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By By Lilian Joensen
Soy, the star crop of the biotech industry in South America, continues to create controversy. More than 600 people from different movements and organizations from Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil met in San Miguel de Iguazú, Brazil from March 16 to 18.
Soy, the star crop of the biotech industry in South America, continues to create controversy. More than 600 people from indigenous and peasant movements, workers' unions and organizations of the unemployed from Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil met in San Miguel de Iguazú, Brazil from March 16 to 18.
They were participating in a rally against the First Roundtable Conference on Sustainable Soy. This counter-meeting was convened by the Argentine NGO Rural Reflection Group and the organization Via Campesina Argentina, and supported by Via Campesina of Paraguay and Brazil.
The 600 participants, most of whom traveled long distances by bus, had lively and intense discussions in various workshops and conferences held at the Technological and Educational Institute for Agrarian Reform (ITEPA). This meeting ended with a two-hour demonstration on March 18 against the proposal for sustainable soy production at the entrance of the Bourbon hotel where the Round Table was taking place. This conference was organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), COOP (Switzerland), André Maggi Group (Brazil), Unilever (Netherlands), Cordaid (Netherlands) and Fetraf-Sul (Brazil).
What the counter-assembly opposes
The idea of holding a peasant counter-meeting originated when WWF announced the publication of the report to the world media "Managing the Soy Boom: Two Scenarios of the Expansion of Soy Production in South America", by the Dutch consultancy AIDEnvironment. This report requested by the WWF Forest Conversion Initiative superficially mentions some of the negative impacts of the soy expansion in South America, without questioning the agro-export model behind this development. He accepts that this is a trend that will probably continue and, therefore, proposes the need to discuss and find the solutions that suit those responsible for the disaster that soy has meant for South America. The most widely grown variety is Roundup Ready GM soy. This herbicide tolerant soy from Monsanto is grown legally in Argentina and illegally in Paraguay and Brazil.
The first page of the report "Managing the soy boom”, Provoked the indignation of several peasant and indigenous organizations of the southern cone of Latin America. It assumes that the demand for soybeans will increase by 60%, to more than 300 million tons per year in 2020. In addition, since China and the U.S. they have few extensions of cultivable land, future expansion will be distributed mainly in the South American producing countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
When WWF announced the Round Table, it was clear that the idea was to sustain and increase soybean production in South America and to secure pasture and forage for animal protein production in Europe and China. While trying to demonstrate an objective point of view, the Roundtable omits that soy production has two opposite and irreconcilable points of view.
On the one hand, there is the opinion of those who have benefited enormously in recent years from the production and export of soy since the boom began, driven by the demand for cheap feed in Europe and China. On this side are the GM and agrochemical seed companies. All of them are allied to the soybean productive sector, such as AAPRESID (Farmers Cero-Labranza, the most influential soybean group in Argentina), CAPECO (Council of Cereals and Oilseeds of Paraguay) and Grupo André Maggi (the main producer of soybeans). in Matto Grosso, Brazil). Other players with a direct interest in sustained soy production are the "alternative" food industry such as Unilever (soy "egg", soy "milk", etc.), animal product manufacturers and retailers in Europe.
On the other hand, there are the victims of the lobbying of Zero-Tillage Farmers and of hybrid and GM seeds, who have to suffer the consequences of the intensive industrial agriculture imposed by this system. Consequences such as repression and dispossession of land, unemployment, poisoning by agrochemicals, loss of crops and animals that are essential for the economies of peasants and indigenous people, occur daily in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
The environmental and human health effects of genetic engineering have not even begun to be taken into account.
What's behind the Round Table and the AIDEnvironment / WWF report
Some NGOs believe that current global market conditions are here to stay and that little can be done to change them, whether we like it or not. Therefore, they are allying themselves with the agribusiness. To justify these alliances, some NGOs say that this is the only way to stop the felling of trees, since fighting the companies would be suicide. The "experts" from the industrialized world, financed by their respective development agencies, banks and transnational companies, are choosing and consulting "experts" from the NGOs in the underdeveloped countries that best suit their interests. The reports of these "experts" are made and continually improved in their language to sound more "progressive" and "democratic" to the target group, often inexperienced and unaware of reality. These reports propose solutions to the problems that the same industrial ideology of "progress" has created. They indicate that the bad consequences of current trends are inevitable and pragmatically mention the need to convince the industry that it could be a "good business" to show a more humane and environmentally friendly image through the invention of "sustainable" production criteria. materials and environmental management.
These NGOs consider it good news that agroecological production controlled by companies such as the seed giant Cargill and the André Maggi Group is becoming big business. Companies can even benefit from certification or environmental services if they get a green light from certain NGOs as environmentally safe or socially just, to sell their products to supermarkets and fast food and clothing chains. Certification and environmental management can give the common citizen of the industrialized world the feeling that poor people and the environment of underdeveloped countries are benefiting from the sale of products in the industrialized world or from tourism.
These kinds of offers can be drawn from the AIDEnvironment report and from initiatives towards sustainability promoted by WWF and other NGOs in conjunction with the soy-related industry. Therefore, these are denounced by peasant, indigenous and environmental organizations in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, as simple greenwashing initiatives that will only benefit transnationals and threaten the rights of local communities much more. In the case of the AIDEnvironment report, "a scenario of better policies and practices" is proposed to avoid deforestation. Notes that "Intensifying production along existing roads and near populated centers will reduce the need to expand borders and reduce investment in expensive infrastructure projects." This shows a complete ignorance of the development in recent years in the countries of the southern cone of Latin America. Thus, it does not take into account that these areas are already saturated with transgenic soy and that the inhabitants of urban neighborhoods are suffering serious health problems due to constant spraying with chemicals such as glyphosate, paraquat, atrazine, 2.4 D, and endosulfane. . At the same time, this "ideal scenario" satisfies the interests of the Cero-Labranza group, which go hand in hand with those of transgenic seeds and agrochemicals, as has been proven in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
There is also concern that "agroecology" in the hands of agribusiness will undermine genuine efforts in organic farming.
The 100 million sustainable Forum
Meanwhile, in Argentina, the Fundación Vida Silvestre (FSVA) associated with the WWF promotes "the Sustainable Forum of 100 million" together with the Argentine Association of Agribusiness, to solve the environmental and social problems caused by the conversion of natural areas to agricultural production in the country. They refer to this forum as an open dialogue process. Among other things, the objective is to reach a consensus on the "need to identify the geographic location of 5 to 12 million hectares for new agricultural areas projected in the plan to achieve the production of 100 million tons of grains and oilseeds".
Greenpeace Argentina participates in this initiative as an environmental NGO. Most of the institutions and companies participating in the 100 million forum were also at the March Roundtable. This forum unleashed indignation among Argentine organizations that strongly questioned the agro-export model imposed on Third World countries. This model benefits only the seed, agrochemical and export corporations and in no way can it be sustainable by increasing and further intensifying agricultural areas. According to the Argentine NGO, Rural Reflection Group, the participation of well-known environmental NGOs that have a certain prestige in the public eye will be used by agribusinesses to legitimize their objective of making profits with the help of greenwashing image initiatives.
The Round Table vs. La Contra - Assembly
While the round table concluded by appreciating the importance of having initiated a dialogue on the issue of soybeans and recognizing that soybean production "brings advantages and social, economic, environmental and institutional problems", the participants of the parallel assembly unanimously declared that sustainable soy production is not possible in South America.
The production of forage in the South American continent to satisfy the demand for meat production in other continents will never solve the food sovereignty needs of the people and therefore cannot be done responsibly.
Agronomist Adolfo Boy from the Rural Reflection Group explained in the counter - assembly that the scheme behind the new idea of agroecology advocated by NGOs sympathetic to agribusiness cannot be thought of as sustainable. His proposal is to work with certified seeds, which will bring the agroecological technological packages developed by the companies. These packages use pheromones, organic fertilizers, etc. This means that companies will benefit from certification in all phases from seed production to shipment. Farmers will be tempted to enter "agroecological" production with secure markets, good credit and high prices, if they can reach an agreement with the companies. The idea behind this is that subsistence agriculture is abandoned and that virgin lands, which currently belong to small-scale producers, are used in the production of agroecological crops for the needs of the global market.
Even the concept of agrarian reform is being disfigured if this path is followed. Peasant ownership of land will no longer matter as agribusinesses decide what and where to farm. The worst thing about this export-oriented agricultural model is that it leaves communities with no response capacity totally defenseless.
The counter - assembly is the beginning to promote initiatives that defend land, seeds and local and subsistence agriculture against the global market. Anything else will be suicidal, not only for the forests, but also for the peasant communities. NGOs must understand this and not get carried away by the illusion that agribusiness can be environmentally sustainable and socially just. www.EcoPortal.net
4. I am boom threat to South America, BBC News, September 3rd 2004
5. Jan Maarten Dros, AIDEnvironment. "Managing the Soy Boom: Two scenarios of soy production expansion in South America", June 2004.
6. The Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production, August 2004, Prepared by ProForest for Coop Switzerland in cooperation with WWF Switzerland
8. Unilever-funded egg replacer for cost and health opportunities http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/news-ng.asp
11. Joensen L. et al. “Argentina, a case study on the impact of genetically modified soy”.
12. "Argentina, the GM paradox". Third World Resurgence No. 159-160 (Nov / Dec 2003)