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 Resistance to GM in Latin America

Rally in Chile

Key Information

Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay feature among the world's five biggest growers of GM, and globally Uruguay has the highest proportion of its total crop land given over to GM. The vast majority of GM crops in this part of the world have been herbicide resistant soya varieties, destined for export to world markets, and they have intensified many problems around access to land, and the tendency of governments to prioritise export markets over the needs of a hungry population. For the most part, resistance to GMOs in Latin America draws on these inter-related issues, and has involved a combination of tactics from a powerful citizen's campaign in Brazil fighting GM through the courts, to occupations and uprooting of GM crops. Below is a very limited range of examples and case studies from a few of the countries involved.

 

Argentina

Genetically modified soya was introduced into Argentina in 1996 without any kind of debate either in Congress or among the public. Argentina is now the world's second biggest grower of GM, and in 2009 Argentina planted soya on a record 18 million hectares, about half of the country's farming land. At the same time many people have been violently pushed off their land, the number of small and family farms have dropped,1 and hunger has become a major issue in what was once the "granary of the world".2

2008

  • Many communities resisting the evictions of small farmers to make way for GM soya plantations, e.g. the Gurani community in Capoma, N.Argentina

  • The meeting of 'Rural and Urban Women for Food Sovereignty' was held over two days on a railway line used to transport soya. This, they said was a protest about how soya was grown and sold, and the way that that contaminated the environment and concentrated land ownership3.

2005

  • Farmers from the 'Movimento Campesino de Santiago del Estero' (MOCASE) put themselves in front of the bulldozers that were coming to destroy their fields to make way for soya plantations.4

 

Bolivia

2010

  • The government announced that all GM crops would be phased out over 5 years, and simultaneously efforts would be made to protect local seed varieties to bolster control over the food supply.5

 

Brazil

MST land occupationBrazil held an outright ban on GMOs from 1999 until 2005 but this was given up when it became clear that many farmers were buying GM seeds smuggled in from Argentina. However, many of the farmers that embraced the technology when it was new and illicit are now giving it up, in frustration at the poor yields it produces over time.6 7 The MST, an organisation of landless rural workers who are known for successful occupations of the large estates of absentee landlords, decided in their most recent conference that their energies would now be directed against "the multinational agro-industry", in which GM companies play a major part.8

2010

  • People involved in Via Campesina took action at Monsanto and Syngenta headquarters on World Food Day.9

2008

  • In Sao Paulo around 300 women from Via Campesina destroyed Monsanto plant nurseries and crops containing GM maize.10

  • In Brasilia 400 women staged a protest outside the Swiss Embassy, highlighting how the previous year, a prominent member of the Via Campesina and the landless movement (MST), (Valmir Mota d'Oliveira, known as Keno) taking part in an occupation of Syngenta GM crop fields in Santa Teresa do Oeste (see below) had been killed by a private security guard.11 People held sympathy protests around the world, from Croatia to Indonesia.

2007

  • A long running occupation of a Syngenta field trial at Santa Teresa do Oeste, which highlighted the fact that the trial was illegally sited within the buffer zone for the Iguazú National Park. Syngenta was ordered to pay a fine, but they managed to stall until the law was changed, shrinking the necessary buffer zone, after which they appealed the fine. In October 2008 Syngenta finally handed over the contested land, giving it to the Paraná state government, who promise to use it to produce native seeds to distribute to small-holders.12

  • Hundreds of activists broke into a Syngenta agrochemical plant in the state of Sao Paulo, expelling 50 employees and shutting down production.13

  • Members of the MST and Via Campesina destroyed GM corn and soya seedlings at a Syngenta farm in Ceara, demanding that the company leave Brazil.14

2006

  • Several hundred people occupied a research farm in southern Brazil owned by Syngenta.

 

Haiti

2010

  • On June 4th about ten thousand Haitian peasants marched to protest US-based Monsanto Company's 'deadly gift' of seed to the government of Haiti. The march was organized by several Haitian rural social movements that are proposing a development model based on food and seed sovereignty instead of industrial agriculture. Slogans for the march included "long live native maize seed" and "Monsanto's GMO & hybrid seed violate peasant agriculture." Many Haitians consider Monsanto's seed donation to be part of a broader strategy of US economic and political imperialism. "The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals," stated Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and a member of La Via Campesina's international coordinating committee.15

 

Mexico

Although GM was not officially authorised in Mexico until March 200916 some farmers had planted it illegally many years earlier. Monsanto for a long time tried to deny it, but there have been major issues with cross-contamination of maize.17

2008

  • Giving out non-GM maize for freeAround two hundred thousand farmers from all over Mexico flooded Mexico City's central plaza, in protest against GM corn. Free indigenous maize varieties were distributed to farmers for free.18

2002

  • It was discovered that much of the maize being grown in the highlands of Oaxaca had been contaminated by GM material. There was a great mobilisation in the area of local people and some NGOs, and after long discussion processes it was agreed that the key was to defend their own maize seed, and whole communities engaged in trying to protect it from contamination.19

 

Paraguay

GM soya monocultures are blamed for deforestation, environmental destruction and the increasing concentration of land ownership that has led to small farmers and indigenous people losing their land. Over 100,000 small peasant families have been evicted and over 100 people have been killed since the late 1990s in conflicts over access to land. There have also been major health impacts, both from the chemicals used in farming the GM soya, and as malnutrition increases following the loss of land.20 Just 2% of landowners control 70% of the land, and the expansion of soya monocultures has gone and in hand with an intensification of poverty.21

A journalist who visited the country in 2007 described the impact of soya monocultures as follows: "Rural eastern Paraguay used to be full of jungle, small farms, schools and wildlife. Now it is a green sea of soybeans. The families, trees and birds are gone. The schools are empty. The air is filled with the toxic stench of the pesticides like paraquat and 2,4-D used to protect the soy crops."22

2008

  • Around 130 camps were set up around Paraguay in the margins of large estates just as soya was being planted. Many of those camps were violently evicted and at least two people were killed.23 A video about the eviction is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYEBsk0jtG4

  • 120 campesinos occupied two Brazilian owned farms in the San Pedro region of Paraguay and planted yucca and sesame. They aimed to block the entry of GM soya and also to start reclaiming land for small farmers. San Pedro is reported to have the best farmland in the country, but it is also the most unequally distributed.24

2006

  • More than 1000 people blocked a road and were met with violent repression in which 8 people were seriously injured and two children disappeared.25

2005

  • Campesinos attempted to destroy GM fields, because their own small farms had been destroyed. The police came in to defend the soya plantations.26

 

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Footnotes

1: Friends of the Earth International, February 2008, 'Who benefits from GM crops? Questions and Answers.' available at www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/who_benefits_questions.pdf, last viewed 29.04.10

2: 'Twelve years of GM soya in Argentina - a disaster for people and the environment', January 2009, http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=578, last viewed 30.04.10

3: 'Twelve years of GM soya in Argentina - a disaster for people and the environment', January 2009, http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=578, last viewed 30.04.10

4: 'Food Sovereignty: turning the global food system upside down', April 2005, available at www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-05-04.pdf, last viewed 30.04.10

5: 'Bolivia: Cultivos transgénicos no son bienvenidos', Proyecto de Bioseguridad Puerto Rico, http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/Bolivia

6: 'Biggest Brazil soy state loses taste for GMO seed', 13.03.09, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/internal_Reu tersNewsRoom_BehindTheSce nes_MOLT/idUSTRE52C5AB20090313, last viewed 03.05.10

7: Friends of the Earth International, February 2008, 'Who benefits from GM crops? Questions and Answers.' available at www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/who_benefits_questions.pdf, last viewed 29.04.10

8: 'Brazil's Landless Movement Turns 25, Opens "New Phase" of Struggle', 29.01.09, available at http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1688/1/, last viewed 01.05.10

9: 'Peasants Worldwide rise up against Monsanto', http://www.combat-monsanto.co.uk/spip.php?article422, last viewed 19.10.10

10: 'Brazilian Protesters destroy GM crops', 03.03.08, available at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8853, last viewed 30.04.10

11: 'Brazilian Protesters destroy GM crops', 03.03.08, available at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8853, last viewed 30.04.10

12: 'Swiss Syngenta hands over field test in Brazil', 27.10.08,

http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/swiss_syngenta_ha nds_over_field_test_brazil, last viewed 01.05.10

13: 'Brazil: Landless peasants occupy Syngenta plants', 15.12.07, http://www.aseed.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=479&Itemid=174, last viewed 01.05.10

14: 'Brazil: Landless peasants occupy Syngenta plants', 15.12.07, http://www.aseed.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=479&Itemid=174, last viewed 01.05.10

15: 'Haitian peasants march against Monsanto Company for food and seed sovereignty', La Via Campesina, http://www.viacampesina.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=930:hait ian-peasants-march-against-monsanto-com pany-for-food-and-seed-sovere ignty&catid=49:stop-transna tional-corporations&Itemid=76, last viewed 16.07.10

16: 'Mexico - ban lifted on GM maize', 19.03.09, http://www.farminguk.com/news/Mexico-Ban-lifted-on-GM-Maize.13536.asp, last viewed 23.05.10

17: Third world network biosafety information service, 'Contamination by GM maize in Mexico much worse than feared', 13.10.03, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/service82.htm, last viewed 10.05.10

18: Monsanto meet resistance in Mexico, 29.03.08, http://charlesmostoller.gnn.tv/articles/3574/Mons anto_Meets_Resistance_in_Mexico_Pa rt_2, last viewed 01.05.10

19: 'Fighting GMO contamination around the world', available at http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=575, last viewed 30.04.10

20: Howard, April and Dangl, Benjamin, 'The Multinational Beanfield War', http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3093, last viewed 01.05.10

21: Friends of the Earth International, February 2008, 'Who benefits from GM crops? Questions and Answers.' available at www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/who_benefits_questions.pdf, last viewed 29.04.10

22: Howard, April and Dangl, Benjamin, 'The Multinational Beanfield War', http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3093, last viewed 01.05.10

23: 'Paraguan resistance to GM soya plantings - evictions & violence,' 28.10.08, http://www.earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/21751, last viewed 01.05.10

24: 'Campesinos fight against gm soy - Paraguay', 9.10.08

http://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/21753/, last viewed 01.05.10

25: http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=2819, last viewed 01.05.10

26: Encuentro de campesinos y ecologistas sobre el modelo de agricultura industrial de la Soja,16-18 March 2005 http://www.grr.org.ar/iguazu/textencesp1.html, last viewed 30.04.10