“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads.
How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” — Jane Goodall
SEEDS for LIFE
SEEDS for LIFE is BIOPHILIA’s first awareness campaign about human and environmental cost of chemical-fueled, GM soybean production in Argentina.
Aixa Ponce Cano was born with CMN Syndrome (Congenital Melanocytic Nevus) consisting of giant, hairy-pigmented moles all over her body and has three big tumours on her back. She lives in Avia Terai, Chaco, a few meters away from huge soybean fields.
THE IMPACT OF UNSUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN ARGENTINA
Over the past decade, Argentina became the world’s third largest soya producer revitalizing its economy and recovering from the financial crash that hit the country in 2001. However, there are doubts as to the sustainability of soya expansion, after the area under cultivation rose by nearly 1,000% between 1980 and 2015, from 2.0 million hectares to some 20.7 million. The downside of the transgenic soya boom is worrying and translates into habitat destruction and desertification risk, a huge carbon footprint and serious health concerns.
Some of the country’s most eminent scientists conducted a scientific research to investigate the relation between the intensive use of agrochemicals and the increase of health problems among the rural communities living nearby the GM crops. They concluded that the two are linked as also summed up by several other studies showing that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and likely public health hazards. Nevertheless, the chemical companies that produce the herbicides keep rejecting such researches, describing their products as “not harmful, if properly used“.
Nevertheless, the rise of GM crops in Argentina is also linked to other social issues: in the provinces of Salta, Formosa, Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Córdoba, where GM soybean is the business, several rural and indigenous communities have been progressively forced out of their lands to allow the exploitation of the so called “undeveloped” lands, that investors turn into GM crops, including woods and forests. As the soya crops continue to expand, land grabbing has become business as usual.
Despite the huge profits generated by GM crops, social divide and poverty among the rural communities have eventually increased — a major contradiction, considering that one of GMO’s major arguments is to end poverty. Most families living in rural communities depends on Social Assistance Plans that offer no perspective for the future, feeding endemic unemployment and generating a perverse mechanism of dependency that often translates into political blackmail opportunities. Furthermore, 98% of the soya produced is exported to China and Europe to feed animals or to produce biofuels, while small-scale farmers have been deprived of the lands they worked for generations.
Avia Terai’s main water well is placed right in the middle of a soybean field, which is contaminated by the intensive fumigations. For this reason, some people started to dig their own wells a few meters from the house where they live, in the hope to control the water quality while securing daily access for family members.
AVIA TERAI, CHACO
Avia Terai is a small town lost in the heart of the Chaco province, literally surrounded by huge GM soya fields that dominate the landscape. Through the past years, the village has become emblematic of Argentina’s GMO issue, attracting international media attention for the unusually high rate of cancers and malformations among the community.
On March 2014, the BIOPHILIA Foundation visited Avia Terai meeting with several families and working with Red Salud — a local organization that includes doctors, scientists and lawyers — to verify health problems and to collect evidence and data. For every house visited, the BIOPHILIA team found that almost every family is dealing with aggressive cancer, neurological dysfunctions or birth defects.
The intensive aerial and terrestrial fumigations systematically extend beyond the crops, despite the laws and regulations, reaching nearby homes and schools. Every time that a plane takes off to sprays herbicides, children suddenly stop playing and rush back home, while parents close windows and doors to keep the chemicals out.
Claudia Sariski is expecting her fourth child. Her family has no running water, so they collect it into plastic containers – which had previously been filled with herbicides. Two of Claudia’s children suffer from respiratory diseases.
GM soya production is a billionaire business, still 1 in 5 people living the Chaco face poverty and malnutrition. During the first 2 months of 2015 two children from the Qom and Wichi communities inhabiting the region have died of starvation, in what seems to be a sadly increasing trend. In sheer contrast with the expensive variety of technologies employed to improve the crops, and the huge profits generated by soybean cultivation, most families in Avia Terai don’t have direct access to drinkable water, which they store into empty plastic tanks that once contained agrochemicals.
Like many other villages surrounded by GM crops in Argentina, Avia Terai’s fate seems to be trapped into powerful interests while the legitimate claim for a safe and healthy environment is ignored. If this trend continues, most of the lands that are now used to grow GM soybean and sunflowers will be soon sterile and one of the most fertile countries on earth might soon turn into a progressively desolated place.
It’s clearly time to choose a sustainable alternative, or it will soon be too late.
FACTS & NUMBERS
GM soybean seeding in Argentina during 2014-15 is projected to 20,7 million of hectares, according to an official estimation of the Rosario Board of Trade.
55 million tons of GM soybean harvested in Argentina through 2014 worth $ 25 Billion USD. While most of the harvest is for export, in Chaco and several other provinces 1 in 5 people live in poverty, with very limited access to drinkable water and health care.
According to an official estimation, 317 million liters of agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides and fungicides) were used through 2014 in Argentina to improve the productivity of GM soybean, corn, rice and cotton crops. Twenty-five years ago, in 1990, the amount of chemicals used in the country was around 37million liters each year. The substances include Glyphosate (200 million liters), 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Endosulfan, Acetochlor, Picloram, Atrazine.
House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, as well as higher rates of hypothyroidism, chronic respiratory illnesses, birth defects and neurological dysfunctions.
Access to drinkable water in Chaco is still an issue for many. In Avia Terai the water source consists of an old tank.
When the cistern is empty, buying water from a man who delivers it door-to-door is the only option, being bottled water of out reach for most families.
Spending free time playing in nature is one of children’s big favorites. In Avia Terai, however, it has become a problem because fields and water pools are contaminated.
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