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Podcast: Palm oil plantations and their impacts have arrived in the Amazon

Palm oil plantations in the municipality of Tomé-Açu, in northern Pará state, in Brazil’s Amazon region. November 11, 2019. Image by Karla Mendes/Mongabay.

  • On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Mongabay’s contributing editor for Brazil, Karla Mendes, who recently published an investigative report that found the palm oil industry’s growth in the Brazilian Amazon is driving the same deforestation and community conflicts oil palm operations are responsible for in Southeast Asia.
  • We also speak with Sandra Damiani, a researcher at the University of Brasília whose study found that both above-ground watercourses and groundwater in the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve in Brazil’s Pará state were contaminated with pesticides and herbicides used on nearby palm oil plantations.
  • Lastly, we speak with Felício Pontes Júnior, a federal prosecutor for the Amazon region who filed a lawsuit seven years against one of Brazil’s biggest palm oil companies, but is still fighting to do the investigation needed to prove who’s responsible for the pollution in the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve.

Today we discuss a new investigative report by Mongabay’s contributing editor for Brazil, Karla Mendes, that looks at the impacts of the palm oil industry’s growth in the Amazon.

Listen here:

In a year-long investigation just published, “Déjà vu as palm oil industry brings deforestation, pollution to Amazon,” Mendes details the results of a year-long investigation into allegations that the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the palm oil industry’s operations in southeast Asia are now being felt by Indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest.

We speak with Mendes on the program today. She tells us about visiting the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve in Brazil’s Para state, where she experienced the effects of pesticide use in a nearby oil palm plantation firsthand. Members of an Indigenous community within the reserve say that they have been experiencing health problems like headaches, skin rashes, and stomach ailments since the plantation was put in with no buffer zone between it and their community.

We also speak today with Sandra Damiani, a researcher at the University of Brasília who led a study to determine whether or not these increasing health issues were the result of oil palm plantations’ activities. Damiani’s study found herbicide and pesticide residues in both the surface water and the groundwater of the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve. While the levels of these residues found by Damiani’s study fall within legal limits in Brazil, elsewhere, such as in the European Union, those levels far surpass what’s allowable.

Our third and final guest on today’s show is Felício Pontes Júnior, a federal prosecutor in the Amazon region who is trying to hold palm oil companies accountable for polluting Indigenous communities. Pontes Júnior helped file a lawsuit on behalf of the affected communities all the way back in 2014, and has been fighting in court ever since to have a forensic investigation done in order to prove whether or not oil palm operations are responsible for the pesticide contamination and other social, environmental, and health impacts in the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve and elsewhere.

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Palm oil plantations in the municipality of Tomé-Açu, in northern Pará state, in Brazil’s Amazon region. November 11, 2019. Image by Karla Mendes/Mongabay.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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