Megafarm in Bahia advances in deforestation, threatens savannah and isolates communities

Between the valleys where the Preto and Riachão rivers flow, in western Bahia, an exuberant region that shelters native cerrado forest began to be cut down to make way for the planting of soy, corn and cotton.

The company Delfin Rio S/A, which is part of the Cachoeira do Estrondo Condominium —a group of farms in the city of Formosa do Rio Preto— started deforesting areas in the second half of 2021 of savannah. The company was authorized to remove 24, 7,000 hectares, an area larger than Recife (the capital of Pernambuco has 21, 8 thousand hectares).

The authorization was granted by the government of Bahia in May 2019, beginning of the second mandate of Governor Rui Costa (PT). Since then, the endorsement has been questioned by environmentalists and associations representing small farmers who have lived in the region for about 200 years.

The company, in turn, says it is complying with the conditions of the environmental license issued by Inema, the environmental agency of Bahia, and emphasizes that it should deforest only 2.200 hectares, about 10% of the authorized area.

In addition to environmental impacts and on traditional communities, the area that begins to be deforested does part of a litigation involving the state of Bahia itself. The Bahian government filed a lawsuit in court in which it claims ownership of areas occupied by the mega-farm.

The Cachoeira do Estrondo Condominium is appointed by Incra (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) as the largest area land grabbing in Bahia and one of the largest in Brazil.

In addition, areas that are identified by companies as legal reserves are the target of a possessory action brought by traditional communities. In June, the Superior Court of Justice recognized the possession of 41 thousand hectares for the geraizeiros, the name given to the region’s traditional communities.

“Condomínio Estrondo is doing a ‘green land grabbing’. They register the areas closest to the rivers, which belong to the communities, as a legal reserve to release flat areas for deforestation. The legal reserve is superimposed on the traditional territory, which is illegal “, argues Juliana Borges, from the Association of Lawyers for Rural Workers of Bahia.

The suppression of native forest began in July, the month in which the deforestation of 1.200 hectares, according to data from the Planet satellite provided by Greenpeace. In November, deforestation continued to advance, reaching 3.000 hectares.

In recent weeks, communities locals caught deforestation with the use of the current. This technique consists of using a chain with thick links whose ends are attached to tractors. The equipment advances in parallel, clearing the vegetation, which can cause the death and mutilation of animals.

The approximately one hundred families of geraizeiros in the region are apprehensive about the possibility of losing their Native forest. The Cachoeira community, for example, is three kilometers from the devastated area.

“It is one of the few areas in the region where there is still cerrado. It lies between the valleys of two very important rivers, the Preto river and Riachão. The devastation will have a huge impact on the water issue,” says farmer Jassone Lopes Leite, 41, from the Geraizeira de Cachoeira Community Association.

He claims that the communities are negotiating with the Municipality of Formosa do Rio Preto the creation of a conservation unit of 5.000 hectares to protect cerrado areas, but no advances were made. The report was unable to contact the city hall.

In addition to its environmental importance, the suppression of the cerrado in the region also has an economic impact on the geraizeiros, who live off subsistence farming with the planting of beans, rice and manioc.

In addition to preserving animals and watercourses, the standing forest serves as an additional source of income for families who collect and sell fruits of native species, such as buriti, pequi, mangaba and Araçá, in addition to golden grass, used in handicraft items.

A resident of the Cachoeira community since he was born, Adão Batista Gomes, 60, says that the deforested areas were used for grazing cattle, which are raised in the wild. And he says he regrets the loss of one of the few areas close to the community that are still preserved: “The only standing cerrado corridor that we have nearby they are deforesting”.

In an open letter sent to Governor Rui Costa (PT), 41 civil society entities demanded the suspension of deforestation of native forest in the region.

The entities claim that the region has high rainfall and natural vegetation cover essential for the recharge of the Urucuia aquifer, one of the largest in the country, currently in the focus of attention of authorities in view of the risk of impacts on the São Francisco River.

The advance of production should also deepen the isolation of the geraizeiros, whose communities are surrounded by large farms.

Since 2014, Condomínio Estrondo started to adopt restrictive measures against residents the surrounding area, where around one hundred families live, almost all of them black, spread over eight communities.

The main access roads were blocked gates and guardhouses, with the permanent presence of armed private guards. In some areas, access is prohibited. In others, it is only possible upon presentation of a document.

“We became the target of a series of pressures. They began to build fences, open ditches within the communities’ areas, build guardhouses with armed men and security cameras”, says Jassone Lopes Leite.

He was even the target of violence in January 2019, when he was shot in the left leg while demanding let security guards release their cattle. In video recorded by Jassone himself, three security guards who shoot into the air before hitting him. The Civil Police registered the case as a bodily injury.

Since September Folha has sent a series of inquiries to Inema and the Department of Communication of Bahia about the authorization to suppress native forest, but received no response.

The Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality informed that it issued certifications for 24 background communities and pasture closure in western Bahia and which is part of a task force working on a report to subsidize the mediation of the conflict between traditional communities and the Cachoeira do Estrondo Condominium.

*) In a note, Delfin Rio S/A informed that deforestation is being carried out in an area equivalent to 000% of the 24, 7,000 hectares released for suppression and that there are no river sources in this location.

He also said that deforestation is monitored by biologists, veterinarians and forestry engineer, with escape routes to ensure the safe movement of an more to the original native vegetation reserve area maintained by the company.

The company also informed that in the Inema license there is no restriction on the use of the stream and that the method is considered more efficient for the vegetation of small shrubs.

In relation to conflicts in the region, Delfin Rio claimed to be a victim of destruction of facilities and intimidation of employees. And he informed that the farms are private properties and have patrimonial surveillance: “Private roads, within the property, are for the exclusive use of the company’s operation”.

Finally, the company says that its lands were mistakenly included in Incra’s Land Grabbing White Book and that all company properties are fully documented before the competent bodies.

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