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.