Soy Cultivation in South America

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Soy Cultivation in South America has rapidly displaced the cultivation of other crops, pasture-based cattle ranching, and untouched virgin forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems in South America. Most of the soy grown is GE soy. Much of it is then exported to China and Europe.

In 2008, five of the world's top 10 soybean producers were in South America: Brazil (2), Argentina (3), Paraguay (6), Bolivia (8), and Uruguay (9).[1] For more information, see individual articles on soy cultivation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Expansion of Soybean Cultivation

Argentina: Soybean cultivation grew in Argentina from almost zero in the 1970's to half of Argentina's cropland, an estimated 16.6 million hectares by 2008.[2] Soy is the main export of Argentina, amounting to one-third of the country's total exports.[3]

Bolivia: Bolivia's soybean production began to increase rapidly in the 1990's, going from just over 143,000 hectares harvested in 1990 to nearly 617,000 hectares in 2000, over a fourfold increase.[4] Soy cultivation continued to expand in the early 2000s, reaching nearly 980,000 hectares by 2009. During the same time period, production grew from 232,743 tonnes in 1990 to nearly 1.2 million tonnes in 2000 to nearly 1.5 million tonnes in 2009. Most of Bolivia's soy production takes place in the country's eastern lowlands.

Brazil: The recent expansion in soy cultivated began in the early 2000s. Between 2000 and 2009, the area Brazil harvested of soybeans increased by 60%. During the same period, the amount of soybeans produced increased by 74%.[5]

Paraguay: Soy was introduced to Paraguay in the 1960's, but the soy boom did not begin until the late 1990's.[6] GE soybeans entered Paraguay illegally from Argentina in the 1999-2000 crop year.[7] In 2008, the land devoted to soybeans grew even larger, to 2.4 million ha. That year, soybeans accounted for 38% of Paraguay's total agricultural output.[8]

Uruguay: Uruguay experienced a rapid increase in soy cultivation in the early 2000s. In Uruguay, soy cultivation is concentrated near the country's west coast. As soy cultivation expanded, so did the total area utilized by agriculture in Uruguay. Simultaneously, farming became more concentrated, with fewer farmers owning more and more land.[9] In 1999/2000, Uruguay planted very little soy.[10] In 2009/2010, soy production grew to 863,000 hectares, with 632,000 hectares located on farms larger than 1000 ha. That year, production reached 1,293,000 tonnes.

Soybean Exports

All data in this section comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's FAOSTAT database.[11] Soybeans are exported in three forms: soybeans, cake of soybeans, and soybean oil. For example, in 2008, each country exported the following: ,

  • Argentina: 23,319,700 tonnes soybean cake; 4,944,190 tonnes soybean oil; and 11,733,300 tonnes soybeans.
  • Bolivia: 808,350 tonnes soybean cake; 147,687 tonnes soybean oil; and 86,681 tonnes of soybeans.
  • Brazil: 12,287,900 tonnes soybean cake; 2,315,840 tonnes soybean oil; and 24,499,500 tonnes of soybeans.
  • Paraguay: 1,489,670 tonnes soybean cake; 416,868 tonnes soybean oil; and 3,689,010 tonnes of soybeans.
  • Uruguay: 810,725 tonnes of soybeans.

In most recent years, the United States was the world's top soybean exporter, followed by Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Bolivia and Uruguay were also among some of the world's top soybean exporters. Argentina imports soybeans from nearby countries that lack processing capacity, processes the beans into soybean cake (meal) and oil, and re-exports them or sells them domestically.

Industrialization of Agriculture

Soy grown in South America uses a package of inputs - herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers - making agriculture virtually homogeneous throughout the several country region.[12] As one article puts it, "Processes and technologies based on knowledge and creativity of producers and adapted to environmental conditions and local restrictions have been abandoned and were replaced by specific technologies and specific inputs."[13] Reasons for this homogeneous and intensive way of growing soy include high land prices (which influence farmers to grow soy more densely and without rotating it with other crops in an effort to make more money) and vertical integration (in which companies contract with farmers and dictate how the soy should be grown).

Practices used in the intensive management systems of soy include:[14]

  • Reduced fallow periods and double cropping (i.e. planting two crops per year on the same land)
  • Precision tillage
  • Intercropping with wheat and sunflower
  • Innoculating seeds with nitrogen fixing bacteria
  • Fertilization with phosphorus and sulfur
  • Use of herbicides like glyphosate, atrazine, and 2,4-D
  • Use of insecticies like endosulfan
  • Use of fungicides

The use of insecticides has resulted in a reduction in beneficial insects and an increase in pests.

Genetically Modified Soy

Much of the soy grown in South America is now genetically modified to resist the herbicide Roundup. Farmers are able to spray their entire fields with Roundup (glyphosate), killing only the weeds, but not the soybeans. As a result, some weeds have developed the ability to resist Roundup. According to one article:[15]

"According to Pengue, a professor of agricultural and environmental economics at several universities, "Johnson grass" or "Aleppo grass," a weed that is becoming resistent [sic] to glyphosate, has already appeared in six provinces [of Argentina]. Alternatives being discussed to combat it include herbicides that were discontinued in the 1980s as too toxic."

Other Roundup resistant weeds include Chenopodim album (white quinoa) and Eleusine indica (pata de gallo).[16] To deal with these weeds, farmers use more variety of herbicides, increased dosage of herbicides, and more frequent herbicide application.

Displacement of Peasants and Small Farmers

Often, soy cultivation results in the displacement of peasants and small farmers.

A Brazilian professor who did her doctoral dissertation on mobilization and work in the Amazon noted that in some cases, agribusiness is helpful to peasant farmers who would not otherwise have roads to transport their goods to cities where they can sell them.[17] The government is slow in building roads, but agribusiness and logging companies have the resources to build roads, which the peasants also use. On the other hand, she also said:[18]

"As for the landless, the situation is even more complicated, once they are moved through financial pressures, or simple coercion, they are obliged to make their lands available either through sale or simply leaving. Various separate areas used by individual producers, when considered together, form a sizable portion of property that interests large landowners. Even though many of these farmers are squatters (posseiros) they have lived on the land for many generations, yet do not have the legal documentation to prove that they are in fact the owners. This fact was quite common in the Amazon before the development and arrival of large agribusiness operations. Many of these peasant squatters migrate to the cities, yet when cannot find work, and thus return to the country in search of land. Currently, they are landless. There are even more situations that illustrate this process."

Deforestation

Soy cultivation has resulted in deforestation as it increases in area in South America. For example, "in Argentina every year, the area planted to soy takes acreage away from livestock, crops like wheat, and vegetables such as potatoes, and also extends to areas with fragile ecosystems such as dry forest and the Patagonian steppe."[19]

Soy in the Amazon

A Brazilian professor who did her doctoral research on mobilization and work in the Amazon notes that most of Brazil's soy cultivation occurs outside the Amazon. She said:[20]

"My knowledge comes from fieldwork I conducted for my doctoral dissertation in 2008, municipality of Santarém, in the state of Pará.
"There has been in fact deforestation as a result soy cultivation, in the sense that the expansion of the agricultural frontier has led to increased land concentration. Not obeying the correct criteria for land use, as well as insufficient governmental expenditure and management concerning oversight concerning land acquisition and use, allowed land owners to acquire land (both legitimately and illegitimately) in ways that best suit them. In the Amazon, there are three principal factors that has led to deforestation: the disorganized process whereby wood is extracted; the lack of a criteria for soil use when concerning livestock; soy cultivation."
"Soy cultivation in the Amazon is relatively small when compared to other regions in Brazil, yet there does exist land speculation, which is oriented around agribusiness development (particularly the monocultural production of grains). While they are not planting grains, the majority of land owners buy land, and remove trees and vegetation for other ends. The accelerated pace of deforestation and the chaotic land ownership structure in the Legal Amazon has deep historical roots. Land occupations, and the often tense disputes that result, are continuous."

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. FAOSTAT, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  2. Marcela Valente, "Soy - High Profits Now, Hell to Pay Later, IPS News, July 29, 2008, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  3. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  4. FAOSTAT, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  5. FAOSTAT, Accessed March 13, 2011.
  6. David Vargas, "The Dark Side of the Soy Boom," IPS News, November 8, 2007, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  7. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  8. David Vargas, "Fighting for Survival in a Green Desert Wonderland," IPS News, March 11, 2008, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  9. Pedro Arbeletche and Carolina Carballo, Soja y Su Evolucion (Soy and Its Evolution)
  10. Ministerio del Ganaderia, Agricultura, y Pesca, Republica Oriental del Uruguay (Uruguay's Ministry of Cattle, Agriculture, and Fish), Anuarios Estadisticos (Annual Statistics), 2010.
  11. FAOSTAT, Accessed March 12, 2011.
  12. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  13. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  14. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  15. Marcela Valente, "Soy - High Profits Now, Hell to Pay Later, IPS News, July 29, 2008, Accessed March 13, 2011.
  16. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  17. Maria da Conceição A. Castro, PhD, University of Management and Technology, São Paulo, Brazil, Personal email with Jill Richardson, translated by Anthony Pahnke, March 8, 2011.
  18. Maria da Conceição A. Castro, PhD, University of Management and Technology, São Paulo, Brazil, Personal email with Jill Richardson, translated by Anthony Pahnke, March 8, 2011.
  19. Javier Souza Casadinho, "Expansión de la soja en el Cono sur" ("Expansion of Soy in the Southern Cone"), Centro de estudios sobre tecnologías apropiadas de la Argentina Red de Acción en plaguicidas de América Latina (Center for the Study of Appropriate Technologies of Argentina, Pesticide Action Network Latin America)
  20. Maria da Conceição A. Castro, PhD, University of Management and Technology, São Paulo, Brazil, Personal email with Jill Richardson, translated by Anthony Pahnke, March 8, 2011.

External resources

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