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The War in Ukraine: Global Fertilizer Pressures on Brazil Amazon | Agriculture News

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Sao Paulo, Brazil Speaking to reporters three days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in late February, far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro complained about his nations’ dependence on Russian rubbish and took the opportunity to criticize indigenous land rights.

We have garbage in Brazil, at the mouth of the Madeira River, he said, referring to the largest tributary of the Amazon River. We have plenty of potassium, but it is [on] an indigenous reserve.

The world’s largest producer of soybeans, Brazil is an agricultural power plant, with agribusiness accounting for about a quarter of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the country also imports 97 percent of the approximately 10 million tonnes of potassium it uses to produce plants each year, making it the largest importer in the world.

Russia and Belarus account for 44 percent of the total that Brazil consumes each year, with Canada, Germany and Israel also the top suppliers, according to government data. published from the newspaper Brazils Valor Economico.

Now with the Ukraine conflict in the third month, and while potassium prices have tripled last year due to fears of possible gaps between sanctions and logistical hurdles, long-held interests in extracting large potassium reserves in the Brazilian Amazon are being resurrected.

These reserves are world-class, said Marcio Remedio, director of the Geological Survey of Brazil, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Mines and Energy. They have the same potential, if not more, than those in the Ural Mountains produced by Russia and Belarus, as well as in Saskatchewan in Canada.

Big impacts

The bosses of the Brazilian agribusiness, many of whom support Bolsonaro, who is seeking re-election in what is expected to be a hot October race, have gathered around the idea.

But local indigenous and environmental groups, for their part, fear the rise of potassium mining in the Amazon will pollute local rivers, destroy land and lead to the loss of traditional fishing, hunting and farming.

“We are not against mining, but we know that mining has a big impact,” Sergio do Nascimento, a spokesman for the indigenous Mura group from the village of Soares in Autazes, Amazonas, told Al Jazeera.

In 2010, the Canadian firm Brazil Potash, owned by Toronto-based commercial bank Forbes & Manhattan, began drilling for potassium in and around the lands where Mura people live in the municipality of Autaza, 120 km (75 miles) on the river from the capital Amazonian Manaus.

The company plans to build the largest potassium mine in Latin America in the region, as well as a highway, an industrial plant, power lines and a port for the transportation of fertilizers. But the project stalled in 2016 and his license was suspended following a complaint by public prosecutors that Mura had not been adequately consulted.

The location where the mining company plans to operate is within 8 km of the Paracuhuba and Jauary reserves, which are 9 km2 and 250 km2, with 134 and 337 inhabitants respectively, according to an online database from the NGO Brazil Instituto Socioambiental.

An agricultural worker in Brazil shows trash in his hands
Brazil imports 97 percent of the approximately 10 million tons of potassium it uses to produce crops each year [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Under Brazilian law, all heavy mining or industrial activities are currently prohibited in indigenous reserves recognized by the Brazilian government. Brazil is also a signatory to the International Labor Organization Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which stipulates that indigenous peoples should be consulted on infrastructure projects that may affect their way of life.

But one of the sharp issues is that the Brazilian government does not officially recognize the communities of Soares and Urucurituba Mura located near the proposed potassium mine as a reserve.

While the Mura people have lived in the region since at least the 18th century, according to anthropologists and villagers they submitted demarcation requests to the indigenous Brazilian agency Funai in 2003 without official reserve status, they are not entitled to the same protections.

“Once they put a mine on our land, I believe we will no longer have this territory as indigenous land,” said Nascimento, Mura’s spokesman. This is a war for our territory.

The company defends the plan

A 2018 study by researchers from the University of Unisinos Brazil and the Cardozo Law School in New York identified potential risks to Muras territories, such as heavy water and air pollution, as well as landmines and gas explosions, based on incidents in potassium mines in Russia. and the Republic of the Congo.

Public pre-consultation on the project has resumed and company representatives told Al Jazeera they expect the environmental license for the project to be issued soon, though experts say it will take several more years for the project to produce potassium.

Federal Judge Jaiza Fraxe is monitoring the company’s talks with Mura’s people to make sure they are treated fairly and the project depends on her decision. But the public prosecutor’s office has accused the company of forcing members of the Mura tribe in Soares to support the project.

The company, or its interlocutors, exerted pressure and coercion on indigenous and river dwellers in the region in order to sell their land / assets and territories of traditional use to the company, according to an excerpt from a document sent to the Federal Court of Justice. Amazonas. signed by prosecutor Fernando Merloto Soave and viewed by Al Jazeera. The document cited field visits from the end of March.

Brazil Potash denies the allegations.

All purchases are made legally, under Brazilian law, said chief executive Adriano Espeschi. Brazil potash is an ESG [environmental, social, and corporate governance] Company In terms of mining impacts, we have already completed exhaustive studies.

According to Espesch, the project at Autazes would account for about 20 percent of Brazil’s potassium demand. It is a project of great interest to Brazilian agribusiness, he said.

Brazil Potash has also planned projects in the municipalities of Itapiranga and Itacoatiara, both in the state of Amazonas and located near the Amazon River, respectively 100 km and 70 km from Autazes, but they are not as developed as the Autazes project.

Strategic reserves

Experts say the location of the Autazes potassium reserves along the Madeira River makes them strategic to distribute to agribusiness centers in the heart of Brazil in the center-west region and on the agricultural border of the Amazon.

It is cheaper to transport by river cheaper than rail and much cheaper than by road, said Antonio Galvan, head of the powerful Brazilian soybean growing group Aprosoja, an ally of President Bolsonaro. We could increase our crop production if we did not depend so much [foreign] potassium, he told Al Jazeera.

Other companies are also looking at potassium opportunities in Autazes and the surrounding region.

This April, the company Oxycer Holding, based in the southern state of Paranës, made 14 requests to the Brazilian National Mining Agency to search for potassium in the indigenous lands of Mura, according to the first data from Al Jazeera.

The data was collected by AmazoniaMinada, or Mined Amazon, a project that monitors mining requirements in Brazil’s protected areas as indigenous lands, using data from the country’s National Mining Agency.

The company declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Al Jazeera.

Garbage has been seen on a tractor in Brazil
Garbage was seen on a tractor as it was spreading in a soybean field near Brasilias [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Way forward

Throughout his term, Bolsonaro has sought to reverse current bans on mining and other industrial-scale activities in Brazil’s indigenous lands in the name of economic development.

While Bolsonaro criticized the Autazes potassium project as in the hands of foreigners in 2016 when he was a congressional representative, he met with Forbes & Manhattan chief Stan Bharti in early April with the aim of unblocking the mine, according to media reports. local. and the Reuters news agency.

Forbes & Manhattan also owns the proposed and highly controversial Belo Sun mine at Amazon, which would be the largest open-air gold mine in the world, which has not started operating. Recently, a federal judge upheld the suspension of his license, also arguing that indigenous communities were not adequately consulted and that socio-environmental impact studies did not meet the requirements of Funai, the country’s indigenous agency.

The president has not publicly commented on fears that potassium mining could harm the environment or infringe on the rights of indigenous people, but he has argued that without the potassium extracted from the Autazes region, Brazil would suffer from food insecurity.

Roughly a week after the war in Ukraine, he wrote on Twitter that a proposed bill he sent to Congress to allow mining on indigenous lands would solve potassium problems in Brazil. But experts disagreed quickly.

Brazil is going through one [fertiliser] crisis first because it abandoned a policy of independence in terms of agricultural inputs since the late 1980s, said Raoni Rajao, a professor of environmental management at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and author of a recent study on the issue.

He also noted that only 10 percent of potassium reserves in Brazil are in indigenous soils. The biggest interests in mining in indigenous lands are the illegal lobby of gold miners who want to legalize their activities.

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