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LATIN AMERICA
Standing in monoculture´s way
Rocío Alorda*
9/2/2010
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Campesinos and indigenous lands threatened by agro-export model.

The expansion of monoculture, particularly soy, in Latin America is posing a major threat on several fronts to campesino and indigenous communities.

These already vulnerable groups, who mainly depend on small-scale agriculture, have had their land rights threatened or even lost their land, been displaced and lost their food sovereignty. They have also seen the native biodiversity plummet.

Campesino and indigenous leaders at the Social Forum of the Americas, held in the Paraguayan capital Asunción, Aug. 11-15, said that monoculture and genetically-modified seeds are the backbone of a model that is harming their communities.

“Syngenta is trying to create the United Republic of Soy in the Southern Cone,” said Paraguayan David Cardoso, of the environmental organization Sobrevivencia, about the Switzerland-based transgenic seed producer.

More than 5 percent of Paraguay´s land, or two-thirds of its farmland, is sowed with transgenic soy, the highest ratio of soy production in South America.

“Paraguay is the [world´s] sixth largest soy producer and the fourth in Latin America, and we´ve seen how the expansion of soy has left a huge impact such as the destruction of indigenous and campesina communities, the annihilation of biodiversity and the loss of food and land sovereignty,” added Cardoso, also a member of Friends of the Earth-Paraguay.

Brazil and Argentina, may be the world´s top soy producers, respectively, after the United States, but the industry is actually stripping these countries of jobs.

Sergio Schlesinger of the Federation of Social and Educational Assistance Organizations in Brazil, known as FASE, says that they two countries produced a combined 72 million tons of soy in 2006. But while there were 1.5 million jobs in the soy farming industry in 1985, in 2006 there were only 400,000, “which indicates that these crops do not solve unemployment levels as we have tried to be convinced.”

In Argentina, more than half of the country´s farming land is dedicated to soy, and each year the nation loses close to 250,000 hectares of campesino farmland or forests because of the industry´s expansion, says Carlos Vicente, of GRAIN Argentina, an international group which supports campesino and small farmers.

“The transnationals’ only objective is to control the food supply and agribusiness in the world,” he said. “It has nothing to do with food production for the people.”


Resisting monoculture
The expansion of monoculture has already pushed campesino and indigenous citizens off their lands, sending them from family agriculture to the urban areas, where there is little work.

Costa Rica’s booming production of pineapple is quickly catching up to the country´s top export crop: bananas. Pineapple farming already comprises close to 20 percent of the country’s total exports, but remains a significant threat for indigenous and campesino communities.

The crop is grown on 42,000 hectares in the country, the largest extension of single-crop farm land in Costa Rica. According to Gustavo Oreamuno, of the Ditsö Association of Popular Initiatives, whose name means “seed” in the indigenous Bri-Bri language, pineapple farming area has meant a reduction in campesino and indigenous lands and, eyeing profits, medium-sized farmers have started to produce pineapples instead of other important foods such as potatoes.

But the local communities are starting to resist.

“The need to organize was born in the barrios and communities in order to end the evictions from campesino lands for pineapple production,” he said, adding that they have started to denounce transnational companies and demand food sovereignty for the local communities.

The documentary “Detrás de la Piña,” or “Behind the Pineapple,” shows how communities in the southern Puntarenas province have started to monitor transnational fruit company Del Monte´s local subsidiary, Pindeco, for the contamination caused by pineapple farming. Local community members have been warning about these effects since 1998. Last year, prosecutors opened an investigation into two pineapple producers and the local government in a lowland region near the Caribbean for alleged contamination to the local water supply by farming chemicals.


Women and land rights
Despite the influx of transnational-fueled farming in Latin America, some countries, like Bolivia, have tried to distribute land more evenly.

“Before the arrival of [President Evo] Morales, the land was concentrated in the hands of a few, who had up to 500,000 hectares,” said Leonilda Zurita, head of the Bartolina Sisa National Campesina Women´s Confederation of Bolivia. “Starting in 2006, we launched an agrarian revolution, not a reform. The women were given land titles in our names, which before were only for the men.”

She also noted that the government limited land titles to 5,000 hectares for private companies.

“Before, landholders could get to own half of an entire department,” said Zurita. “Now we all have access to those lands.”

Women´s struggle for land rights has been replicated in other Latin American countries, such as El Salvador, where 2 percent of the population holds 57 percent of the country´s arable land.

Wendy Cruz, of Vía Campesina Centroamérica, says that land concentration and poor access to arable land sparked the campaign Food Sovereignty in 2003, run by campesina women with the aim of protecting their land and native seeds. El Salvador´s government is also taking measures. Amid pressure from small-scale farming groups, it recently announced that it would ban the distribution of so-called “killer seeds” that cannot reproduce.

“Land is a human right, and at Vía Campesina we work to make the communities more and more aware of this,” said Cruz. “In some countries campesina women´s struggle is already seeing some small victories.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Campesinos and indigenous groups resist expansion of monoculture on their lands. (Photo: Rocío Alorda)
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