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Argentina: Soya-Fication Brings Serious Problems

Argentina : Soya-Fication Brings Serious Environmental, Social And Economic Problems


by Alberto Lapolla, Rebelion, 20-07-2006
Translated by Tlaxcala

Genetically modified soya for animal fodder now accounts for 60% of our production of grains and almost the same percentage of land sown with arable crops. Far from being healthy it presents a real and growing problem for the national economy and the protection of our agricultural eco-system and also for the very lives of our people. Our country is one of 19 countries that allow the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) or transgenic seeds. It is also one of 5 that allow it on a large scale. Furthermore, Argentina is the world leader as regards the expansion of GM crops in relation to total production. 99% of the soya sown in our country is RR soya, that is GM soya, so as to make it resistant to the glyphosate herbicide. Since soya is a species with 95 to 99% closed pollination or self-fertilization, it's reasonable to reckon that non-GM soya (organic soya) does not exist in our territory. This alone would already be a serious problem. But there are many more. To start with, production has turned into monocultivation, a dangerous outcome from a strategic economic and environmental point of view of the nation's productive structure.

Any model based on monocultivation is essentially unsustainable and weak from a structural point of view. However, the expansion of GM soya for animal feed monoculture brings with it other, equally serious problems.The first is the degradation of our productive system : we have stopped being a food-producing country and now produce animal feed, so that other countries - the most industrialized - may produce meat. We have cut back our own meat production - through reducing its area, the number of animals and the quality of the fields assigned to them - to produce "soya-fodder". We assign our very best land - of the best food-producing eco-system in the world - to produce animal feed so other countries may produce and export meat, instead of doing it ourselves.

In the second place, in order to produce soya-fodder we have stopped producing innumerable other foodstuffs. The object of our agricultural production is no longer to produce food for our population and to export the rest, but rather that the country's whole agricultural system is placed at the service of producing raw materials in the form of soya-fodder, as well as oil and natural gas for export to industrialized countries. Argentina decided to abandon its food sovereignty when it lost its economic and political sovereignty.

When Videla's (1) Economy Minister Martinez de la Hoz said "the market will decide if the country is going to produce steel or biscuits " he was referring to this change of model. The scientific, technological industrial nation from before 1976-1989 ceased to exist. With it went the nation that produced food for its large domestic market - its people - and inputs for industry. In a perverse neocolonial process, the country stopped producing steel, trucks, railway carriages, tractors, planes, tanks and ships. Together with the handover of its gas, its oil, its electrical energy, its highways and the destruction of its railways, it stopped producing food like maize, wheat, potatoes, yam, lentils, rice, fruits, garden products, cotton, mutton and foodstuffs in general, so as to make over its whole economy to the production of soya-fodder. So China and the European Union and other industrialized countries rear their cattle and produce meat to supply the gigantic emerging Asian markets, where humanity's future lies, with cheap soya-fodder that we sell them.

In the third place, one must add the high enviromental contamination produced by the direct sowing-RR soya- glyphosate system, since it is based on the permanent use of agrotoxins. The last crop season used at least 150 million litres of glyphosate, 20 million litres of 2-4-D and 6 million litres of endosulfan. These last two added to the other ingredients accompanying glyphosate are highly cancerous. For example we have the serious cases of Ituzaingó Anexo in Córdoba, those of Loma Sene in Formosa and hundreds of cancer cases in Santa Fe.

In the fourth place, in ecological and environmental terms, the whole direct sowing-RR soya-glyphosate system is nothing more than a huge experiment over 15 million hectares to select resistant weeds and unimaginable, irreversible vertical and horizontal genetic contamination.

A fifth aspect of the problem is that the system produces a massive loss of labour : four of every 5 real jobs disappear as a result of the difference in operative time per person per hectare between the traditional system and the direct sowing system since the direct sowing-RR soya system requires just one operative for every 500 hectares.

A sixth aspect linked to the previous one is the destruction of small businesses. Gardens, wild fruit gathering, bee keeping, native and artificial grasses and herbs or other cultivation, every kind of plant is destroyed near the flight paths or other applications of glyphosate as a result of drift, since it is a total herbicide. Nor is RR soya profitable on extensions of less than 300, 350 or 500 hectares depending on the region, which means that small and medium farmers have to lease their land or sell it.

A seventh aspect is the "legal" robbery of ancestral land and the expulsion of people from the countryside. The direct sowing-RR soya-glyphosate system makes possible soya-fodder production in regions and places where before agriculture was not possible; so ancestral communities or those of limited means who got by on their lands from family production and gathering wild fruits are expelled by the mafia-like conspiracy of provincial and communal authorities, gangster-like legal studies and investment funds in the service of international financial capital. They take over enormous extensions of land that some estimates put at 35 million hectares in foreign hands. This clearly illegitimate development, doing away with rights written into the national constitution but not implemented, is bringing violence to the countryside.

This series of factors entails misery, expulsion and destruction of family production together with the enrichment of a tiny section of the population - the country's whole rural population is not even 10% of the national total - seen in four wheel drive SUVs, high cost imported machinery, the construction of mansions and luxury expenses of every kind as well as scarcely legal deals in the majority of the communities caught up in the soya "business". All that is compounded by a brutal concentration of land : 6900 family businesses own 49.7% of the country's land. This wealth of the few joined with the proliferation of hunger and unemployment among the working population is expressed in the thousands of welfare plans for heads of household paid out in small rural communities where unemployment never existed before.

It is good to remember that half the country's population is still below the poverty line and a quarter is in extreme poverty. One final point has to do with the dependence of producers vis-a-vis multinational businesses like Monsanto, owners of the seed patents which subsume the producer into permanent debt. In synthesis this genuine environmental, social and economic catastrophe has been brought about to produce soya-fodder so industrial countries can produce meat at low cost subsidised by hunger, unemployment, illness and environmental devastation for Argentina and the Argentineans.

Note on the author: Alberto Lapolla is an Agronomist-Geneticist

Translator's note
1. General Jorge Rafael Videla led the military junta in Argentina from 1976 to 1981.

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Translated from Spanish into English by toni solo, a member of Tlaxcala ( www.tlaxcala.es), the network of translators for linguistic diversity.This translation is Copyleft.

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