A growing black market for pesticides has left Brazil in a bind, fighting large robberies at home while also cracking down on smuggled agricultural products from Paraguay.
In December, 22 tons of stolen pesticides were seized in two separate operations by the military police in the central states of Goiás and Tocantins, Globo reported. The pesticides were worth an estimated $1.5 million.
While no arrests were made, reports show that Brazil’s largest gangs, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), have entered the trade.
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In November, the BBC reported that armed gang members raided farms for their pesticides. The gangs are even suspected of using drones to locate the agricultural products.
Pesticides are also increasingly smuggled from neighboring Paraguay, where regulations on these products are significantly laxer. Four tons of pesticides were seized in October in Mato Grosso do Sul after crossing the border, Globo reported.
A June 2019 report by Brazil’s Institute for the Economic and Social Development of Borders (Instituto de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social de Fronterias – IDESF) estimated that 20 percent of pesticides sold in Brazil were illegally sourced, at an annual cost of 8.8 billion reais (around $2.1 billion).
“The smuggling of pesticides is growing in the country at the rate that Brazilian agriculture grows … This smuggling has become a major concern as it is no longer a small market, but a large economy controlled by specialized gangs,” IDESF director, Luciano Stremel Barros, told the Brazilian Senate in September.
InSight Crime Analysis
The full scale of stolen pesticides in Brazil and those behind its theft remain largely unknown.
While there is no definite evidence of how deeply the PCC and Red Command are involved in this criminal economy, there have been various reports of thefts in Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná, both PCC strongholds.
Federal police sources in the region confirmed to InSight Crime that the PCC and Red Command are seeking to enter this lucrative trade but that gangs dedicated to pesticide smuggling continue to control the market.
According to Wagner Ferreira da Silva, a highway police colonel in Mato Grosso do Sul, pesticides are the fastest growing contraband at the border with Paraguay. He also told InSight Crime that pesticides are behind only drugs and cigarettes in terms of profits.
Brazil now faces a war on two fronts, cracking down on pesticide thefts at home and on smuggling from abroad. Both will prove difficult. The thefts are often happening in remote countryside areas where the response time of authorities is slow. Meanwhile, smuggling from Paraguay is aided by everything from corrupt officials to myriad crossing points between the two countries.
Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture having frequently signed off on the use of dozens of pesticides and chemical products in Brazil in 2019 is only likely to compound the problem.