GRAIN exposes environmental catastrophe waiting to happen in Latin America

A social and environmental catastrophe has settled like a plague over the countries of the Southern Cone – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Transgenic soya monoculture now covers 46 million hectares in the region.

The advance of GMO soya is displacing farmers and indigenous communities and poisoning land and people alike (600 million litres of toxic glyphosate is sprayed on these crops each year) while 500,000 ha of forest are lost to its expansion every year.

GRAIN are seeking to strengthen and articulate the comprehensive and coordinated mobilisation against this plunder through local resistance, public condemnation, the building of alternatives, and fighting back on all possible fronts.

Click here to read the full article. The opening extract is below.


“The United Republic of Soybeans.” That’s the patronizing moniker given to the entire Southern Cone − comprising the countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia − by the Syngenta Corporation in a 2003 advertisement in the rural supplements of the Argentine papers Clarín and La Nación. It’s an open statement of the neocolonialist fervour with which these companies are attempting to dominate this region of the world.

In 2012, the agribusiness transnationals really stepped up their campaign to control these countries and their institutions. They launched new genetically engineered (transgenic or GE) crops involving increased health and environmental hazards because of the agrotoxins (pesticides and herbicides) that have to be applied with them. They also lobbied for policy changes that are without precedent except for the initial GE onslaught in the second half of the 1990s. This new corporate drive comes in a troubling new context in which almost all the governments of the region (at least until June of last year) were “progressive” critics of neoliberalism. These governments have begun to rectify some of the neoliberal policies adopted in the 1990s, with the government taking a more active role in regulating the economy and providing for social welfare, education, and healthcare.

However, in all this time, the prevailing model of agricultural production has not changed. There has been no official concern about the problems caused by the widespread planting of transgenic soybeans and the high levels of agrotoxins this requires. On the contrary, this model continues to be consolidated and defended by all of the region’s governments, which have adopted it as government policy in every case. At best – and only when societal pressure becomes too great – they have given slapdash consideration to the problems of agrotoxin poisoning, displacement of peasants and first peoples, land concentration, and loss of local production. But these are considered “collateral impacts.” (Bolivia is excluded from this assessment, since although the “half-moon” region of Santa Cruz de la Sierra sits within the territory dubbed the “United Republic of Soybeans,” the government of Evo Morales has taken widely divergent positions from the rest of the governments. This has led to conflict with Santa Cruz power brokers who have called for the region to separate from the country).

In previous issues of Against the grain (1 2 3), we have criticized the soy incursion as serving to consolidate the agribusiness model of production. The Southern Cone has become the region with the highest concentration of GE crops in the world and, in a closely related development, the region with the highest per capita application of agrotoxins. In this issue, we will explore the soy phenomenon and its implications for peasant communities and society as a whole.

The profound impacts of the agribusiness model know no borders between rural and urban. In rural areas and outer suburbs they are measured in terms of agrotoxin poisoning, displaced farmers (who swell the ranks of the urban poor), ruined regional economies, correspondingly high urban food prices, and contamination of the food supply. Ultimately, what we are looking at is a social and environmental catastrophe settling like a plague over the entire region. Wherever you live, you cannot ignore it.

The handful of people and companies responsible for this chain of destruction have names: Monsanto and a few other biotech corporations (Syngenta, Bayer) leading the pack; large landowners and planting pools that control millions of hectares (Los Grobo, CRESUD, El Tejar, Maggi, and others); and the cartels that move grain around the world (Cargill, ADM, and Bunge). Not to mention the governments of each of these countries and their enthusiastic support for this model. To these should be added the many auxiliary businesses providing services, machinery, spraying, and inputs that have enriched themselves as a result of the model.

To put some numbers on the phenomenon, there are currently over 46 million ha of GE soy monoculture in the region. These are sprayed with over 600 million litres of glyphosate and are causing deforestation at a rate of at least 500,000 ha per year.