Usina Trapiche, Sirinhaém, Pernambuco, Brazil

Usina Trapiche, a sugar and ethanol producer, evicts traditional fisherfolk, pollutes water, destroys mangroves. The alternative: a RESEX.


Sugar production doubled in Brazil between 2000 and 2010, driven by rising international sugar prices and domestic demand for ethanol, which is widely used in motor vehicles. As a consequence, the area of land planted with sugar cane expanded rapidly and land conflicts became a problem, due to the lack of state presence in many areas; uncertainty over land ownership; the power of agribusinesses; and land grabbing of indigenous communities or small farmers. A land conflict has been ongoing since the 1990s between Usina Trapiche S.A. and the fishing community in the municipality of Sirinhaém, on the southern coast of Pernambuco. The area of the conflict is an estuary of the Sirinhaém River, near the coast, which supports a mangrove ecosystem rich in biodiversity where since 1914 traditional families of mixed indigenous and African heritage lived a subsistence lifestyle on 17 islands spread throughout the estuary. According to the fisherfolk, Trapiche expelled them from the estuary of Sirinhaém and has also been pouring chemicals and pesticides into the water, making the fishing activity impossible. In 1998 Usina Trapiche began to petition the state for rights over the estuary and islands . According to the islanders, members of Trapiche’s private militia began destroying their homes and small farms. In January 2007, these families managed to suspend the ‘aforamento’ based on the requirement of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) for the establishment of an Extractive Reserve. The RESEX was approved by The Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) in 2009 although no action has been taken by the state. Trapiche did relocate most of the families in favelas on a steep hillside on the outskirts of the Sirinhaém, where they have no land for basic subsistence crops. Families were given small and basic homes with bars on their windows. While they are now much closer to the market, they complain of the distance they have to travel to the mangrove to collect enough fish and to sell in the market. The islanders now depend much more on the income earned which they need in order to buy the basics of their sustenance which they previously provided for themselves. In 2008, the IBAMA fined $500,000 Trapiche for water contamination and one year later (in November 2009) found organic waste and industrial chemicals that were being dumped by Trapiche into the estuary of Sirinhaém River. In December 2010, Federal Public Prosecutors in Pernambuco started an investigation into the environmental damage caused by Trapiche in the estuary of Sirinhaém and in 2011, the Pernambuco State Environmental Agency also fined Trapiche for the environmental damage. On April 2011, Tractors Trapiche was captured when opening a clandestine road parallel to Riacho Sibiró which crosses the Atlantic Forest and mangrove area in Sirinhaém. Such an act has caused deforestation and destruction of native vegetation. Besides, much water is used and the production of ethanol causes pollution of water resources.

Basic Data
NameUsina Trapiche, Sirinhaém, Pernambuco, Brazil
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesSugar
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThis land conflict began in the 1990s between Usina Trapiche S.A. and the fishing community in the municipality of Sirinhaém due to their displacement from the estuary and water pollution.

The expansion of the industry expelled local communities and modified their lifestyle. In addition, much water is used in the production and causes pollution of water resources.

According to a study published in the journal Natural Resources Research, 7,000 litres of water are needed to grow 12 kilos of cane, which are used to produce one litre of ethanol.

Another study by agronomist Marilia Lima Castro, of the Rural Federal University of Pernambuco (UFRPE), each litre of ethanol produced generates 10-13 litres of ‘vinhoto’ and part of this is used as fertilizer once diluted in water. Several researchers have warned that this substance pollutes rivers and underground water sources. Furthermore, in Brazil most ‘vinhoto’ deposits are not made of cement, so that substance pollutes the groundwater and aquifers.
Project Area (in hectares)28,500
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300
Start Date1980
Company Names or State EnterprisesUsina Trapiche S.A. from Brazil
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBrazilian Federal Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA): fined Trapiche for water contamination.

Federal Public Prosecutors in Pernambuco: started an investigation into the environmental damage caused by Trapiche in the estuary of Sirinhaém.

Pernambuco State Environmental Agency: fined Trapiche for the environmental damage.

Pastoral Land Commission (CPT): To provide legal and technical assistance to guarantee the land and territorial rights of traditional peoples in the south of the State of Amazonas.

Fishermen’s Pastorate: are fighting alongside the islanders to secure their return to the estuary.

Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity.

Comissão Pastoral da Terra Nordeste II.

Terra de Direitos.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
OtherMangroves affected
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Land dispossession, Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Negotiated alternative solution
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesFromn the 1980s, there is a territorial conflicts involving the Ilhas de Sirinhaém and Usina Trapiche. The traditional fisherfolk has a proposal: a Reserva Extrativista (Resex). All the necessary studies have been carried out by the official Instituto Chico Mendes de Biodiversidade (ICMBio) since 2009.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Briefly explain:

Although Trapiche has reduced its production due to international and local complaints, there are still problems of land occupation and pollution. In addition, the impacts of its activity in the past are hardly recoverable (deforestation, erosion, water pollution, etc.).
Sources and Materials

Oxfam case study: Sugar production in Brazil (october 2013)
[click to view]

Oxfam briefing note: Sugar Rush (october 2013)
[click to view]

Wapner, P, Schneider, L. A Sweeter Alternative for Whom? Sugarcane Ethanol Production and Rural Livelihoods in Northeast Brazil (2010)
[click to view]


Gloobal Magazine
[click to view]

Comissao Pastoral da Terra Nordeste II
[click to view]

CPT, Funcionários da Usina Trapiche incendeiam barraca de Pescadora Tradicional em Sirinhaém/PE. 1 Dezembro 2013
[click to view]

Description in the FIOCRUZ Mapa de Conflitos Ambietais e Saúde
[click to view]

Bancários de Pernambuco, a chronology of evictions-by-arson by the Usina Trapiche company, 15/06/2012

Usina Trapiche incendeia barracas de pescadores tradicionais em Sirinhaém
[click to view]

Media Links

Usina Trapiche Pollution
[click to view]

Amnesty International USA-Usina Trapiche
[click to view]

Other Documents

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Meta Information
ContributorPatricia Jiménez. Máster en Gestión Fluvial Sostenible y Gestión Integrada de Aguas, Asignatura ‘Ecología política y gestión de Aguas’
Last update08/02/2016