Blog / 20 December 2012

The impact of soja in South America

The impact of soja in South America


Controlling the expansion of soybean cultivation

On the 10th and the 11th of December we had a meeting with civil society organisations from four countries in Latin America (Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina). In these countries new land is being cleared on a daily basis, mainly for the production of soy, sugarcane and for livestock. Nothing wrong with that in itself, after all we have a lot of mouths to feed in the world and in large parts of this region, the yield per hectare is unmatchable. That is why government plans in all these countries are aimed at expansion. The question is how to ensure that this takes place in a controlled way without harming the local population and the environment.


Lack of legislative frameworks and compliance

Both ENDS and local partners (in the context of the Ecosystem Alliance) have focused on the strong expansion of agriculture, soy and sugar cultivation. We drew up a simple inventory of the already available instruments which can help control this expansion. The conclusion is that there is no lack of instruments: there is a whole range of laws, planning mechanisms and certifications. The problem is the lack of capacity to ensure that these laws and regulations are actually complied with and that plans are implemented. It does not help either that in countries such as Bolivia, for example, it costs more money to get a permission to cultivate new land than the fine you have to pay when you do it without permission. The law is not always logical. In Paraguay, a law was adopted that no more land should be deforested. But that only counts for the east of the country where most forests have disappeared already anyway. This law does not apply to the west, so that area is now enthusiastically being cleared. And despite good planning no one is afraid of reclaiming areas that are not intended for agriculture because they are protected or just not suitable. In Paraguay only about 2% tax is paid on soybeans which are exported, compared to 35%  in Argentina. This doesn’t help the state budget either - although there is little assurance that tax money would be spent well anway.


Digitally monitor expansion

What is striking is the detailed mapping the changes in land use in all countries, with the possible exception of Bolivia. On satellite images show recently where land is cleared and the shape of the 'block' is to see what is going to be cultivated there. You do not need to go into the field yourself for that.  For an organization, field trips to see what happens on the ground do not seem to be necessary either. With a simple smartphone and a freely available program locals register on the spot what is happening, including photos, videos, text and coordinates. They send all the information to a program where it is processed. This way one can see almost on a daily what's changed. And that's a lot. There is much evidence of recent (uncontrolled) expansion. More and more, this takes place in sensitive areas such as the Chiquitania in Bolivia and the Chaco in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The rest of the suitable agricultural land is already in use….


End to the destruction of nature

It should be possible to make better use of all the available knowledge, information, studies, technological possibilities, images, analysis and maps. First of all, these should be available to anyone who could use them. Secondly, cooperation should be the key word to ensure that the endless stream of stories and images of advancing destruction and human rights violations in these four soybean producing countries, will become nothing but a bad memory. Thirdly, it would be interesting to make a good analysis of the actual impact of soy, based on all available knowledge and information. To do so Both ENDS, along with around 14 organizations from the region took the first step: in these days we have been working on setting up a ‘Observatorio Socioambiental de la Soja’.

Read more about this subject