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August 20, 2020

Highway BR-163 in Northern Brazil Target of Indigenous Protestors

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

Highway BR-163 in northern Brazil is a vital link between producers in central Brazil and export facilities on the Amazon River. Since the paving of the highway was completed in 2019, there is now even more trucks moving soybeans and corn north along the highway and fertilizers and petroleum products south.

Highway BR-163 is the only major highway transporting products north and south through central Mato Grosso, which makes is a convenient target for people who want to gain attention for their causes. Once they block the highway, they gain national and international attention, which is exactly their goal.

That was the case again earlier this week when the Kayapo indigenous tribe in the state of Para blocked the highway at various times demanding more government assistance in combating Covid-19 and to express their opposition to the construction of the Ferrograo Railroad, which will parallel Highway BR-163 from northern Mato Grosso to ports on the Amazon River.

The scenario is almost always the same. Protestors block the highway for a day or so, a judge orders the Federal Highway Police to reopen the highway, the highway stays open for a few hours or a day at least for emergency vehicles, and the protestors block it again either at the same location or somewhere else. If the protestors persist in keeping the highway closed, the judge orders a hefty monitory fine for each day the highway is closed.

In the meantime, reporters interview the protestors which makes their demands known to local or federal officials. Once the government officials acknowledge the protestor's demands, the protest usually ends, at least temporarily.

In regards to the Kayapo's opposition to the Ferrograo Railroad, the Minister of Infrastructure issued a statement that planning for the railroad is still in the preliminary stages and that the indigenous groups along the route of the railroad will be consulted and that their concerns will be addressed. The Minister stated that they are working with the National Department of Infrastructure and Transportation (DNIT), the National Indian Foundation (Funai), and the Indigenous Environmental Project (PBAi) to insure constant dialog with all the local communities.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove) estimates that 50,000 tons of soybeans and corn move north on BR-163 on a daily basis. The Port of Barcarena, which is near the mouth of the Amazon River, receives on a daily basis 1.5 million liters of petroleum products and 300 tons of fertilizers that will then be back hauled up the Amazon River and then southward on BR-163 to producers in central Brazil.