Brazil’s BR-163 is a national highway connecting the state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba in the state of Pará. For the agribusiness, it is a vital logistical route to transport soybeans and corn from Brazil’s interior to the Atlantic coast, where grains are then exported to the EU and China. But BR-163 is not simply a road used to facilitate logistics and trade. Its very existence poses a threat to the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti Indigenous people living nearby.
In August of 2020, the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti people blockaded the BR-163 highway halting the passage of cars and trucks carrying grains. BR-163 has great logistical importance and its closure disrupts the flow of ships, barges and the exports of tons of corn and soybeans that move through BR-163 daily. While the importance of logistics in agribusiness is clear, it is often not highlighted how large-scale agricultural farming and logistical processes impact indigenous communities and their territories.
The Kayapó Mekrãgnoti people protested against various aggressions such as invasions from logger and miners into their territories as well as the Brazilian government’s approval of plans to build a railway, Ferrogrão (GrainRail), which will run parallel to BR-163. The closure of BR-163 by the Kayapó people has historical relevance because it was built without consultation with or compensation for the indigenous people living near it.
Logistics is part of the rationale for building the proposed Ferrogrão as it would accelerate the export of Brazil’s huge grain crop. The railway is expected to facilitate the export of the country’s grain harvest, nonetheless, the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti are concerned about how this logistical development will accelerate deforestation, harm their communities and territories. Besides the concerns voiced by the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti, truck drivers, whose income depends on transporting corn, soybeans and other grains via BR-163 will also be affected by the construction of a new railway designed to replace them.
Jáfia Naftali Câmara is a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on refugee and asylum-seekers' experiences and perspectives of education.
Tommaso Protti is a photojournalist based in São Paulo, Brazil.