The world’s insatiable hunger for soy products, including biofuels and cattle feed, is creating an environmental and social disaster in South America. Workers in Paraguay are plagued by the rampant use of pesticides and are being forced off their land and to make way for more soy plants, many of which are genetically modified. In response, locals have begun to forcibly occupy the farms, causing court-ordered evictions and fueling greater use of private security forces in the region.
The plight of the Paraguayan farmers and the desolate monoculture created by multinational food corporations like Cargil are beautifully captured in a recent photo essay by Evan Abramson in NACLA Report on the Americas. Abramson reports that some 6 million gallons of pesticides, including some classified as extremely dangerous by the World Health Organization, are being dumped on Paraguayan soil every year. This creates serious health problems and some birth defects for the surrounding population.
The environmental argument for soy-based biodiesel is canceled out by the destruction being caused by the crop, April Howard and Benjamin Dangl wrote in the July-August 2007 issue of Utne Reader. Yet the land being devoted to biofuels continues to rise. Howard and Dangl quoted a local farmer Meriton Ramírez who explained the problem:
“I didn’t want to leave. I built my farm and raised my children here. I planted fruit trees. For the first time in my life I had good land,” Ramírez says, motioning to the vacant space that used to be his home. “Then the soy farmers arrived and we couldn’t stand the fumigation. We had terrible headaches, nausea and skin rashes, problems seeing, respiratory infections. The chickens died. The cows aborted their calves and their milk dried up.”
Photo courtesy of Evan Abramson.