'Soya is killing us' says Amazon tribe

March 6, 2006

This page was created in 2006 and may contain language which is now outdated.

As Brazil's President Lula makes a state visit to the UK this week, one of the Amazon's most unusual tribes is losing its land to plantations of soya that may be bound for the UK.

The Enawene Nawe Indians' land in Mato Grosso state is being rapidly cleared for soya plantations and cattle ranching. Mato Grosso state governor and soya baron Blairo Maggi, one of the world's largest soya producers, is planning to build hydroelectric dams on their land to provide energy to the soya industry. Maggi is lobbying the federal government not to recognise Indian land in his state.

Three quarters of the UK's soya beans came from Brazil in 2004. There is no system to distinguish exported soya grown in the Amazon from that grown elsewhere in the country.

The remote Enawene Nawe Indians were contacted in 1974 and number only 420 people. They are one of the very few tribes in the world who eat no red meat. Instead, they catch fish in intricate dams built across rivers, and collect honey from the forest.

President Lula will stay at Buckingham Palace from 7 to 9 March. His manifesto made strong commitments on Indian rights. But Brazilian Indian organisations say that under his government, demarcation of their land has almost ground to a halt, violence against Indians has increased and Indian health has seriously deteriorated with deaths of children from starvation reaching record levels.

Enawene elder Kawari says, ‘All this land belongs to the yakiriti [ancestral spirits] who are the owners of the natural resources. If you finish off the earth and the fish, the yakiriti will take vengeance and kill all the Enawene Nawe.'

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The Enawene Nawe's vital fishing grounds have not been demarcated. If these disappear, their entire way of life will end and they will be destroyed as a people. Lula's government must honour its promises to Indigenous peoples and recognise the land of the Enawene Nawe before it is too late.'

Photos and footage available. For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]

Enawene Nawe