The World Wide Fund for Nature (now known as WWF) continues its career as the thinking corporation's greenwasher with a recent initative designed to extend the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) soya across much of Latin America. Food giants such as Unilever are getting together with soya producers in an upcoming Business Round Table on Sustainable Soy that will be convened by the WWF in Brazil, in March 2005. This round table discussion aims to get farmers, NGOs and corporate groups together to deal with the ongoing soya boom in a way that minimises damage to rainforest and wild habitats. However, minimal damage will still mean a massive amount of destruction, and, what is more, the WWF's agenda seems to accept that monoculture cash crops, Monsanto's GM soya, intense pesticide use and land poverty will always be a feature of South American rural society.
Global demand for meat is rising fast, especially in the westernising areas of China and South East Asia: animal feed production like soya must likewise rise. Soya production is estimated to increase by 60% by 2020, and much of this increase will be in places like Brazil and Argentina, at the expense of forest, savannah and other wild habitats. The WWF are trying to manage this situation in a way that reduces habitat loss, but that is also acceptable to the corporations and landowners who seek to profit from the soya boom.
If present trends continue 16 million square hectares of savannahs and 4 million square hectares of tropical forest will be destroyed by soya growing and cattle ranching. Naturally the WWF is concerned to reduce this destruction, but only while operating with the consent of the world's rich and food controllers; indeed, it is these same organisations that help to keep the WWF going. Their keynote report 'Managing the Soy Boom' is sponsored by one of the biggest supermarkets in Switzerland. Following on from this report comes the Round Table meeting in Brazil. The organisers of the Round Table include three major corporations (Dutch Unilever, Swiss CO-OP, Brazilian Amaggi); one coalition of NGOs (Dutch CORDAID) and one Brazilian farmers' organisation (Fetraf-Sul/CUT). This set up is akin to the proverb about wolves (the corporations) and sheep (the small farmers) voting on what's for dinner.
The WWF have accepted that soya cultivation must increase, but that natural habitat destruction may be reduced to a bare 3.4 million square hectares through using more 'sustainable' forms of soya cultivation - the ambitions of large food corporations like Cargill and Unilever and profit hungry 'soya barons' such as Amaggi cannot be stopped, but only softened. Not only does this approach ignore the damage that GM pollution will do, this approach also ignores the capacity of the rural labourers and urban workers of Latin America to claim control over their own land and run it in their own interests. This is, after all, the continent that recently saw successful revolts against neo-liberal politics and corporations, such as the uprisings against the IMF in Argentina and the defeat of water privatisation in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
The intensification of agriculture advocated in the WWF briefing will involve soya plantations being grown along existing roads and near to existing towns and villages. The Argentinian group GRR claims that 'the rural population, as well as neighbourhoods around urban areas surrounded by [Roundup Ready] soya fields are suffering from contamination caused by the intense use of glyphosphate, paraquat, atrazine, 2,4D (herbicides) and other pesticides, such as endosulphan (insecticide) plus fungicides applied to pesticide resistant crops.' In addition, intensive agriculture favours the bigger investors who can afford the machinery and chemicals, leading to concentration of land ownership in fewer hands, and excluding the smaller farmers. In Argentina and Paraguay peasant communities have already been evicted and terrorised by industrial soya growers.
The Rural Reflexion Group (GRR) have produced a pamphlet outlining their firm opposition to the Roundtable's agenda, "Our country used to be the breadbasket of the world and now we have become the Soya Republic." Across much of Latin America many social movements are suspicious or hostile to any move to increase soya cultivation, and the WWF is not listening to their concerns. Neither does it question the trade system that keeps many countries devoted to supplying Northern markets with a single crop. This system is ingrained in agreements such as the Common Agricultural Policy, which encourages European farmers to grow cereals and rear livestock for export, thus tying them to imports of 'third world' animal feed, and has been a disaster for farmers in both the 'first' and 'third' world.
A realistic way to safeguard American rainforests, and to democratise land use would be to accept that the current meat consumption is unsustainable, and that it cannot continue unless local methods of production are adopted that combine livestock and fodder production in the same area. In the teeth of the soya boom it is the peasants and labourers who need our support, and increasing their strength is the main way to stop the soya barons and safeguard the wildlife habitats.
'Managing the Boom' WWF report; http://www.panda.org/downloads/forests/managingthesoyboom.pdf
Rural Reflexion Group/Grupo de Reflexion Rural(Argentina)
Previous Corporate Watch article on global soya http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/newsletter/issue11/isue11_part10.htm
Corporate Watch profile on Unilever
ASEED information on the soya boom
Confederation Paysanne(farmers' union) article on meat farming
All the info on the counterconference will appear.on the Iguazu website,.though mainly in Spanish www.iguazu.grr.org.ar
- 181 Food and Agriculture