We are pleased to present a new series of short reports on subjects concerning biodiversity in the Americas. These reports, written by Carmelo Ruiz, our long-time collaborator on environmental subjects and an expert on the region, bring together information on the most significant threats to biodiversity as well as on grassroots resistance to them.
We hope that this series will help you understand the risks for the planet and will aid efforts to create networks to protect it. As always, we invite all our readers to send their thoughts, comments and opinions to:
Monthly Bulletin on Biodiversity from the CIP Americas Program
Paraguay: Tractor Blockades from the Right
As one of the biggest producers and exporters of soy in the world, Paraguay suffers severely from the adverse social and environmental effects of export monoculture. These effects include the destruction of biodiversity, deforestation, contamination from agrochemicals, and violent dislocation of campesinos and indigenous people from their land.
"Violence, murders, extreme poverty, and forced displacement are some of the terrible consequences facing campesino movements in Paraguay. These result from the imposition of the agribusiness model in which huge transnational corporations participate," reports Radio Mundo Real. "The Paraguayan model is characterized by the production of soy as a monoculture depending for the most part on transgenics, and on intensive livestock farming. This model affects biodiversity and puts the livelihood of the people in danger."
In response to this situation, organizations of campesinos have participated in protests, occupied land, taken direct actions to stop fumigation by toxic agrochemicals, and organized resistance against evictions from their land. The authorities, landholders, and sectors allied with agribusinesses have responded to this resistance with violence and repression. The recent election of the progressive candidate Fernando Lugo to the presidency of the republic promises positive change in the traditional stance of the Paraguayan government regarding monoculture and agribusiness. However, the web page "La Soja Mata" warns: "In this new political context, social movements are pressing to advance their most important struggles: agricultural reform and the recovery of food independence. The new government has produced visible progress such as the change in national direction of the Agrarian Reform Institute (INDERT, Instituto de Reforma Agraria), in which it has employed people close to the campesino movements. However, the repression of campesino movements continues as can be seen by recent violent evictions from occupied land and the murder of the campesino leader Bienvenido Melgarejo on Oct. 4, 2008."
Soy producers are confronting the new government with a series of "tractor blockades," demonstrations using heavy agricultural machinery in the streets of Asunción, the capital city, and other major cities. The organizers maintain that the objective of the "tractor blockades" is "a safe Paraguay where everyone, without exception, lives together respecting the law."
The organizations of people exiled from their land, the small campesinos, environmentalists, and labor unions call these protests a demonstration of violence against social change. "They have the machines, we have the people," said a campesino organizer of "La Soja Mata." "The peace and safety they demand is a declaration of violence against those who want a new Paraguay. They will become more confrontational when Lugo’s government does not give in to the wishes of a corrupt minority," proclaimed the Social and Populat Front (Frente Social y Popular).
La Soja Mata Collective, "Tractorazo: Los productores de soja protestan para ‘paz, securidad y trabajos,’" http://lasojamata.org/es/node/345.
Radio Mundo Real, "Monocultivos de soja y ganadería intensiva amenazan biodiversidad y campesinado en Paraguay," http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/2008/05/radio-mundo-real-en-bonn.html.
Argentina: Stop Spraying
|Argentinian activists demonstrate against fumigation practices in the
cultivation of soy. Photo: Jorge E. Rulli, www.grr.org.ar.
No country has devoted more land to the production of only one transgenic (or genetically modified) crop than Argentina. Right now genetically modified soy from the Monsanto Corporation which is resistant to herbicide is planted in half of the agricultural territory in the country. In the January 2009 issue of its journal Seedling, the NGO GRAIN published an article summarizing the environmental cost of this type of monoculture in Argentina. They state:
Every year 200,000 hectares of native forest are destroyed as the agricultural frontier advances. With intense monoculture comes erosion and soil degradation. It has been estimated that deforestation has resulted in the loss of from 19 to 30 million tons of soil to erosion every year. Furthermore, the planting of soy extracts nutrients from the soil and absorbs water which is stored in the crop. In practice, this means that a million tons of nitrogen and 160,000 tons of phosphorus are being "exported" annually, along with 42,500 million cubic meters of water.
Map of the current fumigation of soy crops in the Argentine province of Cordóba.
Photo: Gerardo Mesquida, http://parendefumigar.blogspot.com.
The collective Stop Fumingating Córdoba (Paren de Fumigar Córoba) has joined various initiatives which have arisen to combat the expansion of monoculture and the use and abuse of agrotoxins. This citizens’ group favors organic, sustainable, traditional agriculture and the recovery of traditional knowledge. The group supports neighbors who suffer from agrotoxin contamination, monitors social conditions in small towns affected by spraying, and coordinates action on a national level.
La Soja Mata Collective website: http://lasojamata.org/es/node/338.
GRAIN, "Twelve years of GM soya in Argentina," Seedling, Jan. 2009, http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=578.
Stop Fumigating Córdoba (Paren de Fumigar Córdoba) website: http://parendefumigar.blogspot.com/.
Mexico: Geo-pirates in Oaxaca
The Union of Oraganizations from the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO, Unión de Organizaciones de la Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca) denounced a "joint" initiative called Indigenous Project Mexico (Proyecto México Indigena). This project allegedly puts the sovereignty of indigenous pueblos in jeopardy and facilitates the looting of their natural patrimony through the mapping of their territories. Critics call this activity, which involves compiling high resolution geographic information about the precise location of various resources, including water resources and biodiversity, "geo-piracy."
In the words of Silvia Ribeiro of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC Group), "The implications of this type of activity are so vast that it is difficult to summarize them. The detailed and exact mapping of the areas is possible only by obtaining the local knowledge of the people who live there. By processing this data with new technologies such as systems of digitized geographic information superimposed on satellite maps freely available on Google, one can obtain an enormous amount of information which was previously unknown or was not visible. These maps are not only very useful for military purposes and for counterinsurgency efforts, but also for industrial purposes (exploitation of mineral resources, plants, animals and biodiversity, mapping accesses to constructed or ‘necessary’ highways, sources of water, population centers, social mapping of possible resistance to or acceptance of projects, etc.)."
The critics of the project "Mexico Indígena" note with great concern that among its financiers is the United States Army.
UNOSJO, "Geopiteraría y Proyecto México Indígena," http://www.ecoportal.net/content/view/full/84360.
Silvia Ribeiro, "Geopiratería en México," http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/47165.
Chile and Mexico: Transgenic Maize Contamination
The University of Chile’s Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA, Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos) found that the plantings of conventional maize in Chile, in the O’Higgins region, have been contaminated with transgenic varieties. The ecologist María Isabel Manzur, of the Sustainable Societies Foundation (Fundación Sociedades Sustentables), considers the situation extremely grave.
According to the report in the journal Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas, "Manzur and the ecologist Sara Larraín asked the Ministry of Agriculture to undertake independent studies to evaluate the extent of the contamination of plants and seeds in the country. They also asked that at the same time control measures be implemented over areas already contaminated; that the Bio-security Protocol (Protocolo de Bioseguriad) be ratified, and that a law be passed which would prohibit these plants from entering the country because, in their judgment, such plants are dangerous for the environment and for human health."
In 2007 The Chilean government authorized the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, mostly maize, on almost 25,000 hectares. In parallel, in Congress a bill was debated, introduced by senators from different political parties who support the expansion of transgenic crops without considering the threat they present.
Meanwhile, the scientific journal Molecular Ecology recently published a study which confirmed the surreptitious presence of transgenic maize in rural areas of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The study, authored by a team from UNAM led by professor Elena Alvarez Buylla, vindicated Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University of California who were the first to report this phenomenon in Oaxaca in 2001.
The new article demonstrates that indeed transgenic contamination existed in Oaxaca in 2001, and moreover, it also existed in the samples of maize on which Sol Ortiz García based his 2005 article in which he alleged that there was no transgenic material detectable in Oaxaca.
For Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group, the article by Alvarez Buylla, et. al. is supremely relevant since it highlights the collusion between the biotech industry and government scientists and officials.
Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas, "Contaminación transgénica de maíz en Chile," http://www.biodiversidadla.org/Principal/Contenido/Documentos/Ataques_politicas_resistencia_relatos2.
Silvia Ribeiro, "Corrupción transgénica al descubierto," http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/46665.
Bolivia and Uruguay: Persistent Organic Contaminants
In January the Action Network on Pesticides and their Alternatives in Latin America (RAP-AL, Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus alternativas para América Latina) held an international meeting in La Paz, Bolivia, where they presented important findings on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
"POPs are a substance which bio-accumulate, bio-magnify, and remain for many years in the environment," explained the activist María Isabel Cárcamo of the Uruguayan chapter of RAP-AL. "POPs are transported from industrial and agricultural processes by both air and water, so that they accumulate at high, cold altitudes. They later begin re-circulating, re-entering soil and vegetation … One of the most frequently utilized POPs at present is the insecticide endosulfan. It was introduced in the 1950s and emerged as one of the most important chemical products for use against a wide variety of insects and mites in agriculture and related sectors."
Studies presented in La Paz, undertaken by Dr. Margot Franken and colleagues at the Institute of Ecology (Instituto de Ecología), Major University of San Andres, Bolivia, detected significant evidence of POPs accumulated in the atmosphere at an elevation of between 1,820 and 5,200 meters.
The investigation concluded that airborne POPs have travelled to high mountain areas and there condensed due to the prevailing low temperatures. The highest peak concentrations were detected between February and June, coinciding with the period of greatest agricultural activity.
Cárcoamo expressed great concern about these findings and their relevance to her own country. According to Cárcoamo, in Uruguay the importation of enosulfan increased 4,581% between 2000 and 2007. "Our country doesn’t have mountains and the average temperatures are not as low as they can be in Bolivia. However, endosulfan is a POP. It is extremely contaminating and persistent. In addition to accumulating in our ecosystem, it travels to other more distant regions, contaminating them as well."
María Isabel Cárcamo, "Endosulfán en las monta as de Bolivia: ¿Y en Uruguay?"