Slideshow on peasant resistance to soy expansion in Paraguay
An outline of the impacts of soy monoculture expansion in Paraguay which causes the disappearance of rural communities as soy expansion is the main driver of the expulsion of Paraguayan campesinos by force or by the deteriation of their living conditions.
Farmers struggle in Paraguay against expanding soy cultivation
The huge increase of soy fields is expulsing small scale farmers from their lands in Paraguay, but also in Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Some even speak about a soy-tsunami that is submerging farmer communities. The expansion of soy cultivation goes along with a widely spread violation of human rights. The production is mainly used as animal feed for the meat production in Europe and China. Recently also agro-energy increases the demand for soy and other crops.
Almost all soy in Argentina and Paraguay is genetically modified Round-up Ready soy owned by the multinational company Monsanto. In Brazil this development boosted in the past years as well; the first thing president Lula did after his election was to allow the introduction of gm-soy. Round-up Ready soy is resistant to glyphosate, a herbicide that kills all other weeds. Since its introduction the use of chemicals went up dramatically. GM-seeds are all patented, farmers have to pay relatively high royalties. GM-free fields get contaminated, local varieties disappear forever.
Soy production is responsible for the deforestation of rain forest and savannah. In Brazil alone 700,000 hectares are being cut down each year for the development of soy fields. (That is almost three times the surface of the country Luxembourg.)
The majority of Paraguay's population practises self-subsistence agriculture. Soy production creates few jobs. 400 hectares of small-scale agriculture is enough for 80 families to live on. With large-scale soy cultivation this acreage only offers work to two farmers. In general environmental problems are social problems too because the poor are always the first to suffer.
The European animal- and meat industry is based on the import of soy. The Netherlands are the pin in the European soy-import. 11 million tons enter the ports annually. 7 million tons are exported directly and 4 million are for internal use. 90% is used as fodder. The production of meat is very inefficient: for 1 kilo of meat approximately 7 kilos of fodder are needed (depending on which type of meat). The solution of the described problems can only result in a radical reduction of soy production, -export and -consumption. The present volume can never be produced in a responsible (socially and sustainably) way.
More and more soy comes from Paraguay, the heart of South-America. This country, being rich in natural wealth, is populated by about 6 million inhabitants.
The huge soy fields (as monocultures) are still extending through the increasing consumption of meat-products and, recently, agrofuels.
In 2007 soy covers 2.5 million hectares in Paraguay (to compare: Belgium's size is 3.1 million hectares). The Paraguayan producers’ association CAPECO aims to increase soy planted areas to 3.5 million hectares by 2008.
Besides the henchmen and friends of former dictator Stroessner recently more and more Brazilian soy producers get a hold of agricultural land. The three million Paraguayan farmers whose survival depends on the land, are squeezed into a corner, seeing the slums around the cities as their only way out. Since 1990 approximately ninety thousand small-scale farmers had to leave their land and migrated to the city.
The communities have to get along with soy producers who use pesticides unlimitedly without taking into account the borders of fields, other crops and houses in the surroundings.
In Paraguay millions of litres of poison are sprayed annually. This causes a range of acute and chronic health problems to the families which live around or in between these fields. With poor health supplies and a privatised health care, medical aid is inaccessible for most families.
There's also hope and resistance against the soy expansion. A regional small-scale farmer organisation called MAP (Movimiento Agrario y Popular / Agrarian and Popular Movement) tries to stop the expansion of soy monoculture and regain communities by using both legal means and direct action. Their members are intimidated continuously and are threatened with prison sentence.
Land occupations are frequently threatened with violent eviction. Often the landowners, with the help of their police-friends and paramilitary forces, start the evictions themselves.
The MAP organises courses, political formation, promotion of alternative agriculture and legal support for communities. But in addition to that, it supports communities in uncertain legal circumstances. For example because much land that is meant for land reform (and as such for Paraguayan landless peasants), through corruption ended up in the hands of mainly Brazilian large scale soy producers. The MAP starts legal procedures to denounce these irregularities at the institute of land reform (the INDERT).
One of the first land occupations of the MAP was in 2003, in Tekojoja. As a result, the expansion of soy fields was called to a halt there. The toll was three violent evictions in which 2 peasants were shot dead by soy farmers and a lot of tents, where people lived in during the occupation, were burned down.The few property was stolen and more than 100 people (including 50 children) were arrested. After a strong (internationally supported) campaign the High Court of Justice accknowlegded their rights. In the summer of 2007, the houses for more than 100 families are being rebuilt, giving these people good future prospects.
On 26 February 2007 near Tekojoja another land occupation took place. In Pariri on a 14 hectares piece of land surrounded by soy fields an occupation camp was set up. The land had been sold illegaly by the INDERT to soyfarmers. The influential soy-sector is using all possible means. Several central members within the MAP were threatened with detention and inprisonment. The national media run a true smear campaign against the MAP.
Chronological summary of recent developments in Pariri
The repression by the local public prosecutor and the police force after the land occupation in Pariri:
April 2007: During a national meeting of the MAP organised in Pariri a member who was transporting other members to the meeting was caught for no reason and put into prison. He was released the same day without charges but had to pay a fine of 300,000 Guaranies, which is more than the average monthly salary in Paraguay.
May 2007: Pariri's inhabitants decided to continue occupying more land that illegaly came into the hands of Brazilian soy producers. Shortly after the occupation a group of police-officers destroyed 3 houses that were built by the land-occupants. They justified this by presenting the so-called land title document.
June 2007: kidnapping and disappearance of activist and land occupant Perfecto Irala. After a national and international campaign by the MAP, the police force at last communicates to the Paraguayan human rights coalition CODEHUPY that he had been taken to the regional prison of Coronel Oviedo. More pressure and legal procedures gave him back his freedom under conditions. This implies that he has to travel to the village Vaqueria to place his signature monthly, which is an expensive trip for a peasant. Perfecto Irala's son had to go underground because there is a warrant of arrest against him. The MAP is now looking for financial resources to do something about this juridical madness.
Under bitter winter circumstances (temperatures around the freezing-point in self-made houses and tents without heating) the occupation still continues. The five resisting families started cultivating crops like corn and cassava for self-sufficiency.
July 2007: after a lot of international and juridical pressure, and a long and tiring administrative fight, the MAP managed to get a delegate of the INDERT (the governmental institute for land reform) who will realise a new inventory of the plot classification. This will give the MAP the possibility to regain the illegally transferred plots. Unfortunately the INDERT tries to postpone the delegate's trip to Pariri constantly.
August 2007: In the middle of August a house was burned down again in the community of Pariri. This time on a parcel where 3 other houses had already been destroyed earlier in May.
Intimidations committed by government officials are a daily reality for a lot of peasant communities in Paraguay. Farmer movements try to protect their community against expanding large-scale soy cultivation through recuperation of land and other direct actions. This leads to conflicts in which we can see the real face of the illegal expansion of soy.
You can make a donation on the account number 7234010 of 'Stichting A SEED Europe' in Amsterdam, mentioning 'donation for MAP '. [IBAN : NL 64 PSTB 00072340 10 / BIC : PSTBNL21]
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