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GE Soybeans in Argentina--A Tale of Disaster

Three articles and letter

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Any African or South American country considering the commercial planting of
genetically engineered crops should first look at the experience of GE in
Argentina.

While the US and Canada may insist that GE has helped their agriculture,
Africa cannot expect similar results because the US and Canada have
traditionally had a highly industrialised, large scale, monocultural
agriculture, so the impact of GE on Africa may not be comparable.

However as Argentina used to have rich biodiversity, substantial small scale
agriculture, rural poverty and international debt, the Argentine experience
can be more effectively used to predict what will happen to Africa or Brazil
if they commercialise GE.

The verdict? The Argentine economy, agriculture, environment and rural
landscape have been severely damaged by their overdependence on GE soya.
The impacts of GE soya have been far reaching and deep. It is astonishing
how just one crop has managed to ruin so much.

Defenders of the Argentine GE experience may try and claim that the economic
crisis in Argentina has been responsible for any of the problems written
about below. But in fact GE soya has exacerbated the economic crisis, and
perhaps contributed to it as well.

World leaders ­take heed!

Best wishes,

Teresa

*******************************
1. The 'Green Desert' of Soya
Article from Inter Press Service News Agency. Date: 30 August 2003
Marcela Valente
http://ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=19906


2. Argentina's GM Woes
Article from Institute of Science in Society. Date:
Lilian Joensen and Mae-Wan Ho
http://www.i-sis.org.uk

3. The Impact of Soybean Expansion in Argentina
Article from Seedling, Vol 18, Issue 3. Date: June 2001
Walter Pengue
www.grain.org/publications/seed-01-9-3-en.cfm

********************************

1. The 'Green Desert' of Soya
Article from Inter Press Service News Agency. Date: 30 August 2003
Marcela Valente
http://ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=19906

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 30 (IPS) - Soya has become Argentina's number-one
export, and the area planted with this crop is expanding each year at the
expense of livestock and other traditional crops like maize, wheat,
cotton, potato and lentils.

"The Argentine countryside has turned into a green desert," a farmer who
is worried about the advance of soya told IPS.

The national Agriculture Secretariat is touting this year's soya harvest
for having reached the 36-million-ton mark, 98 percent of which is
exported to be processed into flour for human consumption in Asian
countries and for animal feed in Europe.

But environmentalists, agricultural experts and many farmers warn that
the massive development of soya farming -- thanks to biotechnology and
the practice known as direct planting -- is occurring at the expense of
productive diversity.

In the long term extensive monoculture of soya depletes the soil and
ultimately drives the legume's price down, they argue.

Soya prices on the international markets dropped from 307 dollars a ton
in the mid-1990s, when genetically modified (GM) varieties were
introduced in the United States, to around 200 dollars a ton today. Given
the surplus supply, there is little chance the price will recover any
time soon.

"Ninety-five percent of our members have turned to soya farming," says
José Luis Lemos, Buenos Aires coordinator of the Argentine Agrarian
Federation, an organisation whose membership dropped from 400,000 small
and medium-sized farmers in the early 1990s to 103,000 today.

The "soya invasion" is evident in the northeastern province of Chaco,
which has traditionally been a cotton-growing region.

In the past "we had two million hectares in Chaco planted with cotton,
and some 150,000 people involved in its cultivation, but now, with soya,
there are just 100,000 hectares of cotton and we are going to have to
import to meet demand," Lemos said in an IPS interview.

"With the dissemination of genetically modified soya and the technique of
direct planting, soya production yields more and is simpler than other
agricultural activities, although we know that in the long term
monoculture hurts soil quality," the farmer said.

Traditionally, farmers would rotate the crops they planted in their
fields to allow the soil to recover nutrients, or would leave sections
for grazing livestock, allowing the soil to "rest" while it receives
animal manure as its main fertiliser.

Direct planting bypasses the preparatory step of tilling and ploughing
under the remnants of previous crops, which helps speed up the pace of
production. This technique keeps the soil covered with dead vegetation,
which decomposes to serve as a natural fertiliser, and protects the soil
from erosion and from extreme temperature shifts.

Direct planting is a technique used in conventional and organic farming
alike. But in Argentina its massive implementation is associated with the
intensive production of transgenic soya, which is also noted for higher
yields.

The genetically modified soya variety Roundup Ready was developed by the
agribusiness and biotechnology transnational Monsanto to be resistant to
the company's glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide, which kills the weeds
that grow alongside the soya plant.

Its utilisation means that farmers do not have to battle each specific
weed, but they are then left dependent on Monsanto for its GM seed and
the herbicide.

"The farmer is aware that the GM soya will make him dependent, that it
depletes the soil and hurts crop diversity, but 'necessity wears a
heretic's face'," summarised Lemos, owner of a 100-hectare farm in
Mercedes, in Buenos Aires province. His land, of course, is planted with
soya.

In a conversation with IPS, economist Miguel Pereti explained that in the
south of the central province of Córdoba, the area planted with soya grew
118 percent in the last 10 years, replacing maize and sorghum crops and
livestock operations.

"It has been a very big and negative transformation from the perspective
of environmental and social sustainability," he said.

Over the past decade, the area dedicated to livestock shrank 35 percent
in that region, particularly hog farming, which dropped from 470,000 to
152,000 head, according to Pereti, economics and statistics coordinator
for the National Institute of Agricultural Technology in the Córdoba
district of Marcos Juárez.

Soya was "born" as a crop in Argentina just 30 years ago, in the humid
pampas area extending through northern Buenos Aires, southern Santa Fe
and southwest Córdoba provinces. By the 1990s, more than half of the
fields there were planted with this legume.

"Today, 80 percent of the area's cultivable lands grow soya, and when it
became evident that the region was reaching its saturation point with the
crop, the agricultural frontier began to extend into other areas of those
provinces and in the northeast provinces of Santiago del Estero, Chaco,
Formosa and Entre Ríos," Pereti explained.

This expansion was facilitated by new technologies that give farmers
higher yields with the same number of hectares and labour, he said.
"Planting transgenic soya is cheaper than any other crop," he added.

When the moment comes to decide what to plant, the factor of production
cost appears to be more important to farmers than soya's fluctuating
prices on international markets.

"The land planted with soya is expanding in the same measure that its
international prices are falling. The soya crisis that began in the 1990s
in Southeast Asia is being resolved with the expansion of the crop here,"
said Pereti.

The loudest criticisms of the phenomenon are heard from environmental
activists.

The spread of soya farming in the provinces of Santa Fe and Chaco --
where the Salado River begins -- is one of the causes of the floods that
earlier this year left 24 people dead and tens of thousands homeless in
the city of Santa Fe, Jorge Capatto, head of the environmental group
'Fundación Proteger', told IPS.

The Salado overflowed its banks during heavy rains in April and May,
flooding the capital of Santa Fe and destroying thousands of homes.

Environmentalists say that deforestation in Chaco and Santiago del
Estero, and the low permeability of the soils used in intensive soya
farming contributed to channelling more water into the river.

"Plant soya and harvest the flood victims," says Capatto with a note of
irony.

More critical even are the members of the Rural Reflection Group,
comprising farmers, agricultural technicians and activists. They say that
GM soya and its accompanying herbicides, as well as direct planting, are
turning Argentina into an "agricultural nation without farmers", noting
that 500 small towns have been completely abandoned.

"The seed transnationals -- Cargill, Nidera, Monsanto -- have turned us
into a country that produces transgenic soya and exports forage," Jorge
Rulli, of the Rural Reflection Group, said in comments to IPS.

"Meanwhile, we see enormous food shortages throughout the population" of
37 million, he said.

"Around 12 million hectares of transgenic soya -- in a total of 26
million hectares with other crops --, treated with more than 100 million
litres of herbicide annually, leaave enormous quantities of soil that
lack any microbial life and that do not retain water," Rulli pointed out.

In the last six years, he said, 17,000 dairy farms in Buenos Aires
province shut down operations. "We are importing milk from Uruguay,"
cultivation of the 'candeal' wheat variety has nearly disappeared, and
maize production is on the decline, he said.

In the Buenos Aires town of San Pedro, until recently some 6,000 hectares
were planted with potato, producing two harvests annually. Now that same
land produces soya only. The same phenomenon is occurring in areas that
used to grow lentils, carrots, peas and artichokes -- all of which
Argentina must import.

According to the Agricultural Secretariat, this transformation of the
countryside should not be a cause for worry, because it is merely a
response to the fact that soya is more profitable and entails lower risks
for the farmers.

If the soya supply increases and prices continue to fall, the farmers can
return to growing other crops, say Argentina's agricultural authorities.

But the Rural Reflection Group argues that the "harmful effects of
extensive monoculture can only be neutralised" if farmers follow a crop
rotation schedule and choose complementary varieties. In any case, say
the agricultural activists, it is not easy to return to traditional
production patterns.

In its August report, the Group states that one way to encourage rational
crop rotation would be to implement a system of differentiated taxes that
would compensate farmers for the disparate profitability of soya and
other crops.

But for now the proposal has apparently been lost in the middle of
Argentina's green soya desert. (END/2003)

********************************

2. Argentina¹s GM Woes
Article from Institute of Science in Society. Date:
Lilian Joensen and Mae-Wan Ho
http://www.i-sis.org.uk

Proponents claim that GM crops are necessary for fighting hunger in
developing countries and decreasing the use of pesticides. The evidence
shows otherwise. GM crops have exacerbated poverty and hunger, increased
herbicides use, brought new health hazards, destroyed agricultural land and
livelihoods, and resulted in deforestation. Report by Dr. Lilian Joensen in
Buenos Aires, Argentina and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho in London, UK.

The references for this article are available in the ISIS members site. Full
details here

Within the past decade in Argentina, 160,000 families of small farmers have
left the land, unable to compete with large farmers. GM soya has served to
exacerbate this trend towards large-scale, industrial agriculture,
accelerating poverty.

Roundup Ready (RR) soya clearly requires more, not less, herbicide than
conventional soya. In 2001, more than 9.1 million kg of extra herbicide was
used with GM soya compared with non-GM. The use of glyphosate doubled from
28 million litres in the period 1997/98 to 56 million litres in 1998/1999,
and reached 100 millions in the last (2002) season.

RR soya crops also yield 5% to 10% less compared with the non-GM varieties
grown under similar soil conditions, confirming findings in the United
States. Scientists at the University of Arkansas showed that root
development, nodule formation and nitrogen fixation worsened in some
varieties of RR soya and the effects are exacerbated under strong drought
conditions or in relatively infertile fields. That is because the symbiotic
bacterium responsible for fixing nitrogen in soya, Bradyrhizobium japonicum,
is very sensitive to drought and to Roundup.

Argentina started to transform its economy to an export-led focus on soya
when it had to pay back foreign debt with money gained through export
commodities. During the last quarter century, soybean production increased
at an unprecedented rate from an area of 38 000 hectares in 1970 to
approximately 13 million hectares today. Around 70% of the soybean harvested
is converted in oil-processing plants, most of which is exported, providing
81% of the world¹s exported soya oil and 36% of soybean meal.

Soya was identified as a buoyant market, and Monsanto¹s offer of subsidized
Roundup Ready Soya seed and heavily discounted glyphosate prices in 1996
proved irresistible to Argentinean farmers.

Practically all of 13 million hectares of soya crop are GM, in particular,
RR soya. Bt cotton and Bt maize cover another million hectares between them.
Monsanto is in the process of applying for a permit to grow RR maize.

Argentina is currently the second biggest producer of GM Soya in the World.
The countryside has been transformed from traditional mixed and rotation
farming, which secured soil fertility and minimized the use of pesticides,
to almost entirely GM soya.

Financial problems for farmers are set to worsen with Monsanto now starting
to charge royalties for their seeds, where before, it was allowing
farm-saved seeds. Twenty-four million acres of land belonging to bankrupted
small farmers are about to be auctioned by the banks.

With an increase in poverty, a glut in soya, and a deficit of other
agricultural products, the government began to promote soya as a healthy
alternative to traditional foodstuffs such as meat and milk. A campaign,
Soja Solidaridad (Soya Solidarity) was launched. Soup kitchens served
soya-based meals and cookbooks were written with soya-based recipes. As a
result, many people are consuming soya-based foods on a daily basis.

There is a large body of scientific evidence showing that an unbalanced diet
based on soya can have nutritionally damaging effects. Too much soya can
inhibit absorption of calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12, and doctors in
Argentina are already seeing such symptoms. Among the most worrying
observation is the early onset of puberty in girls, possibly linked to the
high levels of phytoestrogen in soya.

Other health problems have been caused by the widespread increased use of
glyphosate (Roundup). Glyphosate is entering the water supply. There are
reports of crop sprayings by plane, dousing people and their homes. The more
visible symptoms of this spraying include skin and eye irritations and
recent field research (personal communications by local people and medical
doctors) suggests that there is a great increase in the incidence of cancer
within populations surrounding RR soya fields.

Peasants in Santiago del Estero, North Argentina, who have been living there
for generations, say that they are being threatened by big land-owners
linked to seed companies and supported by local police and parapolice-like
forces. To intimidate the peasants, they set fire to the forests while
shooting around the people in order to take their land for planting RRsoya.

Studies carried out by the University of Formosa Province have reported
serious health problems in peasant communities due to pesticide fumigation
on surrounding RRsoya fields. Their crop and animal production, which
families depend on to survive, have been completely destroyed. A judge has
forbidden the use of pesticides on RRsoya, but companies have flouted the
prohibition and kept on fumigating.

Roundup resistant weeds have appeared. A list of the resistant weeds
published to-date include Commelia erecta, Convulvulus arvensis, Ipomoea
purpurea, Iresine difusa, Hybanthus parviflorus, Parietaria debilis, Viola
arvensis, Petunia axillaris, Verbena sp, Hybanthu sparviflorus, Tragopogon
sp, Senecio pampeanus, Sonchu soleraceus, Sonchu sasper and Taraxa
cumofficinale.

Highly toxic herbicides, some of them banned in other countries, which
glyphosate was supposed to replace, have had to be brought back in use in
addition to glyphosate. These include 2,4D, 2,4DB, Atrazine, Paraquat,
Metsulphuron Methyl, Imazethapyr. There are also reports of a fungus, new in
Argentina (Phakopsora sp.) which is spreading and requiring additional
fungicide.

In order to fight the "insect complex" that invade soya plantations (Nezara
viridula, Piezodorus guildinii, Edessa meditabunda, Dichelops furcatus)
producers are recommended to use endosulphan together with cipermetrine,
which together are labeled as extremely toxic for bees and fish and very
toxic for birds. Prices for the insecticides, including air-fumigation are
specified in the recommendations.

Argentina¹s balance of agricultural products has been seriously affected by
the focus on a soya-led export economy. Production of traditional
Argentinean products such as milk, wheat and meat has gone down, and the
country now imports where it used to export. Other produce, such as lentils,
peas, sweet maize, as well as different potato and sweet potato varieties
have disappeared together with the industries linked to their processing.
Honey producers have been affected due to GM contamination, the loss of
flora diversity, as well as well as death of bees by herbicide poisoning.
These are not only bad for the country¹s economy but also devastating for
the health and nutrition of the entire population.

Soya plantations began in the Argentina Pampas, one of the six most
agriculturally productive regions in the world. Its soils cover some 9
million hectares and used to be rich in nutrients and organic matter. The
Œno tillage` method was introduced 10 years ago to reduce soil erosion on
farms. Seeds are planted directly into the soil, without the need for
ploughing, and herbicides are used to remove weeds. For this reason, direct
seeding is often promoted as an environmentally friendly farming technique.

When herbicide tolerant GM soya was introduced, it became very popular in
Argentina, as it fit in perfectly with no tillage. The rate of adoption of
GM soya has surpassed even the industry¹s highest expectations. Farmers can
now use glyphosate to remove weeds in combination with glyphosate-tolerant
GM soya.

But problems soon appeared. Although direct seeding has reduced the rate of
erosion, new diseases and pests have emerged, and the levels of nitrogen and
phosphates in the soil were markedly reduced. Most recently,
herbicide-resistant weeds have appeared requiring the use of more poisonous
herbicides as mentioned earlier.

Development of land for RR soya plantations has led to deforestation in
Argentina, with serious impacts on biodiversity and water resources. "We
have already lost more than 130,000ha of forest," says the director of the
Argentina¹s Fundación Vida Silvestre (Wildlife Foundation), Javier Corcuera.
"If we carry on like this we can expect more flooding and less natural
resources for the population."

The no-till technique promoted with RR soya as a means of reducing carbon
dioxide emission actually produces worse damages by compaction of the
ground, requiring more agrochemicals every year.

"In Argentina, the Œsuccess¹ of the GM soya bean story must largely be
attributed to marketing by the seed companies involved, rather than
scientific evidence and farmer experience," says Walter Pengue, agricultural
engineer specialised in genetic improvement at the University of Buenos
Aires, Argentina.

Sources:
1. El corralito de la soja transgénica, Jorge Rulli, Grupo de Reflexion
Rural, Argentina, February 2003
2.
http://argentina.indymedia.org/news/2003/08/124469.php
3.
http://peru.indymedia.org/news/2003/07/1966.php
4.
http://www.biodiversidadla.org/article/articleview/2354/1/15/
5. Barbecho Directo y nuevas malezas, Ing Agr Adolfo Boy, Grupo de
Reflexión Rural, May 2003
6. Manejo de malezas en barbecho químico, Ing. Héctor Rainero INTA
Manfredi, January 17th 2003, e-campo.com
7. Transgénicos y fracaso del modelo agropecuario argentino. Ing. Agr.
Adolfo Boy, Grupo de Reflexion Rural, 2003
8. Nuevo ABC Rural, February 2003, 14-15
9. Nidera, Agroquímicos Zamba line brochures
10. http://www32.brinkster.com/grrlaplata/Royasoja.htm
11. http://www.chasque.net/rapaluy/endosulfan/Argentina.html
12. "Soya Republic" by Ben Backwell, The Ecologist, 22 January, 2003.
13. Pengue W, 2001, The impact of soya expansion in Argentina, Seedling,
Volume 18, Issue 3, June 2001

************************************

3. The Impact of Soybean Expansion in Argentina
Article from Seedling, Vol 18, Issue 3. Date: June 2001
Walter Pengue
www.grain.org/publications/seed-01-9-3-en.cfm

In the past two decades, soybean production has increased sharply in the
Pampas region of Argentina. Genetically modified (GM) soybeans have been
particularly popular to the extent that all soybean production is now GM.
This article provides a resume of the original article by Pengue on the
socio-economic and environmental implications of the exponential growth of
transgenic soybean production in one of the world's leading
soybean-producing countries.

The Argentine Pampas is one of the six most agriculturally productive
regions in the world. Its soils cover some 9 million hectares and are rich
in nutrients and organic matter. During the last quarter of a century,
soybean production has increased at an unprecedented rate from an area of
38,000 hectares in 1970 to 10 million hectares today. Around 70% of the
soybean harvested is converted in oil-processing plants most of which is
exported, providing 81% of the world's exported soybean oil and 36% of
soybean meal.

New technologies

Two major technological innovations have fuelled soybean's exponential
growth in Argentina: the farming technique known as direct seeding and the
introduction of herbicide resistant soybeans.

1) Direct seeding was introduced 10 years ago as a tool for reducing soil
erosion on farms. Seeds are planted directly into the soil, without the need
for ploughing, and herbicides are used to remove weeds. For this reason,
direct seeding is often promoted as an environmentally friendly farming
technique.

2) Argentina has been eager to adopt GM crops, and produces 23% (in 2000) of
the world market in GM products. Herbicide-resistant soybeans have been the
most popular, of which 67% are sold by the company Nidera. Other companies
involved in the GM soybean seed market include Dekalb, Monsanto, Pioneer
Hi-Bred and some national companies such as Don Mario, La Tijereta and
Relmo. The rate of adoption of GM soybeans has surpassed even the industry's
highest expectations.

Both these innovations have also had the advantage of complimenting each
other. Direct seeding is particularly suited to the soybeans grown in
Argentina as they are grown in rotation, most commonly with wheat. This in
turn has ensured the highest adoption rate in the world of direct seeding.
The rapid adoption of these two new techniques has also led to increased
imports of specialised machinery and herb-icides. Both techniques are
dependent on the use of herbicides, such as glyphosate, which explains the
rise in sales from 1.3 million litres in 1991 to 59.2 million in 1998 of
this herbicide (see table below).

A shock to the system

The combination of these two techniques has increased the level of intensive
farming for export. The main aim has been to compete on the agricultural
world market. This is not an easy task a market that is often distorted by
the agricultural subsidies received in many countries. And Argentina has
been relatively successful Š but at a price.

The initial problem that direct seeding was supposed to address was the
serious soil erosion and the subsequent loss of soil fertility. Although
direct seeding has reduced the rate of erosion, other problems have arisen
from the further intensifications of agriculture that it requires. These
include the emergence of new diseases and pests, a marked reduction of the
levels of nitrogen and phosphates in the soil, and - most recently -
herbicide-resistant weeds.

Already, in the Pampas, there are several types of weeds that are suspected
of being tolerant to the recommended doses of glyphosate. Some of these
require a doubling of the application, with a consequent increase in
herbicide use. The herbicides have also been affecting ecosystems adjacent
to the areas of application and aquatic ecosystems, which receive the runoff
from the treated zones.
PROBLEMS AHEAD FOR ROUNDUP READY SOYBEANS
Roundup Ready (RR) soybean has been a great commercial success. More than
60% of soybean in the US this year will be planted with RR varieties, only
five years after its introduction in 1996. Although it is more expensive,
farmers adopted the technology because it greatly simplified weed
management. RR systems achieve it by allowing the farmer to spray a wide
spectrum herbicide - glyphosate (Roundup) - over the growing soybean plants,
killing the majority of weeds, but leaving the herbicide-resistant RR
soybean untouched for the most part.
Contrary to industry's claims, RR soybean clearly requires more, not less,
herbicide than conventional soybean. This conclusion is firmly backed up by
comparisons in the field of the total weight of active herbicide applied to
an average acre of RR soybean as against conventional soybean (1 acre =
0.405 hectare). Looking ahead to the harvest of 2001, it is likely that the
average acre of RR soybean will be treated with approximately 0.5 lb (0.23
kg) more active herbicide ingredient than conventional soybean. The result
is that this year more than 20 million pounds (9.1 million kg) of extra
herbicide will be applied to the harvest.

Evidence shows that RR soybean crops produce 5% to 10% less yield per acre
as against other identical varieties grown under similar soil conditions.
The reasons for this drop in performance are beginning to become clear.
Scientists at the University of Arkansas showed that root development, node
formation and nitrogen fixation worsened in some varieties of RR soybean and
the effects are worse under strong drought conditions or in relatively
infertile fields. This problem arises because the symbiotic bacteria
responsible for nitrogen fixation in soybean, (Bradyrhizobium japonicum), is
very sensitive to drought and also to Roundup.
It is remarkable that the first research data documenting the
sometimes-serious depression of nitrogen fixation in RR soybean fields did
not appear until 2001. By this time, more than 100 million acres of Roundup
Ready soybeans had already been planted in the US. The US regulatory system
is better at avoiding problems that dealing with them once a technology is
entrenched, with profits and market shares to defend. In the case of RR
soybeans, the regulatory system's ability to seek out risks and resolve
uncertainties was, in effect, silenced because regulators had little to go
on in formulating their questions.

Source: Charles Benbrook (2001), "Troubled Times Amid Commercial Success for
Roundup Ready Soybeans: Glyphosate Efficacy is Slipping and Unstable
Transgene Expression Erodes Plant Defenses and Yields" AgBioTech InfoNet
Technical Paper Number 4, May 3.

Goodbye to the rural economy

Indicators show that the country has reached many of its economic goals, but
has failed to incorporate many social and environmental benefits. These
include the disappearance of small and medium-sized businesses (farmers and
industry), an increase in urban and rural unemployment (7.1% in 1989, 15.4%
in 2000), increased population migration, and low wages.

In the 1990s, the number of people living below the poverty line in Buenos
Aires grew from 2.3 to 3.5 million. In 2000 the number of beggars and
homeless people increased from 325,000 to 921,000, and some 15 million out
of a population of 37 million people in the country are considered to be
poor. Unemployment is increasing, incomes for almost 70% of the population
in the region are going down, and fewer people are eligible for unemployment
benefit and economic aid.

The benefits of introducing transgenic soybeans have been largely limited to
large-scale producers. Smaller producers have been hampered by pressure from
taxation, banks, and access to and dependence on agricultural inputs. This
had led to a concentration of farms (increase of farm size), a shift towards
high-tech innovation and productivity and a move away from quality. More
than 60,000 agri-cultural establishments disappeared from the Pampas between
1992 and 1999, while at the same time there has been an increase in farm
size, from 250 to 350 hectares.

The need for government support

The dramatic rise in the planting of GM soybeans in Argentina may well not
live up to peoples' expectations. Studies in the US demonstrate that the
soybeans do not live up to their promises of fewer inputs and greater yields
(see box opposite). The dramatic increase in herbicides documented in
Argentina over the last five years bear witness to the "fewer inputs" myth.
In Argentina, the 'success' of the GM soyabean story must largely be
attributed to marketing by the seed companies involved, rather than
scientific evidence and farmer experience. Given that GM soybeans are still
an 'experimental' crop, the industry has done a good job of convincing
farmers of its benefits with little evidence of performance.

The increased influence of corporations in agriculture is not limited to
determining what farmers plant. Agricultural research is becoming dominated
by the private sector; the take-over of science and technology by an
increasingly small part of society. Developing countries are becoming the
mere recipients of technology imported form the North. In Argentina, INTA
(the National Institute of Agricultural Technology) has historically played
a fundamental role in the country's agricultural research. Although its work
was clearly biased towards increased production and concentrated in certain
regions, the hybrids produced by the institute were adapted to local
conditions. Today, the organisation has limited resources, extension workers
have left and, like that of many other scientific and technical
organisations, its role is now inadequate.

In the absence of other recognised alternatives to industrial agriculture,
an alternative type of farming is emerging from the farmers them-selves.
This alternative model is based on technologies that are intensive in their
use of human resources, low use of inputs, and addresses both domestic and
export markets. For example, the Prohuerta programme supplies seeds which
produce organic vegetables and poultry to sustain approximately three
million Argentineans living under extreme conditions of poverty in urban,
peri-urban, and to a lesser extent, rural areas. There is an increasing
demand for "green" products, especially amongst those with higher incomes
and Argentina is in a good position to respond given its extensive certified
organic production.

It is now necessary for the government of Argentina to discuss much more
broadly the true costs and benefits of different production models. Though
GM soybean may dominate agriculture in the Argentine Pampas, alternatives
are desperately needed to provide both for the Argentinean environment and
rural population.

Walter Pengue is an agricultural engineer specialised in genetic improvement
at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He can be contacted at
wapengue@sinectis.com His fully referenced paper (in Spanish) "Expansión de
la soja en Argentina. Globalización, Desarrollo Agropecuario e Ingeniería
Gené-tica - un modelo para armar" can be obtained from GRAIN's website
(www.grain.org/publications/t-pengue-sp.cfm) or on request.

 

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