I have compiled some excellent references which provide good insight
into the social and environmental impacts of ethanol production in
Brazil. Be aware that there is a lot of "opinion" on both sides of
Exerpt from "Bioenergy and the Rise of Sugarcane-Based Ethanol in
Brazil," by Joao Martines-Filho, Heloisa L. Burnquist, and Carlos E.F.
"Two controversial outcomes of these environmental policies are the
immediate unemployment of over 100,000 of the nation's 1.2 million
seasonal sugarcane workers and the creation of incentives for
producers to relocate their farms to avoid regulation. The loss of
jobs is important because the sugarcane workers are some of the most
at-risk elements of rural Brazil. Politically it is difficult for
Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who came to office as a
very strong advocate for the country's disenfranchised workers.
"The sugarcane harvest area in Brazil is around 5.2 million hectares
(UNICA, 2006) and employs 1.2 million workers (Parra, 2005). With the
new burning law, approximately 2.9 million hectares (55% of total cane
acreage) will be mechanically harvested. Each combine harvests around
1,300 hectares per year and replaces 60 seasonal workers. This means
that the 2,231 combines will displace about 134,000 workers, or 11% of
the sector's labor force."
"Production migration too is of great concern because land is
plentiful in Brazil and regulatory oversight is weak. So,
environmental regulation may be having the perverse effect of
increasing pollution in the short run as production expands in new
regions where environmental regulations are weak and monitoring is
Excerpt from Wikipedia
"The ethanol program also led to widespread replacement of small farms
and varied agriculture by vast seas of sugarcane monoculture. This led
to a decrease in biodiversity and further shrinkage of the residual
native forests (not only from deforestation but also through fires
caused by the burning of adjoining fields). The replacement of food
crops by the more lucrative sugarcane has also led to a sharp increase
in food prices over the last decade.
"Since sugarcane only requires hand labor at harvest time, this shift
also created a large population of destitute migrant workers who can
only find temporary employment as cane cutters (at about US$3 to 5 per
day) for one or two months every year. This huge social problem has
contributed to political unrest and violence in rural areas, which are
now plagued by recurrent farm invasions, vandalism, armed
confrontations, and assassinations."
"Some question the viabiliy of biofuels like ethanol as total
replacements for gasoline/crude oil. One concern is that sugarcane
cultivation will displace other crops, thus causing food shortages.
However, these concerns seem to be groundless. Despite having the
world's largest sugarcane crop, the 45,000 km² Brazil currently
devotes to sugarcane production amount to only about one-half of one
percent of its total land area of some 8.5 million km². In addition,
the country has more unused potential cropland than any other nation.
Some commentators, like George Monbiot, fear that the marketplace will
convert crops to fuel for the rich, while the poor starve and biofuels
cause environmental problems. It is unclear how this would be
different from the current situation, as most food crops are grown and
exported to richer nations, and neglects the very real environmental
problems that the burning of fossil fuels causes. The cultivation of
sugarcane for energy production is only likely to increase as fossil
fuels become increasingly scarce and more expensive."
Excerpt from "Energy as an Instrument for Socio-Economic Development -
Part III - Removing The Obstacles: The Large-Scale Approach - Chapter
10 - Converting Biomass to Liquid Fuels: Making Ethanol from Sugar
Cane in Brazil," by Isaias de Carvalho Macedo
"This case study analyzes the "large-scale" production of fuel ethanol
from sugar cane in Brazil from the perspective of job creation. It is
estimated that ethanol production corresponds to nearly 700,000 jobs
in Brazil, 75 per cent of them direct jobs. Technological and economic
issues make so-called "large scale" biomass conversion to energy in
fact a large collection of small-scale systems; in the Brazilian case,
this corresponds to the scale of agriculture generally. The
socio-economic differences among ethanol-producing regions in Brazil
give each of the regions different equilibrium points in the trade-off
between job quality and number of jobs."
Excerpt from "The WTO and the Destructive Effects of the Sugarcane
Industry in Brazil." February 13, 2006
"The sugarcane industry is Brazil?s fastest-growing agribusiness of
2005. Its expansion has brought with it serious consequences for the
country, such as environmental destruction, removal of agricultural
workers from their land and frequent workers? rights violations.
Sugarcane plant supervisors demand that each worker cut, on average,
twelve to fifteen tons of sugarcane per day. Between January 2004 and
September 2005, the Migrants? Pastoral registered eight workers?
deaths due to an excess of work in the cane fields of the Ribeirão
Preto region alone."
"According to the University of São Paulo professor, Ariovaldo
Umbelino, of the total jobs generated in the Brazilian countryside,
87.3% are in the small units of production, 10.2% are in medium-sized,
and only 2.5% are in the large units. This study also demonstrates
that the small and medium-sized rural properties are responsible for
the majority of food production. Despite these data, the government
has prioritized an agricultural policy that principally favors large
businesses. In 2004, 10 transnational corporations received close to
$4.5 billion reais from Banco do Brasil. This amount is larger than
all of the credit given to small farmers through PRONAF (National
Program for the Strengthening of Family Agriculture). In total, the
government disposed of R$37 billion reais in credit for large
After Australia, Brazil has the lowest cost of production of sugar in
the world because it exploits workers. In the state of São Paulo, the
cost of production is $165 dollars per ton. In the European Union the
cost is $700 dollars per ton. "The sugarcane complex is one of the
most important agroindustrial complexes of Brazil; it has very
competitive products in the international market thanks to low costs
of production, which are associated with low salaries paid to
workers", explains professor Francisco Alves, from the Federal
University of São Carlos."
Continue reading entire article...Migration, Slave Work and Violations
of Workers? Rights...
From Bioenergy and the Rise of Sugarcane-Based Ethanol in Brazil
by Joao Martines-Filho, Heloisa L. Burnquist, and Carlos E.F. Vian
"One of the most harmful environmental effects from sugarcane
production is the burning of fields to facilitate manual harvesting.
Burning is conducted prior to harvesting to eliminate pests and remove
weeds. This makes movement through the field safer and easier, but
produces significant quantities of greenhouse gases, ash, and other
airborne particulates. Absolute elimination of burning has proven
difficult so a schedule was established to gradually reduce the
burning over the next 20 years in Sao Paulo, the largest production
region. In 2000, additional steps were taken to eliminate burning and
shift practices over to mechanized harvesting (Law no. 10.547, March
5, 2000). The new law specifically established where burning was
prohibited and mechanization in turn would be used; about 55% of
production. It also established rules where burning would be allowed;
45% of production. Burning is still permitted where the ground is
sloped 12% or more, making mechanized harvesting impossible; or where
small landholders were involved and had no other means of harvesting."
"However, the ethanol program also brought a host of environmental and
social problems of its own. Sugarcane fields were traditionally burned
just before harvest, in order to remove the leaves and kill snakes.
Therefore, in sugarcane-growing parts of the country, the smoke from
burning fields turns the sky gray throughout the harvesting season. As
winds carry the smoke into nearby towns, air pollution goes critical
and respiratory problems soar. Thus, the air pollution which was
removed from big cities was merely transferred to the rural areas (and
multiplied). This practice has been decreasing of late, due to
pressure from the public and health authorities. In Brazil, a recent
law has been created in order to ban the burning of sugarcane fields,
and machines will be used to harvest the cane instead of people. This
not only solves the problem of pollution from burning fields, but such
machines have a higher productivity than people."
Excerpt from "The WTO and the Destructive Effects of the Sugarcane
Industry in Brazil." February 13, 2006
"Many studies demonstrate that the practice of extensive monocropping
promotes environmental destruction. The production of sugarcane is
destructive, since it promotes the burning of the soil, a high level
of chemical product usage, as well as pollution and chemical garbage
from the processing plants of alcohol and sugar."
"An international report of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), from
November 2004, alerts that the sugarcane industry is the principal
branch of monocrop that pollutes the environment and destroys fauna
and flora. Sugarcane culture covers more than half the territory of
seven countries, and between 10%-50% of the territory of 15 countries.
Great extensions of fertile lands were already degraded from the
monocropping of sugarcane. The burning and the processing of cane
pollute the soil, the air, and sources of potable water. It utilizes a
large quantity of herbicides and pesticides. Data from the World Heath
Organization point to close to 25 million people who have presented
cases of acute poisoning per year, resulting from contact with these
"In Brazil, this practice affects workers, who many times do not use
adequate protection whilst applying these products. In Pernambuco,
many areas of cane planting have a declivity of close to 45%, which
causes the poisons to flow off and extend even further. The waste
residues of sugarcane are constantly deposited in rivers, causing the
death of fish, crustaceans, and vegetation, as well as the pollution
of the riverbeds and subterranean water. The processing of sugarcane
in the Mills pollutes the air through the burning of bagasse, which
produces soot and smoke."
"Presently the use of ethanol as fuel by Brazilian cars - as pure
ethanol and in gasohol - replaces gasoline at the rate of about 27,000
cubic metres per day, or about 40% of the fuel that would be needed to
run the fleet on gasoline alone. However, the effect on the country's
overall oil use was much smaller than that: domestic oil consumption
still far outweighs ethanol consumption (in 2005, Brazil consumed
2,000,000 barrels of oil per day, versus 280,000 barrels of
ethanol). Although Brazil is a major oil producer and now exports
gasoline (19,000 m³/day), it still must import oil because of internal
demand for other oil byproducts, chiefly diesel fuel (which cannot be
easily replaced by ethanol)."
From " ETHANOL?S POTENTIAL: Looking Beyond Corn," by Danielle Murray.
"Ethanol could quickly take off in sugarcane-producing tropical
countries, which have the advantage of year-round growing seasons,
large labor supplies, and low production costs. As fuel demand rises
in these developing nations, biofuel production could check oil
imports while bolstering rural economies. Brazil, for example, could
produce enough ethanol to meet total domestic fuel demand by
increasing the area used to grow sugarcane for alcohol from 6.6
million acres to 13.8 million acres (5.6 million hectares) or by
shifting all current sugarcane acreage to ethanol production.
Unfortunately, new fields may cut further into already shrinking
rainforests, making them a serious environmental liability."
From "The age of ethanol? - Brazil has shown the world that biofuels
can be used to reduce dependence on petroleum. But will other Latin
American nations follow its lead?" By PAUL CONSTANCE. Latin Business
"Why haven?t more Latin American countries followed Brazil?s example?
Until recently, the immediate reason was the low price of petroleum.
When oil sold for less than US$30 per barrel, cane growers in most
countries could earn better returns from producing sugar than ethanol.
(Even in Brazil, growers have traditionally switched between sugar and
ethanol production depending on fluctuations in the price of each
commodity). But the bigger reason is that an ethanol program like
Brazil?s requires a decades-long commitment by successive governments,
elaborate system mandates, subsidies and incentives, and large
expenditures in research and development."
"Finally, in countries with limited extensions of arable land, a
large-scale expansion of sugarcane cultivation will almost certainly
come at the expense of existing food crops or, worse yet, native
forests. New sugar cane plantations are thus likely to face opposition
from agricultural interests or environmentalists."
The Ethanol Question
"Building a sustainable biofuel production system."
"Still, Bell and Blanch do not see Brazil as a model for the United
States. "When you add up the amount of rainforest that is being
destroyed in Brazil, you have to wonder how sustainable their
agricultural system is," says Blanch. "Brazil's production is based on
cheap agricultural labor and sugar cane, and in the U.S., cane is
grown in only two states, Louisiana and Hawaii. And our agricultural
system is very energy-intensive, not labor-intensive."
I hope this information is helpful!
ethanol AND brazil
Social effects of ethanol production in Brazil
negative social impact of ethanol production in Brazil
sugarcane industry in Brazil
ethanol Brazil loss of jobs
migrant workers AND ethanol OR sugarcane AND brazil
Brazil AND sugarcane replacing food crops
Clarification of Answer by
01 Nov 2006 12:13 PST
A few more:
From "ENERGY-LATIN AMERICA: Biofuel Boom Sparks Environmental Fears,"
by Mario Osava. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34845
"It is worrisome that a new economic cycle based on biofuels would
trigger the expansion of monoculture crops and, consequently,
deforestation," says Délcio Rodrigues, an energy expert with Vitae
Civilis, a Brazilian non-governmental organisation that is active in
fighting climate change.
The sugarcane economy is not a good environmental model. In the
southeastern state of Sao Paulo, which produces 70 percent of Brazil's
alcohol, the companies generally do not obey the Forestry Code, which
requires nature preservation of 20 percent of rural properties.
Furthermore, the cane fields are burned to facilitate the harvest,
which creates serious local air pollution, said Rodrigues in a
Soy, the main raw material for biodiesel in Brazil, due to its massive
current production, "has already become one of the principal factors
behind deforestation of the Amazon and the Cerrado, a biome of
savannahs and scrub forests that covers the extensive central area of
Brazil," said the expert.
From "Trade Liberalization in Sugar and Oilseeds: How Will It Affect
the Environment?" International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy
Council. October 2006
Sugar: Country studies
"Brazil More than trade liberalization, the growth in world demand for
ethanol will affect the environmental sustainability of sugar
production in Brazil. Because Brazil is one of the largest consumers
and the largest exporter of ethanol, the expansion of sugarcane
acreage will be mostly ethanol related. However, liberalization in the
world sugar market will benefit Brazil in terms of its ability to
export both sugar and ethanol, thereby also contributing to the
increase in land devoted to sugarcane production. The resulting
increase in sugarcane monoculture will have a net negative effect on
soil quality and water use, perhaps more negative for water than soil,
because sugarcane is a "thirsty" crop. Brazil?s score on air quality
is difficult to determine, since it will be negative due to associated
burning of cane and processing activity, but will be positively
affected, since ethanol replaces fuels that contribute more to air
quality degradation and carbon emissions.
"On the plus side, the effects on biodiversity are anticipated to be
minimal and increases in sugarcane planting will lead to some
additional seasonal rural employment. However, Brazil?s good
environmental legislation, but pronounced lack of enforcement
capability, combined with the likelihood that increased sugarcane
acreage will be widely dispersed in non-traditional areas, leads to a
negative score across most environmental categories. Removal of EU
export subsidies will make Brazil?s sugar sector more competitive, and
therefore it will be able to export more sugar and derivative
products. This will, in turn, adversely affect all environmental
factors. The one exception is within the social sphere, where greater
market access will create more rural employment. If and when
cellulosic conversion technology becomes commercialized, Brazil will
be able to also convert bagasse, the residue of sugarcane production,
to ethanol and may be able to devote less land to sugarcane