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PARAGUAY
New law favors soy farmers
Gustavo Torres
6/19/2009
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Congress authorizes indiscriminate use of farming chemicals.

More than 24 million liters of toxic agrochemicals are employed in Paraguay every year, causing deformations, health problems — even death — and environmental damage.

But Paraguayan lawmakers ignored this fact when they approved a farming chemical regulation law on May 22, which will still allow these toxic chemicals to be used.

The legislation overrides a decree issued by President Fernando Lugo in April that set health, food safety and environmental standards for the use of agrochemicals, by establishing a protective buffer of at least 100 meters of forest to separate water sources, populated areas and transit points from where these chemicals are employed.

Campesino and indigenous movements as well as public institutions and nongovernmental organizations complained that the new law approved by the Senate shows a complete irresponsibility because it leaves thousands of communities without any legal defense against the use of these substances.

Arguing that the law served to increase mechanical soy production, the legislators passed the bill that paves the way for exposing the population to intoxication, the destruction of other crops, as well as soil and water contamination, complained civil society organizations.

They said the bill attacks some of the basic principles of the constitution such as the right to life, health and to live in a healthy environment.

Value clash
In a public hearing in Congress on May 11, social organizations supported Lugo´s decree, saying that it established sufficient measures for the safe usage of agrochemicals.

But Lugo´s decree is now facing the bill approved in the Senate, which is supported by large agricultural companies. Civil society organizations fear that the dubbed "pesticide law" could overturn the decree.

For soy producers, Lugo´s decree would hurt their business, since it would reduce the area of farmland.

Still, the Senate´s proposal excludes state offices such as the Public Health and Social Welfare Ministry and the Environment Secretariat, and gives the National Service of Plant and Seed Quality and Safety, a low-ranking agency, all the authority on agrochemical issues.

The legislation has split farmers and soy producers, as some even small-scale producers are backing the Senate´s bill.

Some soy farmers are threatening to strike if Lugo´s decree is not withdrawn.

The president has offered to start talks with farmers, but said that regulation for safe agrochemical usage will be enforced as outlined in his decree, which he said seeks to avoid any contamination "that could be caused by the indiscriminate use of [herbicide] glyphosate or Roundup Ready."

Soy expansion
Large-scale soy producers in Paraguay are mostly Brazilian companies. The trend began in the 1960s, when farmers were lured by cheap, fertile lands along the countries´ shared border that were sold during the 1954-89 dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. In the 1980s, when Paraguay adopted widespread use of farming machinery and agrochemicals, millions of hectares of woodland were destroyed.

Soy monoculture expanded, growing to 1 million hectares in 2004 and to more than 2.8 million hectares by 2008, more than 5 percent of the country´s entire area and 61 percent of its arable land, covering eight departments.

Out of all South American countries, Paraguay has the largest percentage of farming land area. The landlocked nation is the world’s fourth-largest soy exporter and its sixth-largest producer.

For sociologist and director of the organization BASE Investigaciones Sociales, or BASEIS, Tomás Palau, Paraguay is being literally invaded by soy, and the social and health consequences are unprecedented.

"The pulverizing of herbicides in the air is poisoning the communities around the soy fields, forcing the campesinos to leave their plots, which are later bought at ridiculous prices by farming companies," he said.

Life threatening problem
The soy-producing departments such as Itapua, Alto Parana, Canindeyu and Caaguazu suffer the highest incidences of deformation and death caused by toxic farming chemicals.

With more than 24 million liters of farming chemicals that are employed in Paraguay every year, according to the Nongovernmental Organizations´ Association of Paraguay, Paraguay was put on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s watch list in 2003.

A study conducted by the Paraguayan Pediatric Society between March 2006 and February 2007 in the Itapua department found that some 40 percent of children whose mothers had direct or indirect contact with farming chemicals, suffered some type of deformation. The study warned that the chance of a child being born with a congenital deformation doubled if the mother lived within one kilometer of the soy plantations.

For Luis Aguayo, of the Mesa Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (MCNOC), an umbrella organization of campesino organizations, the approval of the Senate´s bill is a license to poison the population.

"We will defend the lives of our family members; we will defend our community and the environment without any hesitation," said Aguayo, adding that members will protest if Lugo does not veto the law.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Farmers split over agrochemical legislation. (Photo: Gustavo Torres)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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