Monday, April 14, 2014

Eager To Cash In, South America’s Soy-Producing Nations Ignore Monoculture’s Many Risks

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Article from NotiSur, April 11

The Southern Cone’s five transgenic-soy-producing countries--Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay--together grow more than 50 million hectares (500,000 sq km) of the oilseed, nearly all of which is exported to Europe and Asia, where it is used to feed livestock and, in the specific case of China, to produce different types of oils. South American environmental organizations say the soy industry destroys forests, pollutes the water, soil, and air, and pushes small-scale farmers off their land. Many economists are critical of the soy frenzy as well, saying the decision to dedicate vast stretches of land to a single crop is both short-sighted and risky, since it makes all five countries overly dependent on a single product and a on single market, China, which consumes nearly 80% of the region’s soy production. Andrés Gaudín Read More

LADB Perspective: In what seems like an echo from the dependency theorists of the 20th century, monoculture agriculture and a heavy reliance on a foreign market – in this instance China – have created a common cause for alarm by both economists and environmentalists. Economists, on one side of the issue, warn that an over-dependence on a single crop – soybeans – and a single market – China – is “both short-sighted and risky.” This also has ramifications for the progressive developments of the predominantly left-leaning Southern Cone, where Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia are still governed by administrations who came to power during the ‘Pink Tide,’ a term used to describe the turn towards the center-left during the early 21st century. While these states have been using the massive windfalls from recent soybean harvest to fund social programs and help combat wealth disparity, the ongoing economic events in Venezuela serve as a cautionary tale of how over-dependence on a single export product – petroleum in Venezuela’s case – and radical market engineering can create fragile and unsustainable national economies. While the economies of Argentina and Brazil are better diversified and the economies of Uruguay and Bolivia much smaller and manageable, these states are evermore eager to expand soy production regardless of the risks.

 Environmentalists, on the other side are also worried about the risks that GMO crops pose to the environment and lasting viability of agriculture in the Southern Cone. The risks of monoculture have long been apparent, from susceptibility to a single pest to being over-reliant on specific weather conditions, yet they appear to present little deterrence. Recent storms and floods in the Southern Cone could end up costing Argentina 3 million tons of soybeans, which amounts to approximately 5% of the entire annual harvest. Changes in soil condition over time may also serve to turn this “cause for celebration” into short-term boom, leaving state dependent on soybeans with poor soil and unsupportable social welfare programs. And while non-native crops, such as soybeans, are not at risk in South America to lose genetic diversity, the persistent loss of forest puts many native species – both flora and fauna – at great risk. Lastly, the huge tracks of land required for a high profit margin on soybeans have been forcing small land holders into destitution and homelessness. If this consolidation of arable land continues, we may the increase in the political influence of such organizations such as the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra [Landless Worker’s Movement]) in Brazil.

 While the windfalls from recent soybean harvests have no doubt been beneficial to many in their respective societies, the worries of economists and environmentalists alike should be cause for further analyses of the short-term benefits and long-term risks of such agricultural policies. -Joe Leestma

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