In Paraguay, genetically modified (GM) soya plantations, planted in vast toxic monocultures, are the main cause of deforestation, destruction and pollution of other ecosystems, and violence and eviction of small farmers and indigenous peoples. Paraguay has nearly 2.6 million hectares of soy plantations for animal feed exports and, more recently, for agrofuel. Local peoples are resisting ecocide bravely, and against long odds, and need our support.
The remnants of Paraguay's Atlantic Forest and of the Alto Parana forest, as well as wetlands, grasslands and rivers are being destroyed and polluted by the expansion of immense soya fields. Deforestation is worsening global warming and also causing severe regional warming and droughts. It has contributed to the worst fire season ever recorded in Paraguay last year, and to the severe drought currently affecting the south of the country.
A journalist who visited the country in 2007 described the impact of soya monocultures: "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... used to protect the soy crops."
More than 100,000 small peasant families have been evicted for soya plantations and over 100 peasant leaders have been murdered since the late 1990s in conflicts over access to land. Agro-chemical spraying (paraquat, glyphosate, 2,4D, and others) of soya plantations severely affects the health of people living in soy regions, leading even to deaths, and also destroys people's food crops. Hunger and malnutrition are increasing in Paraguay as less land is available to farmers for growing food.
In August this year, a new government took office and the new president, Fernando Lugo, promised to support small farmers against pesticide poisoning and soya expansion. However, the government has given conflicting signals by also supporting increased soya exports. The police and juridical forces have been supporting the soya industry by suppressing the peasant movement in their fight against pesticide spraying and the expansion of soy monocultures.
This month, at the start of the new soya planting season, small farmers' organisations have mobilised to stop pesticide spraying and to protect peasant agriculture and the environment against further destruction. They have set up around 130 lawful protest camps at the margins of soya "latifundios" (large estates). In recent weeks, they have been increasingly subjected to violence, with two murders of peasant leaders, threats to others, unlawful arrests and detentions. Paramilitaries including the "Comisiones Garrote" are increasingly violently evicting protestors.
It seems likely that violence and repression against the peasant movement will intensify. Many in the local movement consider this year to be their last chance to stop soya expansion and to protect what remains of Paraguay's forests and wetlands, sustainable peasant agriculture, and small farmers and indigenous people’s future. Please write to the authorities in Paraguay and urge them to fully support small farmers and their demands for protection from pesticide spraying, unlawful evictions, environmental destruction and pollution; while supporting their demands for food sovereignty and land reform.
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