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SOUTHERN CONE
United Soy Republic?
Andrés Gaudin
6/10/2004
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Production model endangers health, biodiversity and soil sustainability.

Beginning this year, the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) will be the world´s largest producer of soybeans. With a cultivated area of more than 37 million hectares (91.4 million acres), Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (with Bolivia) will produce 51.1 percent of the global supply of this oil product employed mainly as a base for animal feed.

The announcement of an exceptional harvest - achieved by using seeds obtained through genetic manipulation - is celebrated by the governments involved. Exports will grow sharply thanks to soybean production, generating additional income of US$22 billion.

"There are no reasons to be proud or celebrate," the non-governmental organization Group of Rural Reflection said. "Multilateral organisms and multinationals imposed a model that, in order to obtain hard currency to pay the debt, is taking us to the cultivation of single crop and today we are just a little ´soybean republic´."

There are several reasons for the increase in the use of genetically modified organisms (OGMs). The soybean seeds offered by multinationals, including Monsanto (US), Syngenta (Switzerland) and Nidera (the Netherlands), are resistant to Glyphosate - principal ingredient of Monsanto-produced herbicides Roundup- and the powerful agro-chemical Paraquat -component of Gramoxone- manufactured by Syngenta as well by transnationals Aventis (France), Bayer (Germany) and Dow (US).

"The use of Glyphosate lowers production costs because the seeds were modified to resist the action of this powerful herbicide. With seeds immune to agrochemicals, the need to prepare the soil disappears because the seed does not have to be covered with earth, like any other seed planted, to protect it from the herbicide´s action. Only one person is needed to do the whole job," said Uruguayan producer Miguel Carbajal.

At any rate, the sale of output is assured at a good price. This year the price has hovered around $250 a year, due to high demand in the Chinese market and because mad cow disease led to the elimination of meat-based meals in feed for chickens, pigs and cows, now made mainly from soy-based meals.

Nevertheless, critics of the model indicate several serious problems. The single crop of transgenic soybeans and the irrational repetition of the system of direct planting without rotating crop or tilling the soil - with the obligatory continuous, growing use of pesticides is producing biological desertification of the soil, said Argentine agronomist Jorge Rulli.

On the other hand, by requiring a minimum of labor, the soybean model is expelling people from rural areas. And since cultivation is optimized when it is carried out in large areas, a phenomenon of land concentration is taking place.

According to a study by the Argentine Agrarian Federation, in the last decade 15,000 tambos (rural establishments dedicated exclusively to the raising of milk cows and milk production) and 160,000 small agro-livestock establishments disappeared. "Milk producers and small farmers are being replaced, leading to a countryside without people," the federation said.

The so-called "soy boom" is applauded by companies that provide seeds and agrochemicals. A large ad published by the multinational Syngenta caused indignation among environmentalists.

Over a map of the Southern Cone, a large area shaded in green covers part of the territories of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. In the center "United Soy Republic" is printed. In one corner of the ad, appears a flag of the hypothetical republic - it has a background in two tones of green and in the center, a soybean.

"The surprising thing is not the demarcation of the area planted but the introduction of a political dimension in an allegory that acquires its maximum expression in a flag with a bean. It reflects the conflict of powers in the center of the debate on globalization: the loss of power of nation-states at the hands of the multinationals," wrote analyst Gerardo Evia of the non-governmental organization Economy, Equity and Ecology - Latin America based in Montevideo, Uruguay.

"In our countries a policy of concentration is promoted that implies agriculture without farmers. Every hectare of fruit orchards eradicated cuts 60 jobs from the productive chain. In Argentina (13.6 million hectares), every hectare of soybean employs only one person," said agronomist Adolfo Boy.

In the five countries of the region, the highly toxic effect of the excessive use of Glyphosate and Paraquat has been denounced. In Paraguay, (1.7 million hectares) in 2003 serious afflictions to vision and the skin and even the death of several children were reported.

In Uruguay (260,000 hectares) the death of fish in thermal area of Guaviyu was denounced in March, in the western department of Paysandu. The local government said that in the fish musculature, in the riverbed and in leaves of trees, a high concentration of cipermetrin and endosulfan were detected, carcinogens employed in the production of herbicides used in cultivation of soy.

Brazil (21 million hectares), the only country of the region that had maintained itself free of transgenics, finally gave in to the pressures to multinational companies. At the end of April, the government of President Luiz Inácio da Silva decreed Provisional Measure Number 131, by which it authorized the planting of genetically modified seeds.

"The government has given a clear message: subordinate environmental policy to the interests of multinationals," said Roberto Requiao, governor of the southern state of Parana.


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Protesters perform street theater to demostrate effects of genetically modified organisms.
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