Originally published February 2 2009
The High Price of Cheap Ethanol in Brazil
by Jo Hartley
(NaturalNews) Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a lofty goal. By 2030 he wants his country of Brazil to be the world`s largest biofuel supplier. Brazil wants to supply the world with cheap ethanol from their sugarcane. Many consider ethanol to be the answer to global warming. Unfortunately, there are approximately one million people harvesting this sugarcane at slave wages in Brazil.
Last year, Brazil produced almost 26 billion liters of ethanol. By 2017 production is projected to be 53 billion liters. According to a recent study conducted at the University of Sao Paulo, cane harvesters are able to work for an average of twelve years before their bodies are destroyed and they have to stop. Workers are required to harvest 3.5 tons of sugarcane each day. This daily quota is enough to make approximately 300 liters of ethanol. In order to accomplish this, a worker needs to strike the cane with a machete 3,000 times.
Over thirty countries currently use ethanol along with gasoline. The US has stipulated that by 2012 approximately 15 percent of its fuel will be ethanol. The EU`s goal is for biofuel to make up 10 percent of its gasoline by 2020. Sweden is in the lead of the biofuel race. Last year they entered into an agreement with Brazil for 115 million liters of biofuel. A stipulation of this agreement, however, was that labor involving slave-like wages or children could not be used to produce their ethanol. For this requirement, they will pay an extra five to ten percent for the biofuel.
President Lula envisions Brazil leading the ethanol quest with other developing countries that are located in the tropics participating in an OPEC-like organization. They won`t produce oil; however, they will produce ethanol. These countries could supply biofuel to wealthy countries and become wealthy in the process.
The attraction to Lula`s dream is that it could mean that industrialized nations wouldn`t be forced to economize to save fossil fuels. Ethanol would be inexpensive and drivers would not have to feel guilty about their consumption. The reality of Lula`s dream is that ethanol is produced by slave labor and people are living and suffering as veritable slaves on sugarcane plantations in Brazil.
In Brazil, sugarcane is grown on over 14.8 million acres of land with plans to expand this production. Brazil was once native rain forests...but those were destroyed long ago. Brazil is now an ethanol zone with entire villages razed to plant sugarcane. There are numerous bedroom villages for the cane harvesters. These are groups of dirty huts thrown together in the oppressive heat. The huts are crude and the furnishings are stark. Children play in the dirt and raw sewage runs through nearby ditches. The cane harvesters and their families are there because there is nowhere else for them to be. There are no other opportunities for them.
During their work shifts, harvesters are not given anything but cornmeal and water. They work six days per week and earn a pittance during the growing season. Growing season lasts no more than six months and the workers are forced to make their wages last the entire year despite the fact that their earnings are not sufficient to support them. Ethanol production may be beneficial for Brazil, but it does not benefit the people of this country.
The plantations are like individual communities where abuses and accidents go unreported and unmonitored. There are only nine inspectors to cover 140,000 cane workers. There are no standards or protections in place for the workers` safety. Workers often spread toxic pesticides onto the sugarcane with bare hands and without masks. Human casualties are numerous.
Ethanol is considered a promising alternative to fossil fuels, however, it cannot be allowed to be produced on the backs of slaves.
About the authorJo Hartley
Wife, Mother of 8, and Grandmother of 2
Jo is a 41 year old home educator who has always gravitated toward a natural approach to life. She enjoys learning as much as possible about just about anything!
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