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Conventional and transgenic soy in Bolivia

Conventional and transgenic soy in Bolivia

By Network "Bolivia Free of Transgenics"

The expansion of soybean cultivation in Bolivia during the last 15 years has been 411% at the cost of the deforestation of more than one million hectares of forest. The rate of clearing to enable land for soybean cultivation is almost 60 thousand hectares per year.

Conventional and transgenic soy in Bolivia: Who really benefits?

On January 31, the newspaper Los Tiempos (Money and Finance Section / Agro p. 4) published an article about soybean cultivation in Bolivia and the results of the second version of the Soybean Productivity Olympics, held in the Department from Santa Cruz. This event was organized with the objective of identifying technological packages (based on synthetic inputs) that increase the productivity of soybean cultivation and reduce production costs. The article emphasizes the debut of eight transgenic varieties in said event and presents the two “winning recipes” from the 2004-2005 campaign; It also makes a short and incomplete analysis of the development of soy in Bolivia, referring only to the increase in the cultivated area and the supposed “benefit” of transgenic varieties for producers in economic terms; not to mention the negative social and ecological implications of conventional and transgenic soy production.


The reader of the aforementioned article and other similar ones, could celebrate the production of soybeans in Bolivia based on the information provided. However, before doing so, one should have a broader and more realistic vision of soybean production in Bolivia and, specifically, of transgenic soy. Unfortunately, many informational materials omit that:

- The expansion of soybean cultivation in Bolivia during the last 15 years has been 411% at the expense of deforestation of more than one million hectares of forest. The rate of clearing to enable land for soybean cultivation is almost 60 thousand hectares per year. If this rate of deforestation continues, the forests in soybean areas are at risk of disappearing. This is the case of San Julián, one of the main soy producing municipalities in Santa Cruz, where - if the current level of deforestation continues - its forests will be extinct in less than nine years. The current deforestation is causing the alteration of the hydrological cycle, especially the pluvial cycle. Therefore, it is not surprising that in this last rainy season, San Julián has been severely affected by floods. Neither will the probable drought and the inevitable erosion of its soils be surprising.

The expansion of soy cultivation promotes the demand for land and its concentration in few people. The small soybean producers used to be dedicated to cultivating diverse fields and applying soil conservation methods. Now, due to production and market pressure, these producers have cleared an average of 20 to 50 hectares to implement mechanized soybean monoculture. This mechanization of "mono-bodybuilding" agriculture (a single crop), mistakenly considered as the modernization and advancement of the agricultural sector, is actually the engine of severe soil degradation and indebtedness of small producers, who in this mechanized production model and extractivist soy, generate just enough resources to cover basic production costs. These small farmers represent about 70% of soybean producers; However, this percentage is of little importance since 2% of the producers of this oilseed are large owners (with more than a thousand hectares of production) and make up the group of soybean entrepreneurs (most of them linked to transnational companies) that control production , processing and commercialization of soybeans in Bolivia. To this must be added that the agro-export model in which the production of conventional and transgenic soy is included implies the loss of food sovereignty. In other words, due to the overcrowding of a single crop and soil degradation, the capacity to produce our own food is diminishing according to the productive potential and customs of Bolivia; which is causing the increase in food imports.

Soybean production in Bolivia, especially transgenic soybean, is the exercise of productive and commercial dependence. Soybean production in Bolivia depends on imported and expensive inputs (80% of inputs used in soybean production are imported from different countries). On the other hand, 66% of soy production is in the hands of foreigners (mainly Mennonites, Brazilians and Japanese). Marketing and export also depends on transnational entrepreneurs, such as ADM-SAO S.A. and Cargill. Control of the soybean production chain in Bolivia is in the hands of foreign companies and large producers, who "coincidentally" provide the soybeans and the agrochemicals used in their production. This is the case of the American multinational Monsanto.

Soy production weakens local food systems. Conventional and transgenic soybean production is developed in monoculture systems and replaces diversified production. This causes that the different foods necessary for an adequate diet are increasingly scarce and expensive. As in other countries, surplus soybean production is destined for the domestic market as a palliative for protein shortages. An example is the school breakfasts, through which, without any control, more and more products derived from soy are included, to a population not used to this crop as daily food.


Soybean production leads to severe soil degradation. Soy cultivation “absorbs” the fertility of the soils, leaving them degraded and impoverished. This is because soybean cultivation is highly extractive and is generally grown in consecutive monoculture systems where the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is high. In Bolivia, soybean production has already left 100,000 hectares of soils severely degraded by compaction, erosion, and contamination by agrochemicals. These hectares with degraded soils are the inheritance of the soy monoculture in Bolivia to local food systems and whose total production 85% is exported. For this reason, soybean producers must invest larger increasing amounts of synthetic fertilizers. Soil degradation caused by soybeans is so severe that after a few years of cultivation, the soils are only suitable for extensive livestock production. Soy cultivation turns fertile land into marginal soils.

The technological packages promoted by the intensive production of soy in large areas are a "chemical bomb" that causes human, soil, water and wildlife poisoning. For example, the two winning recipes of the II Productivity Olympics include the application of 18 and 24 different synthetic agrochemicals. These chemicals leave residues in the soil and enter the human body through the soybean, becoming carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic agents. Just for illustration, three of the agrochemicals used in the "winning packages" are: 1) Glyphosate (a star herbicide in the production of transgenic soybeans) that alters the metabolic processes that regulate hormone levels in humans. 2) Endosulfan, an insecticide that, among others, causes malformations in children during pregnancy. 3) Carbendazim, a fungicide with hormonal effects that, due to the environmental damage it causes, is on the list of the “dirty four” of the Friends of the Earth organization. If only three agrochemicals can affect human health so severely, what will happen to public health if the residues of a “cocktail” of more than 15 or 20 different agrochemicals are consumed through the soybean? To this must be added the risk of transgenic soy, especially at the immune level. Considering that 60% of processed foods contain soy, every day humans ingest soy or its derivatives. Therefore, it is not possible to get rid of the harmful effects of soy produced by conventional and transgenic agriculture.

The technological packages that promote conventional soybeans and transgenic soybeans are only accessible to large producers and entrepreneurs. Returning to the example of the two winning recipes of the II Productivity Olympics, they have a cost of $ US 229.28 and $ US 351.39 per hectare per season (amount that basically includes inputs and machinery without considering the mandatory payment of patents for the use of transgenic seed or the annual increase in agrochemicals as a result of soil degradation and development of pest resistance). If we take the example of a small producer with 20 hectares of soybeans, he will need between $ US 9,000 and $ US 14,000 per year to replicate one of the "winning" productive technology packages. Given the socio-economic panorama of Bolivian agriculture and the absence of agricultural banking development, can a small producer cover these production costs? In this context, it is more real (and is shown by the experience of small producers in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) that the small producer acquires debts instead of profits with the production of conventional and transgenic soy. The US $ 257 million generated by soy exports in the 2004/2005 campaign did not pass through the hands of the producers nor did they affect an improvement in their production conditions. This amount contributed to the concentration of economic power and the profits of the large soybean producers and traders.

GM soy is not as productive as they say. Studies carried out in Bolivia by PROBIOMA indicate that transgenic soy produces, on average, around 15% less than conventional varieties (conventional soy = 2.1 ton / ha; GM soy = 1.8 ton / ha). This data corresponds to November 2005 and so far the opposite has not been reported. In other countries, such as Brazil, losses of up to 25% of transgenic soy have been recorded compared to conventional varieties. The soy sector in Bolivia owes US $ 100 million to private banks.

The overwhelming expansion of soy in Bolivia and in the region has a very high social and environmental cost. The monoculture of soy and especially of transgenic or genetically modified soy, carries multiple risks on the local economy, ecology and human health. Despite this, its mass cultivation continues to be promoted because two myths have been created around soybeans that respond to commercial interests: 1) That the production of conventional soybeans and transgenic soybeans will serve to reduce hunger in the world and 2) That soy is a healthy and complete food. Just two examples to prove the falsity of these arguments. As in Bolivia, more than 80% of the soybean production produced worldwide is exported as animal feed and as a cheap input for the production of meat. Soy is not food for hungry people, but for animals in industrialized countries. In addition, according to several studies, soy is not recommended for children under 5 years of age and its consumption - as a grain or derivative, should not be permanent since it inhibits the absorption of important minerals (including calcium and iron).

The arguments in favor of soy have been created by commercial interests to facilitate the opening of markets in favor of countries whose economies depend on this crop (such as the United States). Disinformation is its main instrument. So who does conventional soy production and GM soy really benefit? Definitely not small producers or consumers.

However, there is one thing that soy promoters are not wrong about: Soy is "the golden grain"; because each soybean concentrates part of the deforested forest for its cultivation, the mineral from degraded soils, the debt that the small producer and his family acquire to follow the "soybean fever", the additional expenses in agrochemicals and part of the account that the consumer will have to pay for the damage to their health.

Diversified crop production (particularly organic) and seed recovery are alternatives to conventional and transgenic crop production, not only because they strengthen social and ecological dynamics; but also because they favor access to healthy, toxic free and diverse food, community strengthening and the establishment of local and responsible markets. The recovery of seeds by freeing them from commercial regimes and the rejection of conventional and transgenic production is to defend the food sovereignty of the peoples.

Prepared in February 2006. Disseminated during the International Day for the Rejection of Genetically Modified Organisms (April, 2006)

AGRUCO, Bolivia
International Association for Health (AIS) - Bolivia
Association of Organizations of Ecological Producers of Bolivia (AOPEB), Bolivia
AYNISUYU, Bolivia
Campaign Against Fumigations, Colombia
Central Obrera Departamental (COD) of Cochabamba, Bolivia
Center for Agricultural Services (CESA), Bolivia
Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (CEDIB), Bolivia
Center for Radio Education and Production ( CEPRA), Bolivia
Management, Ecology and Environment Center (GEMA Center), Bolivia
Collective "Bioptimistas", Uruguay
Cochabamba Environmental Defense Committee (CODAC), Bolivia
Committee for the Defense of Consumer Rights (CODEDCO), Bolivia
Single Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), Bolivia
Coordinator of Women of Valle Alto (COMUVA), Bolivia
Semillas Group, Colombia
Federation of Secondary Students (FES) - Cochabamba, Bolivia
Irrigation Federation - Cochabamba, Bolivia
AGRECOL Andes Foundation, Bolivia
Landless Movement (MST) - Cochabamba, Bolivia
Professionals in Society for Human Development (PROESAH), Bolivia
Network "Bolivia Free of GMOs", Bolivia
Pesticide Action Network (RAP-AL) - Uruguay

This article is the protest of various organizations and institutions against the dissemination of complete and irresponsible information on transgenics in Bolivia. It was prepared by the Network "Bolivia Free of Transgenics" based on: Bravo, E. 2005. "Soya. Instrument for the control of agriculture and food ”. Ecological Action - RALLT. Quito · Escobar, R. "The biggest predator of the forest and the soil is the soybean crop". Newspaper El Deber / Economía / B22. Santa Cruz, May 8, 2005 · Molina, P .; Copa, S. “Does soybean agriculture in Bolivia need GMOs? Productive factors and competitiveness of Bolivian soy ”. FOBOMADE, FNMCB-BS, CIOEC-Bolivia, CESA, AOPEB. Peace · Pardo, E .; Gudynas, E. “Soy in Bolivia. The crossroads between markets, technology, impacts ”. CLAES - D3E. Montevideo, Uruguay · Pengue, W .; Altieri, M. "Soy in Latin America: A machine of hunger, deforestation and socio-ecological devastation". Ecological Agriculture Magazine No. 3. Cochabamba


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