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Catholic Bishops Slam Brazil Ethanol Growth Plan

Date: 23-Mar-07
Country: BRAZIL

Brazil is a pioneer in using ethanol as an automotive fuel and is the world's largest exporter of ethanol and second largest producer after the United States.

It is expected to attract at least 17.4 billion reais ($8.18 billion) in investment over the next four years, increasing production by 40 percent from the current 17 billion liters (4.4 billion gallons). Some analysts say production could double in over five years.

The Brazilian National Bishops' Council, or CNBB, said at a news conference that such expansion could exacerbate income inequality in the countryside.

"Cane cultivation leads to land concentration because it requires large plantations and this has traditionally triggered a rural exodus," said Bishop Odilo Scherer, who was appointed archbishop of Sao Paulo by Pope Benedict on Wednesday. "I can already see a new exodus (in Brazil)."

The bishops in the world's largest Roman Catholic country also criticized the poor working conditions on sugar cane plantations.

"It's a situation of tremendous misery," said Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, president of the CNBB, citing the long working hours, poor pay and physical strain that cane cutters face.

Government and industry officials say cane cutters in the main growing regions are paid above-average wages for manual labor in the agricultural sector. Mills say they often face difficulties trying to mechanize the harvest because workers protest the potential loss of work.

The industry is responsible for millions of rural jobs and is expected to be one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in coming years.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva earlier this month likened ethanol producers to national heroes for their planned investments and contributions to economic development.

Majella warned that expanding cane cultivation could encroach on primary forests, increasing deforestation rates. "We are going to turn the country into a huge cane (plantation)," he said.

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