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October 26, 2020

Ferrograo Railroad in N. Brazil opposed by Indigenous Groups

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

The proposed Ferrograo Railroad (Grain Railroad) linking northern Mato Grosso with ports on the Amazon River, has been referred to as the most important infrastructure project in Brazil, but getting the project started continues to be a struggle. The 900 kilometer railroad is considered essential for transporting grain to Brazil's northern ports and bringing back fertilizers and petroleum derivatives. Multinational grain companies are interested in funding and operating the railroad between northern Mato Grosso and the Port of Miritituba on the Tapajos River.

The latest obstacle to the Ferrograo Railroad is unified opposition from indigenous groups that threaten to paralyze the project. A spokesperson for the Kayapo indigenous group stated that all the indigenous groups are opposed to the project because they were not consulted in the planning process and they do not know the results of the environmental impact studies. The spokesperson also indicated that organizations representing truck drivers who transport grain to the northern ports via Highway BR-163 are also opposed to the railroad because it would reduce the amount of work for their members.

In December 2017, the head of Brazil's National Land Transportation Agency (ANTT) stated at a public forum that the various indigenous groups that could be impacted by the project would be consulted at every step of the process, but apparently that did not happen as planned. The Minister of Infrastructure contends that he did not refuse to meet with the groups as they allege. Instead, he indicated that restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic prohibited entry into indigenous areas.

The Minister indicated that he is currently working with the groups during the environmental licensing phase of the project. The various groups contend that they needed to be consulted during the planning phase of the project or even if the project was feasible at all. It is estimated that 48 indigenous groups could be impacted and the spokesperson indicated that they are trying to defend their rights but what is lacking is dialog with authorities.

The proposed railroad does not cut through any indigenous lands or run alongside any of their land. The closest point of the railroad to any indigenous land is about 30 kilometers. Even some government officials feel this entire process was handled poorly and the eventual outcome of the project is not certain.