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brazil: demystifying the ‘sustainability’ of ethanol

Brazilian sugar cane ethanol is being sold as a ‘sustainable biofuel’: it is one of the country’s key exports. But during 2008, the global agrofuels ‘fever’ began to cool, as critical voices and resistance movements around the world raised concerns that agrofuels are false solutions to climate change, contributing to the global food crisis and driving continued deforestation.

brazil: contribution to foei s agrofuels campaignwhat happened?

FoE Brazil worked with other FoEI groups to demystify the sustainability of ethanol, by publishing a series of documents and campaign materials; helping to organize a counter conference and activities during the international agrofuels summit; acting as a focal point for international groups travelling to Brazil; and providing relevant information to interested FoEI groups, programs and campaigns.


A collection of 15 cartoons portraying a range of comic perspectives on the ‘sustainability of agrofuels’, was organized by FoE Brazil. It includes contributions from other FoEI member groups and local artists. The exhibition, as well as T-shirts emblazoned with the cartoons and messages, were extremely popular and were taken to the agrofuels conference, the 2009 World Social Forum in Belem, Radiohead concerts held in São Paulo and Rio de Janerio, and the 2009 mobilizations around the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) in Medellin, Colombia.


FoE Brazil also translated a number of key documents into English, including: “New roads to the same old place: the false solution of agrofuels” and “Building energy sovereignty: experiences of autonomous renewable energy production in family-based agriculture, resisting corporate agro-energy expansion.” These expose the Brazilian government’s discourse and strategy, which is designed to protect trade in agrofuels; they also present the context and challenges for social movements building a future based on energy sovereignty.


FoE Brazil collected video testimonies during the Women´s Conference on Food and Energy Sovereignty, organized by Via Campesina Brazil and the World March of Women, also held in Brazil, in August 2008. This video includes testimonies from rural women participating and affected by the impacts of agrofuels and energy projects in Brazil, and is available in Portuguese. It is also being produced with English subtitles.


what changed?

FoE Brazil and FoEI helped to successfully undermine the general belief that sugar cane ethanol is a benign, green and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, which helps to combat climate change. The campaign materials, press work and counter activities generated a great deal of media and public interest, as well as a strong defensive reaction from the Brazilian government and the sugar cane industry. These activities also reinforced national and regional alliances amongst social movements calling for food sovereignty and resisting large scale monocultures.


what next?

Despite rapidly shifting perceptions about agrofuels and a changing global economic context, the official conference still supported the EU’s agrofuel targets, which will drive the continued expansion of agrofuels in Latin America. FoEI member groups, including FoE Brazil, will continue to oppose that expansion. FoE Brazil is monitoring the role of international financial institutions such as the IDB, and the US government, whilst continuing to campaign against agrofuels as a false solution to climate change, and mobilizing in support of climate justice.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)


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