Aug 22, 2022

Newest Railroad in Mato Grosso Disputed by Indigenous Group

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

The start of construction on the newest railroad in the state of Mato Grosso, which is Brazil's largest grain producing state, may now be delayed by a dispute with an indigenous group. Construction was scheduled to start before the end of 2022, but now that is uncertain.

The railroad linking the city of Rondonopolis in southeastern Mato Grosso with the city of Lucas do Rio Verde in south-central Mato Grosso has run into a roadblock. The Public Defender Minister for the Brazilian government has brought a lawsuit against the company Rumo Malha Norte, the National Indian Foundation (Funai), and the State of Mato Grosso asking for an emergency suspension of the environmental license, which had already been issued for construction to begin.

The Public Defender Minister asked that the environmental license be suspended until the indigenous group Boe Bororo are consulted with and informed of potential environmental damages associated with building the railroad.

The Public Defender contends that the railroad will separate the indigenous lands of Tereza Cristina and Tadarimana, both of which are claimed by the Boe Bororo group. For their part, the State of Mato Grosso and the railroad company contend that the railroad will stay at least 10 kilometers away from the recognized indigenous lands.

Representatives for the Boe Bororo contend that the sale of land for the railroad was illegal because the land was part of their ancestral homeland even though it had not been officially recognized. They contend the land was given to them last century by Marechal Candido Rondon who was at the time the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Boe Bororo today have six recognized discontinuous territories, which is 300 times less than what they claim as their ancestral homeland which they have occupied for over 7,000 years.

The Boe Bororo people contend that they were not consulted about the construction of the railroad through their ancestral homeland which they feel will have grave spiritual consequences for their ancestors buried in their ancestral homeland.

How this gets resolved is uncertain. Numerous other infrastructure projects in Brazil have run into similar problems and there is no easy way to resolve these disputes.

This newest railroad is scheduled to connect with an existing railroad in southeastern Mato Grosso and eventually the Port of Santos in southeastern Brazil. Currently 60% of the agricultural exports from Mato Grosso reach export facilities via trucks, which is the most expensive mode of transportation in Brazil. The agricultural community wants this railroad and others to reduce their transportation costs so they can stay competitive with producers in the United States and Argentina.