AgroBrasil - @gricultura Brasileira Online


terça-feira, fevereiro 10, 2004

PARA REFLETIR - When GMO's take over: Argentina

Argentina suffers from more than an immense debt burden. Genetically engineered soya has become Argentina's predominant agricultural crop, with catastrophic consequences for both people and environment. It is now a one crop nation at the mercy of multinational corporations and the international trading system. It has become a worrying example of what the potent mix of genetic engineering and world trade can do to a country.

Argentina has undergone transformations unlike that of any other country. From colonialism to dictatorship, followed by 'democracy' and neo-liberal economics, and now, a colossal debt burden enforced by foreign creditors and the World Bank. Within activist circles one generally thinks of the recent social uprisings and massive demonstrations, the creation of neighbourhood asambleas and the piquetero movement, which has become known all over the world. Yet a more significant, largely unnoticed transformation has been taking place in the Argentinean countryside. Over the last two decades, Argentina has adopted large scale soy bean agriculture, and is currently the third largest producer in the world. 95% of this is genetically engineered soya, largely composed of Monsantos Roundup Ready Soya application. The effects of this have been enormous.
Argentina was well known for its large scale production of grain and meat. Meat production declined during the first half of the 1980s as the production of grains and oil seeds, such as soya, became more lucrative. This resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of hectares being cultivated with this form of agriculture. During the second half of the 1980s, falling prices in the global trading system and unfavourable terms of trade, along with several other economic factors ended with Argentina going bankrupt and experiencing its first massive economic crises. The Menem administration rode to power on promises of a new and modernised Argentina and started implementing the neo-liberal economic prescriptions that are part and parcel of World Bank loans. The economic reforms, in the form of structural adjustment policies, forced the country to sell its public utilities to private investors, who were often foreign and allowed multinational corporations to design agricultural policies to suit their needs. The tradition of producing for export continued and soya bean production increased accordingly, most of it being processed into oil or soybean meal. An expected 15 million hectares will be planted in 2004, nearly all of it genetically engineered. Consequently, Argentina has become dependent on soya, a soya republic, and the development of this situation is largely thanks to the implementation of structural adjustment policies.
The focus on export and the international market has meant that smaller farmers are no longer able to compete with their larger counterparts who can produce at lower prices. Unable to make a profit on their produce, they either rent their land cheaply to affluent landowners and corporations, or sell out and move to urban areas. The migration to the cities has meant a decrease in the production of food for local populations, the loss of rural culture and biodiversity, and an increase in urban unemployment and poverty.
The golden future promised by the biotechnology industry and the pressure on prices on the international market led to the introduction of genetically engineered soy in 1996. Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soya bean (RR Soya) was meant to increase production, and lower both costs and the amounts of pesticide and herbicide needed. Monsanto offered farmers a complete package of seeds and RR herbicide, to enable them to produce cheap soya for export. Now, much of the soya produced in Argentina is genetically modified. The introduction of RR Soya has depopulated the countryside further, as the increase in soya fields has been at the expense of other crops and farming activities. A complete industrialisation of agriculture transforming Argentina into a one crop country has taken place. The main beneficiaries are the big landowners, the biotechnology companies, notably Monsanto, the grain processing and trading companies, especially Cargill, and the global market for cheap products. Meanwhile the green desert of soya keeps spreading, causing deforestation, rural unemployment, poverty and hunger. The Argentinean and international soy lobby is also facilitating this destruction in other parts of South America. Landowners and corporations are now renting land in Uruguay, introducing RR soy along with genetically modified Bt corn. The eventual legalisation of RR soy in Brazil was due to illegally imported seeds from Argentina, while Bolivian law against genetically modified organisms was revoked due to pressure from soy producers.
The spread of genetically engineered soya has devastated the Argentinean countryside and its bio-diversity. Rural depopulation together with mono-cultural production for export has resulted in the destruction of local markets, infrastructure and transport along with the loss of culture, traditions, farming techniques, local food varieties and self-sufficiency. No effort has been made by the government, corporations or international institutions to address this situation.
Monsanto argues that RR Soya is more environmentally friendly as it reduces herbicide (RR) use. On the contrary, weeds are gradually becoming tolerant to glyphosate (the active ingredient in RR) and producers are applying increasing amounts of RR herbicide to plants and mixing it with other chemicals, such as Paraquat (illegal in many countries), in order to control them. These herbicides are highly toxic and leave residuals on the plants, which is then absorbed by humans. Moreover, since farmers started spraying pesticides from aeroplanes, people, animals and crops nearby the soya fields have begun to suffer from a long list of ailments and diseases.
In the cities, soya has increasingly become part of the diet, especially that of the poor. Soya is cheap, can be used as a protein substitute and so is sometimes given to people as a subsidy. The popular practise of feeding infants on soya milk, is leading to hormonal changes and imbalances amongst young children.
In December 2001, tired of their corrupt government, bankrupt economy, high inflation and unemployment, people took to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction. Massive demonstrations, riots and blockades were daily occurrences for many weeks. The militant unemployed from the urban areas, the piqueteros, became famous for attempting to stop trade and transport with their blockades of burning tyres. Furthermore, a new form of democracy was initiated with the advent of local asambleas (neighbourhood assemblies), which created participatory ways of organising and decision making. Even now some groups are taking to the streets while others continue to organise through participative direct democracy.
In many countries outside Argentina, activists and left-wing groups have looked up to the social movement in Argentina for fighting neo-liberalism and its proponents. This said, the soya model, a symbol of what they actually struggle against, is upheld by some parts of the social movement . Many left wing groups receive soya from the producers and the government supports this indirectly. The soya given to the unemployed sustains their activism, and protesting is an obligation in many of the institutionalised left wing groups. Starting your own garden and growing food would hinder people from participating in the protests and blockades. Moreover, for every ton of exported soy, one kilo goes to the poor under a program called Soja Solidaria( soya solidarity) organised by the producers together with Caritas (Church organisation).
The power of the corporations and the system, which keeps poverty and unemployment in place is left unchallenged. Even if farmers want to grow their own food, (organic) seeds are difficult to get hold of unless they are genetically modified soy or maize. Tools too, and the knowledge needed to grow food has been forgotten. The choices are few and police oppression is a daily occurrence.
Despite soyas influence in today’s Argentinean society there is still much which gives hope and inspiration. Neighbourhood asambleas continue giving democracy and new meaning. Piqueteros are still fighting the system, while many groups are aware of the detrimental influence of soya and are creating new and positive to overcome the dependency. Small projects, such as neighbourhood gardens and urban farming are happening in some places and these amongst the many other social movement projects give hope for a better tomorrow in Argentina.
Argentina's acceptance of World Bank and IMF policies has done little to aid development or benefit its poorest citizens. Rather, it has facilitated the large scale introduction of biotechnology into the countryside, making Argentina dependent on soya and held to ransom by the global trading system and the multinational companies that feed of it. It now imports goods, which it used to be self sufficient in such as milk, cotton, peas and lentils. The combination of anti-social policies and genetically modified soya has not only caused more debt, it has increased poverty, unemployment and health and social problems, while concentrating wealth in fewer hands. The environment has become more polluted and agriculture is now sustained by poisonous chemicals that soon won't suffice as weeds become resistant to them. Biodiversity is decreasing, with many traditional varieties of potatoes, maize and other vegetable being lost.
Biotechnology corporations and some governments claim that genetic engineering will solve world hunger. Argentina, a country with more genetically engineered crops than most has proven the opposite. It should serve as a warning to any country thinking of engaging in biotechnology. Moreover it shows how the global trading can systematically degrade a country, and Argentina is not alone in suffering this. One should seriously begin to question the economic science behind this destruction, and the institutions that keep them in place.

"In what was once a beef country the poor in Argentina are being fed with crops used for animal feed in the first world".
(Lillan Joensen & Stell Semino - GRR)

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