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brazil: challenging investors in brazilian agrofuels

The lucrative agrofuels sector continues to be promoted by many as a clean green solution to climate change. Yet increasing demand for agrofuels gives large companies yet another reason to ‘grab’ land from traditional owners and users, and continue to destroy forests. The intensive production of agrofuels can even lead to more greenhouse gases being emitted than would have happened if fossil fuels had been used. Industrial agrofuels are part of the problem, not the solution.

brazil-agrofuelsYet investors in agrofuels such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) continue as if nothing were amiss. The IDB is keen to position itself as a player in the new carbon economy, and has prioritized the development of agrofuels in Brazil and other countries in the region. 


Before the financial crisis in 2008, the IDB provided loans to the agrofuels sector for new projects to expand plantations and build more mills. The financial crisis triggered a change in approach, as oil prices fell, affecting demand for agrofuels. The IDB switched track, and began to focus on monitoring national policies that could shape and promote investment in the sector.


This included “Sugar Cane Agro-Ecological Zoning” launched by the Brazilian government in October 2009. This defines zones in which the Brazilian government will support an increase in agrofuels production, including by providing access to credit and loans from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).


what happened

Friends of the Earth Brazil campaigns to expose the lack of coherence between IDB’s climate policies and its support for agrofuels. 


In March 2009, the IDB’s 50th anniversary and governors’ annual meeting in Medellin, Colombia, provided an important campaign opportunity. Friends of the Earth Brazil and Friends of the Earth Colombia / CENSAT participated in the organization of the parallel public forum on behalf of Friends of the Earth International. They distributed Portuguese and English language copies of the report “New road to the same old place: the false solution of agrofuels,” published by FoE Brazil, FASE and Terra de Direitos. This evaluates the sugar cane sector and associated investments in Brazil. The FoEI agrofuels cartoon collection was also on display at the forum, and copies of it were distributed to the media.


In August 2009, Friends of the Earth Brazil and FASE also published an updated report on the sugar cane ethanol sector in Brazil, analyzing the changes in policies, actors and scenarios in the sector following the financial crisis. The report, “Agrofuels after the financial crisis: foot on the brake or accelerator of social and environmental destruction?” was presented at the Forum Against Agribusiness in Asunción, Paraguay, which was organized by ATALC and Friends of the Earth Paraguay/Sobrevivencia. It was also widely distributed among networks, partners, and the media.


Friends of the Earth Brazil and other national groups and alliances also responded critically to Brazil’s new agro-ecological sugar cane zoning plan, through Rede Brazil and the BNDES Platform. These organizations brought up the issue of public national investments in ethanol during a seminar on BNDES held in November 2009, in Rio de Janeiro. 


The IDB’s investments were also monitored throughout the year by FoE Brazil, as a member of the Brazilian Network on International Financial Institutions (Rede Brasil sobre Instituições Finaceiras Multilaterais). In addition, the group tracked funds lent to Brazil by the World Bank for environmental and climate adaptation purposes. 


News updates and other information were also published on an on-going basis, on the Rede Brazil website ( 


what changed

Friends of the Earth Brazil’s ongoing campaign continued to shine a spotlight on IDB’s climate change policies and its investments in ethanol projects in Brazil. Thoughtful and critical analysis about the sugar cane ethanol sector, combined with effective public campaigning, lobbying and media work, has enabled FoE Brazil and partner organizations to bring a strong critical voice to the agofuels debate. This is essential, especially in Brazil, which is a global leader in the production and use of sugarcane based ethanol.


what next

In 2010, Friends of the Earth Brazil will continue to monitor and highlight public banks’ policies and projects on climate, energy and infrastructure in Brazil, focusing on the role of IDB and BNDES in particular. 


It will also monitor and challenge the development of other socially or environmentally risky projects, such as large dams in the Amazon region and Uruguay river basin.


The group will also channel and publicize information about social movements’ responses, resistance activities and alternatives, and continue to edit the bi-monthly bulletin "Energia Nova."


You can view the cartoon collection at:

Download the most recent sugar cane ethanol sector analysis here:


with thanks to our funders: the c.s. mott foundation

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