On Jan. 7, about 100 campesinos successfully blocked the spraying of pesticides on soy fields in the Ybypé community of the department of San Pedro, Paraguay. Riot police were mobilized to protect the fumigation tractors, but in a rare and inspiring turn, the campesinos convinced the officers of their right to resist the spraying. The police then refused to break up the blockade.
The Campesinos have so far resisted every attempt to fumigate these fields since the land was sold to Brazilian soy growers, who removed the previous life with tractors and planted soy.
Reto Sonderegger writes on Upside Down World,
“In the department of San Pedro above all, a popular movement is asserting itself more and more forcefully against the application of pesticides to genetically modified soy monoculture crops. With appeals for legal protection backed by the Paraguayan Human Rights Committee [Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay (CODEHUPY)], movements are public attention to the soy growers’ lack of observance of means of protection, such as the installation of live barriers like tall bushes or other plants to block the drift of soy field pesticides the into community lands.
On the other hand, the soy growers need to apply their chemical products now in order not to loose a large amount of money in the harm that pests provoke in their crops. Their economic interests and the resident families’ actions of self-defense are creating intense clashes in all areas where monoculture crops border campesino settlements.”
The situation is much more complex than this, however – because the cultivation of soya is a massive industry in South America. One headed by Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dupont, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Bunge.
The book United Soy Republics: The truth about soy production in South America provides us with a brief accounting:
Today, Brazil is the major soya producer in South America, with a cultivation area of 20,58 million hectares. In April 2006, Greenpeace announced that during the 2004/05 cycle alone, 1,2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest was deforested as a consequence of soya expansion.
During the latest cycle (2006/07) in Argentina, the harvest reached a record volume of 47,5 million tonnes, and its cultivation covered an area of 15,92 million hectares. This represents over 50% of the nation’s agricultural area. During 2006/07 soya has expanded by another 450 thousand hectares. In the last four years, a million hectares of forest have
been cut down, the majority to make way for soya […]
In Paraguay a record harvest of 6 million tonnes was registered in the 2006/07, and a significant expansion has been recorded, with 2.429.800 hectares under cultivation. There were 2.200.000 hectares for the previous year’s harvest and it is predicted to reach 2.800.000 hectares in 2007/08.
The excessive expansion of the soy industry has left thousands of campesinos landless, forced to occupy unused land for subsistence farming. Last Spring, April Howard & Benjamin Dangl wrote an article describing the expansion of the soy industry in Paraguay:
” [It] occurred in tandem with violent oppression of small farmers and indigenous communities. Farmers have been bullied into growing soy with pesticides, at the cost of their food crops and subsequently their farms. Since the first soy boom, the industry has evicted almost 100,000 small farmers from their homes and fields and forced the relocation of countless indigenous communities. More than 100 campesino leaders have been assassinated, and more than 2,000 others have faced trumped-up charges for their resistance.
But there is often no need for thugs. Soy cultivation dumps more than 24 million liters of agro-chemicals in Paraguay every year, including World Health Organization Class I and II extremely and moderately hazardous pesticides. These include Paraquat, a chemical with no antidote if ingested, 2,4-D, Gramoxone, Metamidofos, which has proven to reduce sperm count and health in exposed males, and Endosulfan, a teratogenic substance that causes birth defects in the infants of repeatedly exposed mothers, according to the EPA. The Paraguayans we spoke with didn’t use the terms pesticide or herbicide; they called the chemicals “venenos,” venoms or poisons.”
There are other issues to consider as well, such as how this industry is a major component of the genocidal biofuel agenda. There is also a larger global movement that’s working for food sovereignty and the replacement of monoculture systems with more viable and sustainable practices. Unfortunately, these alternatives are seen by the proponents of industry to be “anti-economic.”
All the more reason for Campesinos, small landowners, and Indigenous People alike to work together. It may be rare for police to respect their own moral sense and act beyond the mandate of their paycheck – which was by all means what happened in Paraguay last week – but it’s no less possible that we can inspire similar outcomes. Fortunately, there is more we can do than simply resist.
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