Xingu: A sea of forest surrounded by agribusiness

Written by Leila

Topics: Agribusiness

share this story
facebook twitter email stumble upon
Get Forest Alerts

After spending 4 days at the “Encontro Xingu”, I had the opportunity to fly over the entire Xingu river basin beginning in Altamira, Para and ending in Canarana, Mato Grosso…soy and cattle country. Since I didn’t have time to travel the entire length of the Xingu, like the Heart of Brazil Expedition did in 2007, I flew to see if it was really true if deforestation stops as soon as the Xingu Indigenous Reserve begins. I wasn’t alone. I was with my travel partner Scott Fitzmorris and two Indigenous elders who couldn’t bear the 60 hour bus trip to Canarana.

Since Altamira and the surrounding area around the Transamazonia highway are pretty much dominated by cattle ranching, there’s not much forest there. Leaving Altamira, however, it wasn’t long before the landscape was dominated by intact rainforest for as far as the eye could see. For about three hours, we flew over the Xingu river and the great forest that surrounds it. It was truly incredible and inspiring to see. At the beginning of the trip, the forest was flat, but then we crossed an area where the forest became mountainous. Then, it became flat again. That’s around the time I noticed a road all of a sudden. According to Jacalo Kuikuro, one of the elders who flew with us, this is the road that crosses the Indigenous Reserve. It is BR-80. I looked in the distance and saw what looked like cleared land. He said it was land cleared for soy. I asked him what he thought about the soy plantations surrounding the reserve and he said that he didn’t like it because the chemicals sprayed on the soy contaminate the rivers and kill the fish. Looking down at the Xingu river and all of the small rivers and channels that lead into it, I could see how chemicals from pesticide spraying miles away could have disastrous effects on the ecology and culture of the Xingu.

Amazing Xingu from airplane

It wasn’t long before the plane began to descend and I noticed the changing landscape. I noticed less vegetation and more lakes. We were reaching the transition zone where the Amazon and the Cerrado, tropical wooded grassland, meet. This is an area of extreme biological and cultural diversity. For Indigenous people, like the Kuikuro, it is a sacred place that needs to be respected and protected.

Kuikuro House

Upon arrival of the Ipatse Kuikuro village, we were greeted by the village children and then introduced to Chief Afukaka. He welcomed us and led us to his house to talk. I told him about what we had seen from the air…the expansive forest, majestic river and soy plantations in the distance. He said, “When I was young, it was all forest. There were no soy plantations, but now as soon as you leave the Reserve it’s all soy plantations and cattle ranches. The chemicals from these huge farms cause lots of harm. When it rains all of the chemicals go into the rivers. Last year, a small river near our village was full of dead fish.” He also said, “Forests near the edge of our Reserve are burnt every year. When it rains, sometimes it rains black.” I told him about our campaign and he thanked me. He asked that I keep in touch with the young people in the community who are filmmakers working with “Video in the Villages” on films to preserve the Kuikuro culture. It turns out that I had already crossed paths with a couple of the young filmmakers a couple weeks ago in DC at the premiere of some their films at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. It’s a small world!

Shortly after leaving the Kuikuro community, we began to see the changing landscape, once again. This time, however, it was a drastic change where the forest ends and agribusiness begins. According to ISA, the SocialEnvironmental Institute in Canarana, 80,000 hectares of soy are in the Canarana area; 30,000 are in Agua Boa (south of Canarana); 40,000 are in Gaucha (west of Canarana); and 160,000 are in Querencia (north of Canarana). This soy expansion has occurred in just the last 13 years and is continuing. To get a better sense of what I’m talking about, look at this map and these photos.

ISA MAP of XIngu Basin

It’s quite incredible! After flying over the Xingu and hearing the perspectives of Indigenous people like the Kuikuro, I find it pretty reprehensible that massive deforestation for agribusiness is occurring and continues to occur. Seeing the silos of Cargill and Bunge in Canarana convince me even more that the ABC’s of Rainforest Destruction need to be held accountable for the impacts they are causing to the world’s rainforests, local communities and our global climate.


7 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. We must have mandatory birth control world wide now; everyday there are well over 250,000 births on planet earth and this overpopulation is at the core of all of our problems.

  2. neylan says:

    please send me more information about this issue. I produce and present a national show about nuclear peace and sustainability issues in Australia, and am interested in discussing some of these issues with media contacts in Aus if you have any? We have a lot of issues with Gunns Ltd down in Tasmania in Aus, and also problems with excessive logging in Far East Gippsland in Victoria. I hope we will protect these amazing places as soon as possible.

  3. NIcole says:

    Agriculture may be more likely to be at the of birthplace of overpopulation issues. I as a person wish the avenues to finding the other ways of sustaining myself were open, or at least not being systematicly destroyed. This disturbing global expermental attempt at monoculture through the destruction of these forest and other lands whiffs of the stench intergenerational genocide. Many areas are experiencing the later effects of this businesses, ex. long grass prarie being one of the most endangered northern continental ecosystems. The rainforest is such a gem…an artistry of nature…we’ve already overstepped ourselves…the solution is not sold in stores

  4. ScarletDove says:

    I couldn’t agree more that the major problem of this earth is overpopulation. Birth control and/or sterilization must become mandatory worldwide. This earth cannot maintain massive human growth with the destruction of ecosystems and wildlife just to provide food. Food shortages, high prices, abuse, and all the crime and fraud that goes along with making a buck will increase. Only humans create such destruction.

  5. Margo says:

    I can’t believe someone would suggest mandatory sterilization and birth control as a means to control unethical multinational corporations.
    I think that we need to be realistic. Historically many civilizations and countries have produced their own foods locally. I have just returned from Europe and most of the countries I visited still use old family traditional methods of producing and distributing their foods. Local production on a small scale ensures quality and ethical practices.
    If there were only 100 people on the earth, one or two of them would kill animals for fun or abuse the environment for his own profit. The others would have to stop them.
    Since 80% of the wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population than some of the rest of us will have to stop them. Further to this, since world trade, world bank, and multi-national corporations are now in control of most of the politicians the job is even harder. Let’s focus on the offenders.

  6. Luke says:

    It’s true; there’s less of a problem with the total amount of resources than there is with the distribution of those resources. Addressing distribution is more crucial than addressing population.

  7. daniel lucio says:

    i agree with margo and luke. it is rather heinous, heavy handed and shortsighted to say that overpopulation is the source of our problems and to wish for forced sterilization. we were having problems long before the population reached 6 billion. the roots of the problem lie in a worldview based on control, violence, and domination. if we are able to undercut those problems, there’s no telling how many people the earth can abundantly sustain. un outro mundo e possivel!

Leave a Comment Here's Your Chance to Be Heard!

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.