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GE Soybeans Are Destroying Argentina's Agriculture

ARGENTINA: The catastrophe of GM soya


Argentina was once the world¹s granary. Now starving
children haunt the villas miseria ‹ shanty towns ‹ and cartoneros (unemployed) families roam the streets looking for leftovers to eke a living from. Over half the population live below the poverty line.

Ever since Christopher Columbus arrived on the coast
of the Bahamas in 1492, Latin America's wealth has
been drained for the benefit of Europe and the United
States. Bolivia's silver mines were ransacked leaving
behind poverty and destitution. Gold from Mexico, Peru
and Brazil filled the banks in Europe. Venezuela was
turned into a coca plantation for export and the West
Indies were transformed into ³sugar islands² of
slavery. More than 500 years later, the colonisers
have changed, but the colonisation and plunder
continue in the name of globalisation.

Argentina, once boasting a diverse agricultural
sector, is being transformed into a land of soya-bean monoculture. In the last 10 years, the amount of soya grown has nearly tripled, according to World Bank's figures, and it is almost 100% genetically modified (GM).

It was the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) prize
pupil, Argentina's President Carlos Menem, who signed
the contracts with the agribusiness giants Monsanto
and Cargill to go the ³soya way² at the beginning of
the 1990s. The contracts were entered into without the participation of Congress and without a public debate. Since then, Argentina has become the second largest GM soya producer in the world, after the United States.

The countryside is being left empty as the farm
workers' role in nurturing the land and crops is
displaced by aeroplanes and agribusiness
infrastructure. Migration to the cities has risen at
an alarming rate: 300,000 farmers have deserted the
countryside and more than 500 villages have been
abandoned, or are on the road to disappearance.
Agribusiness GM soya farming requires agriculture
without culture or people. As a consequence, the
villas miseria on the outskirts of the cities are
mushrooming with the arriving unemployed agricultural

Dusty ashes are left as the earth is intoxicated with agrochemicals to harvest Monsanto¹s patented seeds, which are genetically modified to be resistant to the company's herbicide, Round Up. Previously unknown illnesses are appearing as people are exposed to highly toxic herbicides, which include Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the US military to devastate Vietnam during the 1960s and '70s, and others that contain paraquat, which can corrode metal, and glyphosate.

Floods without precedence are taking place as forests
are cut down to make way for soya crops. In the
high-mountain provinces of Salta and Juyuy, on the
border of Bolivia, the subtropical Yungas region is
being deforested to make space for soya plantations.
Greenpeace has warned that in five years, the ancient
cloud forest will be extinct.

In April, the city of Santa Fe was flooded: 140,000
people were evacuated, sections of the city were
submerged and several people died. Thousands lost
their homes and possessions as they fled for their

Alongside this destruction, Monsanto¹s profits in
Argentina almost doubled, from US$326 million in 1998
to $584 million in 2001.

Because Monsanto holds the patent to ³Round Up Ready²
soya seeds, farmers are dependent on the corporation
to provide them. They cannot legally develop their own varieties of the patented seed.

Never missing an opportunity to expand its profits,
Monsanto subsidiary Cargill Seeds and the
ChevronTexaco oil company have teamed up with the
Argentine Association of Direct Seed Producers to
promote soya as the solution to the malnutrition
problem in the country. Their aim is to integrate the
bean into the Argentine diet and change people¹s
eating habits to suit their business interests.

The Soja Solidaria (Solidarity Soya) project is
ruthlessly promoting GM soya as a viable alternative
to traditional forms of nutrition among the poorest communities, which is creating a nutritional apartheid.

Soja Solidaria encourages soya producers to donate 1%
of their soya production to comedores ‹ eating halls
for the unemployed, and in public schools, hospitals, neighbourhood centres and old people¹s homes. The organisation uses community participation to reach the heart of society, complementing their donations with cooking courses using soya recipes and the provision of health and nutritional advice on the benefits of the genetically modified bean.

The GM soya grown in Argentina has never been
independently scientifically tested for its safety.
Monsanto¹s GM beans have been highly exposed to
agrochemicals containing glyphosate. Glyphosate is
soluble in water and in order to make it penetrate the
plant, a surfactant is added. Glyphosate is therefore
present in the very core of the soya bean. Washing the
bean is not sufficient to prevent the consumption of glyphosate. Glyphosate can be harmful to the eyes, causes skin inflammations and is linked to a variety of lymphoma cancer.

In Argentina, soya products are not labelled as GM. It
is promoted as a healthy alternative to meat, so even
the middle classes, worried about cholesterol levels,
are turning to the fatal bean.

As soya exports are ever increasing, so are hunger, marginalisation and destitution in this once plentiful land.

The IMF and World Bank's structural adjustment recipes
aim to integrate southern and northern markets through
³free trade². However, such a global market, policed
by the World Trade Organisation, is for the benefit of
the corporations. Policies such as the dumping of
cheap subsidised goods from the rich countries, not
only destroys local markets, but entire livelihoods.
What is becoming apparent is that it is access to
local, not global, markets which will prevent poverty
and hunger.

Argentina now imports milk from Uruguay, as farmers
stop dairy farming to make way for soya crops. But
what will people consume if imports become
economically inaccessible? Monsanto¹s toxic beans in
Soja Solidaria's comedores?

This is why the international farmers¹ movement Via
Campesina campaigns for food sovereignty: the right
for countries to produce and protect the food they
need. This frees producers from the catastrophic
effects of agricultural dumping and gives them access
to their local markets.

The farmers¹ movement MOCASE in Santiago del Estero,
Argentina, is reclaiming this fundamental human right.
But the multinationals, along with their local
collaborators, are campaigning to drive farmers off
their farms to make way for more soya. Farmers' homes
have been bulldozed, paramilitaries have tortured
MOCASE members, who also suffer political persecution.
MOCASE is recreating what Monsanto¹s genetically
modified monoculture is destroying: organic
agriculture; reforestation; solar and wind power;
local crafts; and a sustainable way of living and
farming for future generations.

[Ann Scholl is a social anthropologist and freelance journalist. Facundo Arrizabalaga is a lawyer and freelance journalist. They both live in Argentina.]