Soy, an exotic fruit from the Brazilian Amazon

Soy, an exotic fruit from the Brazilian Amazon

By Fabiana Frayssinet

State-of-the-art tractors and machinery, very different from the crude tools of neighboring small farmers, are plowing the land during this month of December, for the sowing of soybeans in January.

The farmer José de Souza, who has nine hectares in the rural municipality of Belterra, sighs.

"Soy benefits the big producer, but it hurts the small one because the drought comes from deforestation. There used to be a comfortable temperature here, but now it's very hot. It can't be held, ”he tells IPS.

The effects are noticeable in his banana plantation (sweet banana), burned by the intense sun.

Resigned, De Souza waters some sad furrows with sparse plants of cabbages and chives.

Like others, it was surrounded by the expansion of soy in Santarém and the neighboring municipalities of Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos, which make up its metropolitan region.

According to the Santarém mayor's office, of its 740,000 cultivable hectares in this region, soy already occupies 60,000.

Raimunda Nogueira, rector of the Federal University of the West of Pará, handles much higher figures. "The change in land use was around 112 and 120,000 hectares, converted into soybean plantations," he tells IPS.

With soy came the fumigations

"Soy fields bring us many pests because with the poison they use to combat them, they keep them away but they come to our small plantations," laments De Souza.

The agrochemicals contaminated soils, crops and animals, they denounce in the area.

"The crops are dying and that is precisely why the property becomes totally unproductive and the solution is to sell," Jefferson Correa, the representative of the non-governmental Amazon Phase, explains to IPS.

There are no epidemiological records, but in these municipalities the perception is that diseases such as respiratory and skin diseases increased.

According to Selma da Costa, of the Belterra Rural Workers Union, this unhealthy situation and the temptation to sell their land led to the migration of 65 percent of the municipality's peasants, of some 16,500 inhabitants.

“They end up leaving, because who can put up with the smell of pesticides? Nobody. People get sick. Many times pregnant women feel bad and do not know why, "she tells IPS.

“They sold their land for a pittance. We usually say that they were given away. They practically handed over their land to the large producers, thinking that they would improve, that they were going to build a nice little house in Santarém, but they cannot support themselves (economically) because they cannot produce ”, he explains.

Correa recalls that around the year 2000 land was very cheap. There were those who sold 100 hectares for between 1,000 and 2,000 dollars and later they repented.

"They went to the city, they spent all the money and without studies or courses, the only solution was to go back to work in the fields, as laborers for those who had bought their land," he illustrates.

Others survive in the urban periphery of Santarém as street vendors and other informal jobs.

“The farmers had their property, their own food, such as beans, rice, flour, fish and game, and they stopped having it in the city,” adds Claudionor Carvalho, from the Federation of Agricultural Workers of the State of Pará.

The change, he tells IPS, increased prostitution in the urban periphery "because families were not prepared to experience that reality."

The process intensified 15 years ago, with the construction in Santarém by the American transnational company Cargill of a port for the export of grain grains.

Santarém is located on the banks of the Tapajós River, at its confluence with the Amazon River, which allows transporting soybeans and other grains through these waterways to the Atlantic Ocean.

The goal was to reduce the distance and transportation costs of soybeans from neighboring Mato Grosso state, its largest producer in Brazil. This country is the second producer and the first exporter of the oilseed in the world, which sells to China, Europe and other markets.

Ports like this one in the Amazon basin cut the distance from Mato Grosso by almost half, from some 2,000 kilometers from there to the congested terminals in the southeast of the country, such as Santos, in the state of São Paulo.

The new Amazonian port, with silos with a capacity for 120,000 tons - double the number at the beginning - attracted hundreds of soy producers from the south of the country, causing a stampede to buy nearby agricultural land and skyrocketing their prices.

This was the case of Luiz Machado and his family, who arrived from Mato Grosso.

“We had 90 hectares that we sold to buy a larger property here because the land was cheaper. In addition, we would be closer to the port, thereby improving the price of our product, ”he tells IPS.

Machado assures that the purchase was legal and that he preserves intact the forest that surrounds his land, which in large part was already deforested.

But many others did not act in the same way, and soy cultivation devastated jungle areas, according to Cándido Cunha, of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, in dialogue with IPS.

In 2006, through the so-called "soy moratorium", producer associations, many linked to Cargill, pledged not to commercialize soy from deforested areas from that year on.

Logging was temporarily lessened, but then reactivated because farmers who had sold their land settled on other virgin sites.

"A process that we call here of 'grilling' of lands was generated, which are falsifications of documents or illegal appropriations of public lands," says Cunha, complicating the already very irregular land tenure situation in the Amazon.

Of the two and a half million tons of grain exported annually by Santarém, only six percent is local, while the rest comes from Mato Grosso.

But Nelio Aguiar, Santarém's Secretary of Planning, considers that it served to modernize its economy, evolving from a family farming to a “mechanized” one.

"Today we have a larger agriculture, a dollarized agriculture, and each harvest really produces great wealth," he tells IPS.

While some celebrate this agro-industrial advance, others fear for the future of local food security.

The population of the metropolitan region, of about 370,000 inhabitants, depends 70 percent on food from family agriculture.

“Now you have to buy everything in the market, rice, beans, everything that nobody bought before because we produced everything. And we also sold, ”De Souza laments.

"Why are we buying? Because we don't have any more land. And what we are planting is being poisoned, ”Da Costa points out.

For Correa, one way out is to expand government plans to support small farmers. De Souza is already a beneficiary of one of them.

So is joining peasant associations or cooperatives.

De Souza proudly leads IPS to his, called São Raimundo do Fe em Deus, where a festive group of women and men shared the task of peeling, grinding and cooking cassava (Manihot esculenta), to prepare the flour of this tuber. a very traditional food in Brazil.

"We have to help each other, because the situation of the small producer is difficult today," he reflects.

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