As genetically modified soybeans take over vast tracts in South America and reports flow in of
genetic contamination of local corn in Mesoamerica, grassroots resistance to biotech crops has also
grown. The protests form part of people’s movements across the hemisphere that tie together a rejection
of neoliberalism and agribusiness, and call for land reform, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture.
Genetically Modified crops: Myth and Reality
It is a common misconception that genetically modified (GM) crops were created to fight world hunger.
Most of this soy is fed not to people in poor countries but to feedlot cattle in the United States,
Monsanto has very few competitors. The global seed business has become so concentrated in the last
ETC Group, "Las diez compañías semilleras más grandes del mundo," October
ETC Group, "Oligopoly Inc. 2005," http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=42.
Soy in South America: An Environmental Disaster
Nowhere in the world have the effects of GM crops been felt as intensely as in South America. Soybeans
currently take up over 16 million hectares (61,776 square miles) of farmland in Argentina—more than
10 times the area of the state of Connecticut, and over 20 million hectares (77,220 sq. mi.) in Brazil
(just over one-fifth of Brazil’s total cultivated land and almost a third of the state of Texas). Bolivia
and Paraguay together account for at least three million hectares of soy (11,583 sq. mi.) . Soybeans
are also making significant inroads into Uruguayan agriculture.
Almost all of the soy grown in South America is Roundup Ready (RR, see sidebar). The reason for this
has to do with the technological and biological realities of soy farming. Massive soy monocultures
are made viable and cost-effective by no-till direct seeding machinery. However, no-till farming creates
an ideal environment for weeds, which is why soy monocultures are herbicide-intensive. The development
of genetically engineered RR soy seeds allows farm workers to apply Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide without
worrying about it damaging the soy crop. Therefore, the GM herbicide resistance trait makes soy monocultures
Although the biotech companies assure that herbicides should not pose public health or environmental
As for human health effects, Roundup has been found to cause dysfunctional cell division that may
Altieri, Miguel & Walter Pengue, "GM Soybean: Latin America’s New Colonizer," Seedling,
Independent Science Panel, "The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World," 2003, http://www.indsp.org/ISPreportSummary.php.
The soy boom, lauded as a success story by landowners, agribusiness, biotechnology corporations, and
South American governments, has come at an enormous environmental and social cost.
"Large-scale soybean monocultures have rendered Amazonian soils unusable," according to
professors Miguel Altieri and Walter Pengue of the Universities of California and Buenos Aires respectively. "The
production of herbicide-resistant soybean leads to environmental problems such as deforestation, soil
degradation, and pesticide and genetic contamination."
"Soy means monoculture and huge mechanized farms," informs GRAIN, an international NGO that
advocates the sustainable use of biodiversity. "As a result, soy has done enormous environmental
damage, causing the destruction of 21 million hectares of forest in Brazil, 14 million in Argentina,
and two million in Paraguay."
The effect of soy farming on soil fertility is severe. In areas of poor soils, fertilizers and lime
have to be applied heavily within two years of soy cultivation, say Altieri and Pengue. Throughout
the continent, spreading soy production affects land use, environment, and society.
"In Bolivia, soybean production is expanding toward the East, and in many areas soils are already
compacted and suffering severe soil degradation. One hundred thousand hectares of soybean-exhausted
soils were abandoned for cattle grazing, which in turn further degrades the land. As land is abandoned,
farmers move to other areas where they again plant soybeans and repeat the vicious cycle of soil degradation," Altieri
and Pengue elaborate in their report.
The expansion of soy in Bolivia over the past 15 years has caused the deforestation of over one million
hectares, informs the Network for a GM-free Bolivia (Red por una Bolivia Libre de Transgénicos).
According to a 2006 document by the Network, which was endorsed by over two dozen civil society organizations,
the deforestation rate for soybean planting in Bolivia is almost 60,000 hectares (231 sq. mi.) a year.
"If this deforestation rate continues, the forests in the soy zones run the risk of disappearing.
Such is the case of San Julián, one of the main soy-producing municipalities in (the department
of) Santa Cruz, where—if the current deforestation continues—its forests will become extinct in less
than nine years."
The Amazon Basin
GM soy cultivation also endangers the Amazon region, with its wealth of planetary biodiversity. GRAIN
issued a dire warning in 2007: "Unless the Brazilian government takes decisive action to prevent
it, soy is likely to take over most of the Amazon basin over the next decade. Within just a few years
the relentless advance of the agricultural frontier into the Amazon basin is likely to push the tropical
forest over the critical ‘tipping point’ so that it starts to dry out and turn into savannah. Then,
indeed, there will be no stopping the farmers, who will see no reason at all for not making economic
use of the moribund forest.
The group points out that loss of the Amazon to soy deforestation contributes heavily to global warming. "As
the forest dies, hundreds of thousands of river dwellers, peasant families, and indigenous people will
be disinherited, and the world will lose an extraordinary biomass, which plays a key role in regulating
the global climate. Just as serious, the destruction of the Amazon forest will release some 90 billion
tons of carbon into the atmosphere, enough by itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50%. "
|Protesters in Paraguay hold up a sign reading “Soy Kills” in response to the huge monocultures in their country, one of the world’s biggest soy producers. Photo: www.grr.org.ar.|
The human cost of GM soy’s "success" has been particularly extreme for the Paraguayan peasantry.
Paraguay is the world’s fourth largest exporter of soy—soy production quadruped from 1989 to 2006.
Soybeans are planted on two million hectares (almost two-thirds of the country’s farmland), and soy
cultivation is expanding at an estimated annual rate of 250,000 hectares a year (965 sq. mi.).
The Paraguay soy boom came about at the expense of around 90,000 families of peasants and indigenous
peoples that were forced off their lands. Those displaced by soy farms end up living in shantytowns
on the outer edges of major cities, or squatting in private lands, or resisting eviction. The country
can hardly afford to displace and marginalize more people; 85% of Paraguayans live in poverty while
80% of the land is in the hands of the richest 1% of the population.
The government and land owners have responded to the social havoc caused by the expansion of soy with
paramilitary violence carried out by the so-called "citizen guard." This extra-official force
is composed of approximately 13,000 trained and armed members, and their illegal practices include "break-ins,
torture, and detention of those who do not accept the new illegal order that they impose through terror
and violence," said the Grupo de Reflexión Rural (GRR), an NGO that tracks and documents
the impacts of industrial agriculture, particularly GM crops. "The citizen guard, which works
with the complicity of the interior ministry, is linked to land owners and soy growers … and has
as its main objective the persecution of campesino leaders."
"Given that the agrarian reform is not enforced, many landless peasants exercise their rights
through acts of civil disobedience. The state’s response has many times been repression and violence,
turning protests and grievances into felonies and the poor into delinquents," said Rita Zanotto
of Via Campesina, an organization that represents tens of millions of peasants and small farmers worldwide.
In Argentina, the RR soy model has been imposed since the 1990’s to generate revenue to pay the foreign
debt and to supply the demand of European countries and China for livestock feed. The GRR reports, "With
this model, Argentina, which once claimed to be the world’s granary, today has become a forage republic
and doesn’t have the capacity to feed its own population, and it cannot solve its huge unemployment
problem because its economy is designed to favor the export of raw materials.
"The soy model has depopulated the territory, liquidated rural populations, and destroyed the
tradition, culture, and attachment of millions of Argentines to the land. This model has turned our
cities into unsafe megalopolises on the verge of collapse. It has razed our native forests, polluted
the main basins with toxic agrochemicals, has deteriorated the soils, and is a grave threat to our
biodiversity and our phytogenetic heritage."
Biotech Industry Praises Puerto Rico Governor
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) named Puerto Rico governor Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá "Governor
"Among his recent achievements, Gov. Acevedo-Vilá signed an Executive Order making the
"Acevedo-Vilá and his administration have been champions of building a strong bioscience
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that Puerto Rico has more open-air GM crop experiments per square mile
Biotechnology Industry Organization, "BIO Names Puerto Rico Gov. Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá ‘Governor
Ruiz Marrero, Carmelo, "Puerto Rico meca de experimentos con transgénicos," Claridad ,
Venezuela’s Contradictory Stance
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is the only Latin American head of state opposed to GM crops,
a stance that accompanies the Chavez government’s land reform program. Chavez has proposed the Bolivarian
Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), an anti-imperialist alternative to the neoliberal Free Trade Area
of the Americas and regional and bilateral trade agreements pushed by the United States. The Chavez
government has consulted with internationally renowned agroecologists such as Miguel Altieri, and fully
supports the concept of food sovereignty championed by Via Campesina and articulated in the 2007 World
Forum on Food Sovereignty in Africa.
Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through
Food sovereignty prioritizes local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family
Source: The Nyeleni Declaration, written collectively by more than 500 representatives from more than
However, in apparent contradiction with the above, Chavez is an avid supporter of soy monocultures.
During a trip to Paraguay in 2006 he proposed a united South American front for the production and
consumption of soy. "In some of our countries (soy) grows with ease and is an important oilseed
from which one can produce beef, oil, milk, and yogurt, among other foodstuffs," said the Venezuelan
president in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital. "We must stimulate our own production because
the United States subsidizes their crop."
Argentina and Venezuela have an agreement by which Argentina acquires Venezuelan oil in exchange for
farm machinery and agricultural technical expertise provided by Argentina’s National Institute for
Agricultural Research (INTA).
The GRR has been closely watching Venezuela’s flirtation with soy, and has repeatedly warned that
soybean monocultures are incompatible with land reform, food sovereignty, and environmental protection,
and make penetration by GM seed practically inevitable. The organization points out that INTA was formed
after the 1955 coup that overthrew Perón to promote U.S.-style industrial agriculture along
with associated inputs such as pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, and more recently, GM seeds.
GRR notes the prominent role of Argentinean soybean czar Gustavo Grobocopatel in selling Chávez
the "soy miracle." Grobocopatel, president of Grupo Los Grobo, Argentina’s leading agribusiness
corporation, frequently travels to Venezuela and organized the Expo Barinas farm equipment fair there
"We are convinced that the technologies that Argentina takes to [Venezuela] through INTA and
agribusiness personalities, are elements that will end up favoring and empowering the sectors that
are most reactionary, and antagonistic to the agrarian revolution, and its orientation toward local
and peasant production," declared GRR in April 2007. "That a person such as Grobocopatel
proclaims his links to the Bolivarian revolution is enough motive for us to worry and raise our voice
in defense of Venezuela and its people and our common future." The GRR has repeatedly tried to
communicate its concerns to the Venezuelan government but to no avail so far.
Costa Rican "GM-Free Zones"
Three cantons (municipalities) in Costa Rica have declared themselves GM-free zones. These GM-free
Pacheco added that "The struggle against GM organisms permits us to build the bases of the resistance
Pacheco, Fabián, "En Defensa de Nuestras Semillas: Territorios Libres de Transgénicos," Revista
Mexico: The GM Invasion
Since the 1990’s many scientists had warned that GM crops cannot be contained. Once planted in the
open, they said, these would uncontrollably spread either through pollination or seed dispersal, with
potentially unpredictable and irreversible consequences. "Seeds will be our only recourse if the
prevailing belief in the safety of genetic engineering proves wrong," advised the Union of Concerned
"Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered
sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates
life at the most elemental level. Unless some part of our seed supply is preserved free of genetically
engineered sequences, our ability to change course if genetic engineering goes awry will be severely
hampered." Biotech companies repeatedly assured that such genetic contamination would never happen.
But in 2001, University of California researchers Ignacio Chapela and David Quist reported in the
scientific journal Nature that traditional varieties of corn in rural southern Mexico had been
genetically contaminated with GM corn traits.
The main culprit was the North America Free Trade Agreement, which entered into effect in 1994. NAFTA
turned Mexico into a net importer of corn, with almost all imports coming from the United States. From
being self-sufficient in corn, the country went on to become the United States’ second biggest corn
importer, buying 11% of its exports in 2000.
Approximately 75% of the U.S. corn harvest is genetically modified. GM corn began to be planted commercially
in the United States soon after NAFTA came into effect. Mexican environmentalists and scientists worried
that the flood of corn coming from across the border contained GM seeds, which could contaminate their
country’s invaluable agricultural seed heritage.
Are Bt crops reliable and safe?
The GM corn in the market today is either herbicide-tolerant (Roundup Ready), or of the insect-resistant
A USDA Economic Research Service study carried out in 1999 showed no statistically significant difference
Bt crops can also harm beneficial insects and adversely affect soil ecology. The harmful effects of
"The potential of Bt toxins moving through insect food chains poses serious implications," warns
"Research has shown that Bt crops adversely affect ladybugs that eat Colorado potato beetles,
Altieri, Miguel, "Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The Myths, Environmental Risks, and Alternatives," (Second
Independent Science Panel, "The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World," 2003, http://www.indsp.org/ISPreportSummary.php.
The Mexican government responded to these concerns in 1998 by imposing a moratorium on the planting
of GM corn. The following year it formed CIBIOGEM, an interagency committee to enforce the moratorium
and investigate any issues related to GM crops. But the ban did not prohibit importing GM corn. In
1999 Greenpeace activists took samples of U.S. corn shipments being unloaded in Mexican docks. Lab
tests turned out positive for GM content.
Corn covers one-fifth of U.S. crop land, far more than any other crop. According to the U.S. Grains
Council, the United States produces about 44% of the world’s corn—more than China, the European Union,
Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico combined. Iowa alone produces about as much as the European Union. Corn
also receives far more federal subsidies than any other crop. One-fifth of the U.S. corn harvest is
sold abroad, and according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, sells internationally
at 13% below the cost of production, undercutting foreign producers.
According to Oaxacan indigenous leader Aldo González, "The contamination of corn is a
sad fact that we cannot ignore. It is a deep wound that puts all of humanity at risk and only benefits
large transnational corporations that want to impose on us a model of consumption that privileges their
interests … For the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, corn is our blood. Without corn we are nothing."
"The pollution was no chance act, but a well thought-out and conscious strategy which simply
took a little while to play itself out," accused GRAIN. "None could deny that the natural
course of any seed is inevitably to spread. That is what makes a seed a seed. Nor could anyone deny
that maize is naturally an open pollinator. Any farmer knows that. Put a genetically-modified maize
variety into a highly diverse, maize-intensive small-farmer area and it will be just a matter of time
for the new variety to join the pool and for contamination to occur."
In view of the genetic contamination of Mexican corn, biotech industry consultant Don Westfall spoke
perhaps a little too candidly when he let out that "The hope of industry is that over time the
market is so flooded that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender."
The industry and its advocates engaged in a persistent and prolonged campaign to discredit Chapela
and Quist and to pressure Nature magazine, where their study was published, to retract it.
Faced with a barrage of criticism from pro-industry scientists, Nature published in its April
4, 2002 issue, an editorial note on the Chapela-Quist study stating that "evidence available is
not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." Biotech advocates celebrated
the editorial note but they neglected to mention the editorial in Nature‘s June 27, 2002 issue,
which said that the Chapela-Quist study "was not formally retracted by its authors or by Nature."
The Mexican government moratorium on GM corn planting has remained in place, but biotechnology corporations
and their local allies, like Agrobio, are pressuring for the approval of plantings for "experimental
purposes." Their rationale is contained in a proposal called the Teacher of Corn Project. Critics
allege that this project is deeply flawed and scientifically unsound, as the proposed studies do not
cover controversial subjects like GM corn’s effect on biodiversity or local corn varieties. They point
out that the experiments in question would take place in carefully controlled experimental settings
that bear no relation to real world situations. The studies "do not even take into account the
enormous multiplicity of factors that exist in the real environment of Mexico or its enormous cultural
diversity," says Silvia Ribeiro. Furthermore, they claim that the proposed measures to prevent contamination
are so complicated, cumbersome, and hard to verify that they would not be viable in actual corn production
According to Ribeiro, the real agenda of the Teacher of Corn Project is to accelerate and further
the process of genetic contamination and to use the "experiments" as a stepping stone to
approval for commercial GM corn production. "There is no country in the world with GM crops that
has not been contaminated. The contamination is inevitable and therefore intentional. It serves corporate
interests by creating de facto situations so that everyone has to accept GM crops."
Small Farmers Fight Back
|“Syngenta: Peasant Killer,” reads the banner held at a march against the agribusiness transnational in Chile in November 2007. Photo: GRAIN.|
In March 2005, an international multistakeholder conference on the impacts of soy monocultures took
place in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu, near the Paraguayan and Argentinean borders. The
conference, organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), had the full participation of agribusiness
interests and sought not to counter the expansion of soy but to establish sustainability criteria for
increased production. Its organizers intended to put these environmental guidelines to the test in
Argentina’s "100 million-ton harvest" project, an initiative of Fundación Vida Silvestre,
WWF’s local chapter in Argentina. A harvest that large would require 10 million additional hectares
(38,610 sq. mi.) to be added to soy production.
Hundreds of protesters from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay convened outside the hotel where the "Sustainable
Soy Roundtable" was taking place and denounced the initiative as a farce intended to greenwash
massive soybean production that could never be made sustainable. Under the pretext of conserving regions
high in biodiversity, WWF seeks to "legitimize the expansion of industrial monocultures of GM
soy and the introduction of feedlot cattle and dairy production," accused the protesters in an
open letter. The signers described the roundtable as a strategy of "green" capitalism to
satisfy market demand abroad and service the illegitimate external debt, while ignoring domestic food
The letter goes on to denounce the "100 million-ton harvest" for implying "war against
indigenous and campesino communities that are resisting the advance of industrial corporate agriculture."
The Roundtable continues to meet in various locations in the Southern Cone, although its organizers
now call their concept "Responsible Soy." They aim to formulate a system of certification
for the environmentally and socially responsible production of soy. Their objectives include improvement
of labor conditions, responsible use of agrochemicals, respect for the land rights of local peoples,
and to make soy production compatible with the conservation of biodiversity, water, and soil. But so
far the Roundtable has yet to come up with concrete proposals.
"The Roundtable is one grand publicity bluff," said Javiera Rulli of Base Investigaciones
Sociales, a Paraguayan NGO. "They have been at it for almost three years and they have achieved
Terminating Terminator Seed: Victory in Curitiba
The biotechnology lobby had a major setback in a series of United Nations meetings that took place in southern Brazil in March 2006. The first of these was the Conference on Agrarian Reform and Local Development in Porto Alegre, which was followed shortly by the conference of the Biodiversity Convention and the meeting of the Biosafety Protocol, both in the city of Curitiba. These UN meetings addressed—directly or indirectly—the issues of control over seeds and land. Furthermore, Biosafety Protocol specifically addresses the liabilities and hazards of GM organisms and products.
The biggest bone of contention at Curitiba was the use of so-called "Terminator seeds." These
seeds produce sterile plants, leaving farmers with no recourse but to buy seed every year. The Biodiversity
Convention had a de facto prohibition on the use of this technology since 2000, but GM seed companies
hoped to overturn the ban at the Curitiba meeting.
"Terminator technology is an assault on the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices
of indigenous and local communities," said Debra Harry of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism,
and member of an expert group that examined the potential impacts of Terminator seed on indigenous
peoples, smallholder farmers, and farmers’ rights.
Harry added, "Field testing or commercial use of sterile seed technology is a fundamental violation
of the human rights of indigenous peoples, a breach of the right of self-determination."
"Terminator poses a threat to our welfare and food sovereignty and constitutes a violation of
our human right of self-determination," asserted Mariano Marcos Terena of Brazil on behalf of
the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity in January 2006.
A month before the UN meetings in Brazil, over 300 organizations declared their support for a global
ban on Terminator technology, asserting that sterile seeds threaten biodiversity and will destroy the
livelihoods and cultures of the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seed. The organizations,
from every region of the world, included peasant movements and farm organizations, indigenous peoples’
organizations, civil society and environmental groups, unions, faith communities, international development
organizations, women’s movements, consumer organizations, and youth networks.
The Curitiba and Porto Alegre meetings turned into a fiasco for the biotech lobby because both locations
were swamped by protesters. "Without asking permission, the ‘wretched of the earth,’ through the
voices of thousands of Brazilian peasants, landless rural workers, people displaced by dams, and those
affected by timber and GM soybean plantations, took to the stage at the UN conferences held in Porto
Alegre and Curitiba," said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, a Canada-based NGO. "With the
serenity and strength of those who have truth on their side, armed with seeds, maize, banners, and
songs, these people astounded the diplomats of the world, reminding them that there is a real world
out there beyond the negotiating tables, and enraged the directors and lobbyists of transnational corporations."
The days were marked by militant direct action and civil disobedience. Women of Via Campesina celebrated
March 8, International Women’s Day, by destroying a laboratory and nursery of cloned pines of the Aracruz
corporation in protest against encroaching tree plantations. Tree plantations cause social and environmental
damage similar to those of soy monocultures.
As meetings and protests took place in Curitiba, activists of Via Campesina and the MST, Brazil’s
landless people’s movement, seized a farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste, in the state of Paraná,
where Syngenta had illegally planted GM corn and soybeans in the buffer zone of the Iguaçu National
Violence Erupts in Paraná
The saga of the MST’s occupation of the Syngenta illegal GM farm in Santa Tereza do Oeste continued
The company turned to the courts and got a temporary injunction against the expropriation plus an
The MST, Via Campesina, and countless civil society organizations in Brazil have condemned these deeds
Kenfield, Isabella, "The Struggle for the Expropriation of Syngenta: Showdown Between the Social
Kenfield, Isabella, "Brazilian Governor Moves to Expropriate Land From Agribusiness Multinational
Ribeiro, Silvia, "Syngenta: Milicias privadas y asesinatos," La Jornada, October
Meanwhile in Porto Alegre, protesters cut off access to the Agrarian Reform Conference for four hours
and succeeded in getting their declaration, "Land, Territory, and Dignity," included as an
officially endorsed conference document.
At one point in the Biodiversity Convention a procession of women of Via Campesina entered the plenary
hall carrying signs in different languages demanding a ban on Terminator. An enraged Delta & Pine
biotechnology company employee called on security guards to intervene but the chairman announced that
the protesters’ concerns would be taken into account. The vast majority of the plenary session participants
rose and applauded the women.
In the end, civil society held the upper hand, as the moratorium on Terminator technology was maintained
and upheld, much to the consternation of the biotech industry and its lobbyists.
"The rainbow of daily protests by Via Campesina at the entrance to the convention center, the
simultaneous events in Brazil and other countries by hundreds of civil society organizations coordinated
by the international Ban Terminator Campaign, the speeches by youth and indigenous leaders (including
delegates sent by the Huichol people of Mexico and the Guambiano people of Colombia specifically to
speak on the issue), the parallel events held by the Brazilian NGO and Social Movements’ Forum, all
together finally overturned [the pro-Terminator push], to the despair of the transnational corporations
and the countries committed to ending the moratorium, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand," said Ribeiro.
"This is a momentous day for the 1.4 billion poor people worldwide who depend on farmer-saved
seeds," said Chilean peasant leader Francisca Rodriguez of Via Campesina. "Terminator seeds
are a weapon of mass destruction and an assault on our food sovereignty.
"Terminator directly threatens our life, our culture, and our identity as indigenous peoples," said
Viviana Figueroa of the Ocumazo indigenous community in Argentina on behalf of the International Indigenous
Forum on Biodiversity. "Today’s decision is a huge step forward for the Brazilian Campaign against
GMOs," said Maria Rita Reis from the Brazilian Forum of Social Movements and NGOs, "This
reaffirms Brazil’s existing ban on Terminator. It sends a clear message to the national government
and congress that the world supports a ban on Terminator."
The MST and the Via Campesina Seed Campaigns
Brazil’s Landless People’s Movement, the world’s biggest land squatters’ movement, is in the vanguard
of GM-free ecological agriculture in the Americas. Its Bionatur seeds network develops and distributes
diverse GM-free seeds and runs community seed banks that preserve agricultural biodiversity and keep
germplasm out of the hands of agribusiness corporations. In the words of MST spokesman Joao Pedro Stedile, "If
we lose our seed heritage, conquering land and capital will not serve us in any way."
Bionatur is "a fundamental instrument for the construction of a new agricultural model, based
on agroecology, reconstruction of the landscape, promotion of peoples’ food security and food sovereignty,
and recovery of the productive capacity of soils," according to Informativo do MST, the
movement’s newspaper. The network was born in 1997 as an outgrowth of COOPERAL, one of the MST’s many
farming co-operatives, which was seeking alternatives to the corporate-controlled and environmentally
unsound industrial agriculture model favored by large "latifundista" landowners.
In its two decades of existence, the MST has provided over 22 million hectares of land to two million
poor Brazilians. There they have established 5,000 settlements. The movement’s land seizures cannot
be properly termed civil disobedience or law-breaking, since Brazil’s constitution obligates the government
to distribute land to the poor. There are currently approximately 150,000 landless Brazilians affiliated
with the MST that are living in temporary roadside barracks waiting to get land.
As a member of Via Campesina, an international small farmers’ movement with millions of members worldwide,
the MST is an active participant in its Seeds Campaign. The Campaign "has deep meaning for farmers
and indigenous peoples, and it gives a prominent role to women," says Francisca Rodríguez
of Chile, one of Via Campesina’s founders. "It strengthens the concept of Food Sovereignty and
transforms it into a commitment to action. The campaign helps integrate the various aspects of agriculture,
but also weaves in issues related to labor, value systems, and campesina culture. That returns some
of our humanity to us, providing strength to face the hardship involved in all of this."
"Agriculture has been transforming us into machines that work harder than before, suppressing
the creativity that used to characterize the farming process. Technology subjugates and annihilates
people, and knowledge at the service of capital dehumanizes science. How do we stop this all-encompassing
madness, which leads to extermination instead of progress? When I look at the seed campaign, being
part of Via Campesina makes more sense: building this alternative way. I see the campaign as part of
that great road that we are building around the world."