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By Andriolli Costa
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, during 2013 the Brazilian agribusiness reached a record figure of 99.9 billion dollars in exports. Soy, corn, sugarcane or meat win the external markets in the form of commodities: standardized, certified and according to certain criteria and internationally regulated values.
For economist Amyra El Khalili, however, extensive monocultures should not be the only alternative for Brazilian production. The economic movement that involves traditional commodities excludes small and medium producers, extractivists, riparian and traditional populations from the process. Without great government incentives, without investment to achieve high national and international quality standards, or productive capacity to reach markets, they are always left out of the system.
Reasoning based on inclusion, the Palestinian economist created the concept of an environmental commodity. In an interview granted by e-mail to the IHU On-Line, she addresses the controversy of carbon credits (a "commoditization of pollution"), questions the provision of credits for Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation (Redd) for agriculture -business and describes the initial concept created by it. "A traditional commodity is the raw material extracted from the ecosystem, which is manufactured, standardized by an international export criterion adopted between transnationals and governments." On the other hand, the environmental commodity “will also have standardization criteria, but adopting socio-environmental values and a totally different economic model.
Khalili, who for more than 20 years acted as a gold trader in the financial market, relates that the term commodity is used as a provocation. The concept is under permanent construction, but currently represents the product manufactured by the community in an artisanal way, integrated with the ecosystem and that does not promote environmental impact. The conventional commodity favors monoculture, transgenics and synthetic biology, with its profits concentrated on the large owners. The environmental is guided by the diversification of agroecological and integrated production, and favors association and cooperativism.
Amyra El Khalili is an economist with a degree from the São Paulo School of Economics, Finance and Administration. It acted in the Futures and Capital Markets as a stockbroker, with a client portfolio ranging from the Central Bank of Brazil to Bombril S / A and the Vicunha Group. He left the financial market to put his time and energy into activism. She is the idealizer of the Brazilian Stock Exchange of Environmental Commodities project, founder of the Women for P @ Z Movement and editor of the RECOs Alliance (Networks of Community Cooperation Without Borders). Khalili teaches extension and MBA courses in various universities, through cooperation between the network, local entities and research centers. She is the author of the free e-book "Commodities Ambientais em missão de paz - new economic model for Latin America and the Caribbean" (São Paulo: Nova Consciência, 2009)
To download: http://lachatre.com.br/Amyra/commoditiesambientais.pdf
IHU On-Line - Are there differences between commoditization of nature and financialization of nature? Which?
Amyra El Khalili - They exist, but one ends up interfering with the other. The commoditization of nature is to transform the common good into merchandise. In other words, water, which in legal language is called a diffuse good, ceases to be a good for public use to be privatized, to become a commodity. Financialization is different, it is the action of making financial what is eminently economic.
This is because improving the quality of life is also an economic issue. A region where people manage to live with nature and have access to clean water, for example, offers a better financial cost, where you live better and spend less. That also has an economic basis.
IHU On-Line - In the case of the financialization of nature, what would fit into that description?
Amyra El Khalili - Our obligation to pay for services that nature gives us for free and that have never been accounted for in the economy, such as sequestering carbon from nature, for example. Trees sequester carbon naturally, but to have air quality from now on you have to pay to breathe. In this logic, those who breathe must pay the price of the one who polluted, while this person ceases to be criminalized and receives flexibility to avoid being fined.
IHU On-Line - You were the creator of the concept of environmental commodities, which is very different from the commoditization of nature. What was your initial proposal for the term?
Amyra El Khalili - A traditional commodity is the raw material extracted from the ecosystem, which is manufactured, standardized by an international export criterion adopted by transnational corporations and governments. Small producers, extractivists and riparian, among others, do not participate in these decisions. Gold, a mineral, is not a commodity as long as it is on earth, it is a common good. It becomes one when it is transformed into bars, registered in banks, duly certified with an evaluated quality standard and adapted to international marketing standards.
The environmental commodity will also have standardization criteria, but adopting socio-environmental values and a totally different economic model. The concept is under construction and permanent debate, but today we come to the following conclusion: the environmental commodity is the product manufactured by the community in a traditional way, integrated with the ecosystem and that does not promote environmental impact as occurs in the production of conventional commodities .
The conventional (soy, corn, coffee, etc.) is produced with monoculture and the environmental requires diversification of production, respecting the cycles of nature according to the characteristics of each biome. The conventional path is for transgenicity, for synthetic biology and geo-engineering; the other is for agroecology, permaculture, alternative and subsistence agriculture, stimulating and valuing the traditional forms of production that we inherited from our ancestors. The conventional one tends to concentrate the profit in the big producers, and the environmental one divides it into an association and cooperative model to serve the majority of the population that was excluded from the other production and financing model.
Brazil concentrates its agricultural policy on five products of the export pattern (soybeans, sugarcane, cattle, pines and eucalyptus). Conventional commoditization promotes deforestation that eliminates biodiversity with the opening of new agricultural frontiers. We are grain producers, but there is not only that way of generating employment and income in the field. How many vegetables do we have in Brazil? Think about the capacity of the wealth of our biodiversity and what we could produce with diversification. Sweets, fruits, juices, pulps, cakes, medicinal plants, infusions, condiments, dressings, liqueurs, drinks, flours, reprocessed peels and various products originating from gastronomic research. Not to mention crafts, waste reuse and recycling. The environment is not a hindrance to produce, quite the contrary.
IHU On-Line - How is it possible to transform something produced by hand into a commodity?
Amyra El Khalili - The term is just a provocation. In the environmental commodity we use standardization criteria, reassessing the criteria adopted in traditional commodities. That's why I coined the term to explain "decomoditization." However, differently from the conventional ones, the standardization criteria can be discussed, they need interventions from those who produce and they can be modified. In environmental commodities, the excluded must be at the top of this triangle, since forest peoples, minorities, communities that manage ecosystems must decide on those contracts, criteria and management of those resources, once they most of the territories belong to them by traditional inheritance.
With the aim of stimulating social organization, I cite an example of successful associative and cooperative marketing. This is the case of flower growers in Holambra (SP). In addition to producing with control and management appropriate to their needs, the strength of collective production and the quality standard have made their product gain space and national recognition.
Today there are Holambra flowers even in the Globo novel. But that production is still in the standard of conventional commodity, because there the use of agricultural pesticides is maintained. Even so, he managed to adopt another criterion to decide on standardization, commercialization and pricing, freeing himself from the monoculture system. Flower production is diversified, which keeps the price above the cost of production, generating profit for its producers.
Inspired by the commercialization example of the Cooperativa Agrícola de Holambra with the Flower Auction (Veiling) system, we developed a commercialization project for environmental commodities, in addition to new integrated and participatory standardization criteria with association. However, the government also needs to encourage more this type of alternative and community production. Anvisa, for example, demands sanitary surveillance regulations and industrialization standards that make it impossible for the women of Campos dos Goytacazes to put their guava sweets in Brazilian supermarkets (beyond their city). Who makes it to the supermarkets to sell a sweet? Only Nestlé, only large companies.
And the questioning that is made is precisely that. Open space so that people like the producers of sweets can get out of the marginalization of the economic system. That they can also put their candy on the shelves and that they can concur with an industrialized sweet, with a price that is compatible with their production capacity. It is not about industrializing the sweet guava, but maintaining an artisan standard of tradition of Dulce de Guayaba. If we do not have criteria to include that production that is done outside the system, they will always be spoiled and will not have decision-making power. What is intended is that an alternative market is created and that this market has the same conditions, and that it can, above all, decide on how, when and what to produce.
IHU On-Line - The term environmental commodities is sometimes used in a distorted way, such as referring to traditional commodities, more applied to environmental issues such as carbon credits. In what way was this appropriation made?
Amyra El Khalili - It was misappropriated by traders in the carbon market. They were looking for a term other than the expression “carbon credits”, a word that already denounces an operational error. At the end of the day, if you want to reduce the emission, why give permits to emit? Accountants, company administrators and people in the financial area did not understand how it is reduced by issuing a loan that enters the financial balance as an asset and not as a liability. As the name carbon credits is not appealing to people who understand the market, they grabbed the expression environmental commodities to try to justify carbon credits. Because in truth what they were doing was commoditizing and financializing pollution, and we consider that a surreptitious conceptual harassment practice, when they appropriate the ideas of others, empty them of their original content and fill them with spurious content. It is important to note that this "modus operandi" is also occurring with other initiatives and issues such as the gender and ethnic issue. Flags so hard won by years of work and that are so expensive to us.
IHU On-Line - The defenders of the Certified Emission Reduction promoted by Carbon Credits affirm that despite the fact that this resource offers industrialized countries a permit to pollute, the government establishes a limit for these transactions. Do you agree with such a statement?
Amyra El Khalili - Such control is not done adequately so much that since 2012 there is a controversy in the European Parliament of groups demanding that the European Community retain 900 million authorized emission permits after the market has been flooded by those permits (cap and trade).
They are permits obtained by government bodies that have been sold when the price of carbon credits was high and now they have fallen to almost zero.
So in theory it can be very nice, but between theory and practice there is an oceanic distance. And there is also the following: Even if you have regional control, from the moment that one of these securities goes to the financial market and can be exchanged between countries and states in a globalized system, who controls such a system? If internally, with our titles, fraud and loss of control sometimes occur, both with the issuance and with the guarantees, how is something that is migrating from one song to another going to be controlled? It is practically impossible to control bulky volumes in an intangible market that is difficult to measure.
IHU On-Line - China and California plan to use rice paddies as a source for carbon credits, prompting a reaction from the environmental community with the No-Redd Rice movement. What is the movement about and why is it contrary to this agreement?
Amyra El Khalili - REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is the purchase of a title in carbon credits over an area of forest that must be preserved. This is one more example of the financialisation of nature, as it links the local community to a financial contract in which it is prevented from managing the area for many years, while the other part of the contract continues to produce and allow pollution on the other side of the river. world.
In the case of REDD rice, the following happens: with the understanding that a forest sequesters carbon, and that it is possible to emit carbon credits over a preserved area of forest, the argument is that the plantation also sequesters. GMOs even sequester more carbon than conventional agriculture, because GMOs promote faster plant growth and accelerate the carbon cycle.
So, anything that is planted in intensive monoculture, such as sugarcane or soybeans, will also sequester carbon. And that is why agribusiness wants to issue carbon credits for agriculture as well. Can we say that it does not kidnap? No, it really sequesters, but what about the environmental impacts?
The international movement against REDD with Rice is positioning itself because that will put pressure on all world agricultural production, putting the media and small producers, traditional populations, indigenous peoples once again hostages of transnational corporations and of the socio-environmental impacts that this exclusive economic model is causing. , in addition to directly affecting the right to food sovereignty of the peoples, linking the production model to biotechnology and new bio-geo-chemical experiments.
IHU On-Line - The problem is that, if the carbon credit was created with the objective of reducing environmental impacts, it cannot be put into a monoculture that generates impacts in the same way the possibility of solving the problem, correct?
Amyra El Khalili - Exactly. Another important thing is that, even with the concept of environmental commodity being collectively under construction and permanently under discussion, today we have the security of what is not an environmental commodity. They are not transgenic, nor can they be produced with derivatives of biotechnology - such as synthetic biology and geo-engineering. They are not monoculture, they cannot be concentrated in large producers, they do not cause diseases due to the use of carcinogenic minerals (asbestos), they do not use chemical products, nor do they involve pollution or factors that can create public health problems, since these elements generate enormous environmental impacts. and socioeconomic.
Agricultural production, as it is done today, encourages the producer to change his production according to the value paid by the market. So if the demand is for guava, only guava is grown. In environmental commodities, no. It is not the market, but the ecosystem that has the power to determine the limits of production. With the diversification of production, when it is not the guava season, it is persimmon, if there is no persimmon in the next harvest there is pequi and in the next, watermelon. If we start to interfere with the ecosystem to maintain the same monoculture for 365 days a year, we are going to generate a very serious impact.
IHU On-Line - What is virtual water and how does this concept fit into the discussion of commodities?
Amyra El Khalili - Virtual water is the amount of water necessary for the production of the commodities that we send for export. In the Middle East, or in other countries in supply crisis, as there is no water for extensive agricultural production, the alternative is to import food from other countries. When food is being imported, the water that this country used and that the other stopped spending is also imported.
What is defended in our line of reasoning is that, when we export traditional commodities (soy, corn, cattle, etc.), this water is also paid for. However, neither the water nor the energy nor the land used for the production of that extensive monoculture is paid. Conventional commoditization, in the model we had in Brazil 513 years ago, is highly energy, soil, water and biodiversity consumer, and that cost is not added to the price of the commodity. The producer does not receive this value, since he sells the soybeans for the price formed on the Chicago Stock Exchange. Whoever buys a commodity wants to pay cheap, he will always press for that price to be low.
IHU On-Line –Also on water, if it is in the scarcity of resources that these come to be valued as merchandise, what are the prospects for a global crisis in water supply?
Amyra El Khalili - I consider the water issue the most serious and most emergency in the world. Without water there is no life, it is essential for the survival of human beings and all living beings. Lack of water is immediate death in any circumstance. In Brazil we are not free from the water problem. Much of that water is being contaminated with effluent wastes, agricultural defenses, chemicals, and with the eminence of shale gas exploration, for example, the technique used to fracture the rock can contaminate groundwater.
Researchers and the media give great emphasis to climate changes, which is the consequence, without deepening the discussion about the causes. They highlight the carbon market as "the solution", without giving priority to the cause, which is the binomial water and energy. The energy model adopted in the world contributes to these climatic imbalances, and is perhaps the most responsible of all factors.
We are totally dependent on fossil energy, and in Brazil we have a double use of water: to produce energy (hydroelectric) and for agricultural and industrial production, in addition to human consumption and other living beings.
And why is it necessary to produce so much energy? Because our consumer standard is highly consumer. We continue to bar rivers and make hydroelectric plants, and when we sweep rivers we kill the entire ecosystem that is dependent on the hydrological cycle. If the binomial water and energy is solved, the problem of carbon emission will also be solved. When the water issue is resolved, we rebuild the forests, the ciliary bushes, the biodiversity. The flow of oxygen in the environment and nature itself will work to reduce carbon emissions. If we do not attack the causes, we will remain circulating around the consequences, without finding a real and efficient solution for present and future generations.
Published in Portuguese in: Dialogos do Sul
Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean