Brazil is Naked

Here’s a terrific piece on soybeans from the Brazilian group FASE (Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance).

Soybeans? In my first book, Stuffed and Starved, I used soybeans as an example of how modern capitalist industrial farming could take a perfectly wonderful plant and turn it into a curse. Soy is a terrific plant – rich in protein and great for the soil as part of a polyculture. But when you plant millions of acres of it, things turn bad. Soybeans have been a central part of the narrative of Brazil’s agricultural success but that success, as this report shows, has been bought at a high ecological, social and indeed economic price. Although it looks like soyfarmers are the poster children of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps New World entrepreneurialism, the industry was only able to grow behind high tariff barriers and loans from central government at negative interest rates – in other words, the government paid the farmers to take out loans to develop the industry. There are ways to grow this miracle crop that are part of a thriving environment. Brazil’s soy barons aren’t involved in any of those ways.

One of the parts of the soy miracle that I didn’t fully appreciate is the ‘virtual water‘ that soy uses. In 2004, China bought 18 million tons of Brazilian soybeans, which required 45 cubic km of water to produce. Global water consumption in the home is 65 cubic km. Find out more below the fold.

Brazil is naked! The advance of soybean monoculture, the grain that grew too much

3 Replies to “Brazil is Naked”

  1. Thanks for the article. What strikes me about the article is that what is occurring in Brazil is very similar to the focus on the potato in Ireland of the 1800s. The peasants were forced to grow this cash crop, at the expense of growing a variety of crops, and thus during the potato blight, many people starved, and the fortunate were able to leave the country.

  2. Monoculture kills biodiversity, and without that we die. This will be our fate for placing inflated imaginary value on things that do not matter as much as our planet’s sustainability and biodiversity. The question now is, what are we going to do about it? Mr. Patel, you have a voice in this fight that is listened to. Why don’t you call for a worldwide boycott of GMO seeds?

  3. Hey Raj,

    I am Brazilian. Monoculture has been the root of our development. It started when the Portuguese arrived and started planting sugar cane in the coast of Brazil and it went until early 1900s when coffee was responsible for more than half of our exports budget (the coffee monoculture is also what made us to be the last country in the world to end slavery).

    Considering the above, we definitely see progress. My opinion it that this type of agricultural exploration is not ideal, but is what we can have.

    I am starting to read some of your ideas and you talk about the absurdity of having food in the “market”. But, good or not, we live in the market and we will until the rich countries develop an educated and true generosity or we have a big world revolution (both things are nearly utopic now).

    So, I although the issue is a problem to be discussed inside Brazil, I think we are not worthy of taking a hit for it in the global level because monoculture in Brazil, as it has always been, is a direct consequence of foreign pressures.

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