulp mill, the biggest in the world, with an annual production capacity of 900 thousand tons. Bahia Sul Celulose, owned by Suzano Papel e Celulose, will triple its annual pulp production and aims to reach 1.7 million tons. Cenibra, belonging to the Japanese group Japan Brazil Paper and Pulp, will double its annual production to 1.7 million tons.
The region, which already was the biggest producer in Brazil of eucalyptus pulp for export, will thus increase its annual production from 2.7 million tons to 6.7 million tons of pulp.
The pulp mills appear in the region as symbols of development and progress, and their openings are honoured by the attendance of the country’s President. However, there are many remarkable aspects, such as:
- The gigantic amount of public investment in the construction of a pulp mill. The new Aracruz mill used up about a thousand million reales (USD 310 million) from the National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES). The BNDES also lent approximately one thousand five hundred million reales (USD 470 million) to enable Veracel to build its new mill.
- It generates little direct employment, in comparison with the volume of investment. In the new Aracruz mill, extremely automated, only 173 jobs were created in a country with high unemployment rates.
- The promise of jobs in the construction of a pulp mill attracts a great number of workers into the region. Many of them, even jobless, end up staying. Due to the lack of other work options and local infrastructure, social problems such as hunger, violence, drug taking and trafficking, and child prostitution usually increase in communities living in the vicinity of pulp mills.
- The main technologies and machines used in the processes of pulp manufacture and eucalyptus cutting are imported from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, from companies such as Andritz-Ahlstrom, Kvaerner, Metso, Jaakko Poyry, ABB, Siemens and Voith Paper. Therefore, it is not surprising that the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) have funded, for example, the construction of the Veracel mill, respectively with USD 80 million (EIB) and USD 70 million (NIB). It is worth pointing out that about 95% of the pulp that is produced is exported back to the Northern countries, mainly in Europe, and used mostly for disposable paper production.
- Water consumption is very high; for example, the three Aracruz mills consume 248,000 m3 per day. This amounts to approximately the water consumption of a 2.5 million inhabitants city, at an average consumption of 100 litres per capita per day. To obtain it, the company rerouted three rivers in the region and built, in breach of environmental laws, a canal that brings water from an interstate river. And all that without paying a penny for the water.
- In spite of the introduction of environmentally less harmful technologies, in 2002 Aracruz Celulose still produced 203.8 thousand tons of pulp using elemental chlorine to bleach the product, resulting in the production of extremely toxic organic chlorine compounds such as dioxins.
- As pulp exporters, the companies are exempted of the main tax, the ICMS (tax on movement of goods and services), which leads, for example, to a contradictory and worrying situation in Espirito Santo, where the state government owes Aracruz 266 million reales (USD 84 million).
- A new expansion cycle of the eucalyptus plantations in the region was also launched, in order to provide the new mills with raw material. Thus, the monoculture tree plantation prevailed over the so necessary reforestation with native species. Hundreds of rural producers lost their livelihood and employment, because the companies bought the lands where they used to work and live. The land reform was seriously hampered in a region where over 7000 landless families live in encampments and wait for land.
These and other factors show how the large-scale pulp production mainly benefits the eucalyptus plantation companies and a small group of permanent workers, besides European companies, banks and consultants. Local communities are those that suffer the biggest direct and indirect damages. This led to the creation, five years ago, of the Alert Against the Green Desert Network, a movement coordinating local communities, rural movements and aid organizations in their struggle against this new expansion cycle that strengthens the unequal and excluding logic of a development model imposed on the population.
By: Winfried Overbeek FASE/ES, e-mail: email@example.com