Bitter fallout of Brazil boom

Ethanol industry is growing rapidly, but workers could find themselves jobless.


    Machines could soon replace men at cutting sugarcane [GALLO/GETTY]

    It is already the largest producer of ethanol in the world, but now Brazil is looking to increase its production of the gas by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.

    The growing global demand for ethanol is good news for industry bosses, but changing production methods could leave many jobless.

    Workers such as Severino Ramos de Andrade, work 12 hour shifts, six days a week, to harvest the sugar cane used by Brazil's thriving ethanol market.

    Industry advocates say his back-breaking work is changing the environment for the better as ethanol increasingly replaces fossil fuels in energy production.

    However, it could soon put him out of job.

    Pioneering Brazilian industry

    Andrade is one of over a million workers in Brazil who cut sugar cane which is then transferred into the alternative energy source of ethanol gasoline.

    Ethonal technology was pioneered in Brazil in the 1970s and ethanol exports from Brazil are now booming. They have increased by 70 per cent this year alone.

    Tadeu Andrade, the director of a development centre for sugarcane technology, says that "no other country has so much technology related from sugarcane".

    "From producing plant varities, growing, cutting, transporting and all the industrial processes related to sugar cane and alcohol production."

    The key to ethanol production is manual harvesting. Fields are burnt to clear shurb, which harms the environment. Then the cane is cut - a physically demanding job that leaves many workers with severed limbs and debilitating health problems.

    Machine for man

    As the government looks to increase its production of ethanol in response to increasing world demand, it is seeking more efficient production methods.

    By 2014 burning will no longer be permitted, so the industry is changing to a system that relies on machines rather than man.

    "We are introducing new technologies, new processes, and new alternatives," Ricardo de Pereira, director of the Moema Mills plant that produces ethanol in the Sao Paulo state, said.

    This could potentially put tens of thousands of cane cutters out of work.

    At plants such as Meoma Mills three workers on one machine can replace the work of 60 cane cutters.

    It is far from sweet for workers such as Severino, who have been so instrumental to Brazil's ethanol success story.

    They are now seeing their livlihoods marginalised in an industralised world.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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