Saturday, April 16, 2011

Argentina: Local no-spray zones are not enough

Argentina: Local no-spray zones are not enough - Grupo de Reflexion Rural

Thursday, 14 April 2011 10:07

NOTE: The commentary below is by the NGO, Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR), and aims to clarify recent reports of a lawsuit brought by victims of pesticide spraying in a soy-producing region of Argentina. The case featured in the following articles and elsewhere on the web: (Spanish) (English)

The lawsuit resulted in a ruling that banned the spraying of pesticides in one neighborhood and within certain distances of homes.

GRR says that it supports the right of spray victims to fight for no-spray zones in order to protect their homes and families. However, it points out that people within and outside Argentina must not settle for partial victories, as the entire industrial soy production model in Argentina needs to end. It is causing rural depopulation and poisoning on a massive scale.

GRR particularly condemns the Round Table on Responsible Soy for its attempts to greenwash a fundamentally unsustainable agricultural model.
San Jorge: Court decision prompts further reflection on the depopulation of our countryside
GRR Grupo de Reflexion Rural

16 March 2011
Translated by Maite Bell

Once again, the underlying confusion which is being caused by some sources of information require us to release a statement on the judicial actions against crop spraying which are taking place in the San Jorge District of the Santa Fe Province in Argentina. In February 2011, Judge Tristan Martinez banned crop spraying in fields belonging to two soya growers, who were identified as Mr Gaillard and Mr Durando Facino. According to Judge Martinez's decision, ground-based and aerial spraying was prohibited 800 metres and 1,500 metres respectively from the populated area of the Urquiza neighbourhood. This judgement requires further clarification, as the ban only applies to the properties belonging to the two soya growers mentioned above, and, as was requested by the defense lawyers, only within the distances stated. One may assume that this ban would provide protection for the whole perimeter of the town or the neighbourhood, but this is not the case.

In the past, the Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) has made its position clear regarding certain actions which focus only partially on the struggle against the soya production model established in Argentina since the 1990s, but which do not compromise it seriously. In a statement to the judiciary, in July 2009 we asked: 'Is Argentinian justice perceptive or holistic enough to acknowledge that partial or incomplete evidence should initiate the precautionary principle? If not, then it is time that judges in courtrooms and citizens throughout the land ask themselves "how much more poison are we willing to put up with?" GRR's response to this question is that we are not prepared to put up with the situation a moment longer.'

Regarding the expectations created due to the San Jorge judicial ruling among the committed media and certain environmental activists, we want to stress how crucial it is to continue to demand real changes to the soya industry model. It is also imperative to be aware of how little can be gained from actions such as the one in San Jorge. We want to make clear, that our criticism does not apply to those who have been immediately affected, such as the victims of San Jorge and all those families throughout Argentina who have had to suffer daily aggression from the soya growers. We support their demands to move the so-called agricultural line away from their homes as soon as possible. Even more, we would understand if these victims, at some point, might respond to the extreme situation by taking the law into their own hands, given the impunity with which the soya growers have been allowed to act, regardless of the innumerable protests there have been against them. The situation has become scandalous.

A number of years ago GRR sent a report to chief government officers and to the Supreme Court of Justice, which concluded by stating: "Industrial soya agriculture is synonymous with deforestation, soil erosion, contamination, destruction of the environment and biodiversity, and the forced expulsion of rural populations. However, this model could have even more disastrous consequences. We believe that the case of the mothers of the Ituzaingo neighbourhood has provided evidence which confirms that the current system will deliberately lead to contamination on a vast scale, and will affect thousands of small and medium-sized communities in Argentina. A public health disaster of great magnitude is on the horizon: a death sentence brought about by the policies of the industrial giants and which only their enormous interests, and the astounding ignorance of our politicians, endeavour to keep quiet. Cancer has become a massive epidemic throughout hundreds of towns and communities in Argentina. There is no doubt that the current model for rural agriculture is responsible for the disease."

We consider it absolutely necessary that the victims of these aggressions defend themselves by the best means available to them, and we offer our respect and support to the Peralta family. Nonetheless, GRR is aware of, and continues to fight for, all those other families who live beyond the 1500 metre limit, and we denounce the consequences that the no-spray zone will have if it becomes accepted policy. Some protesters from social piqueteros organisations have even dared to put into words their alleged rights, we are referring to the presumed right to live in the city. But what kind of an open door could we give to the Corporations and the soya growers with this message? The agribusiness needs a depopulated countryside in order to extend their agricultural industry with the use of agrotoxics beyond the 1.500 metres that the San Jorge ruling now ensures them.

We do not support partial campaigns, such as those for one field or one community at a time. These campaigns are minimised and fragmented in the ocean of soya which encompasses over 20 million hectares of land. Exceptions to this statement are the campaigns led by the victims of soya growers within many communities in order to protect their lives, families and livelihoods. Nonetheless, we do not support campaigns, actions or political proposals which aim to become widespread policy. We believe that we should not campaign to 'control crop spraying' but to "Stop the Crop Spraying' - a campaign which has always encompassed a fierce condemnation of the soya model. Perhaps other slogans, such as 'Spray far away from towns' or 'Stop spraying us' would have been more comfortable for us. This is not simply irony, but an attempt to explain the importance of not giving legitimacy to the Corporations through our actions.

To seek to establish this kind of action in defense of an urban ideology and as a political struggle is foolish and proves that they are designed, at best, by city dwellers, people who know neither about rural life nor about Argentine history. To follow this course of action would deny us the ability to struggle for the repopulation of the countryside; to attempt to preserve the traditions of our mestizo and indigenous communities; to renounce any change to the future of our Latin America; and to achieve our Food Sovereignty objective. We also declare that these actions cannot even be classified as true opposition to the policies of Hermes Binner, the Governor of Santa Fe, who maintained on a number of occasions: "…questions around the toxicity of this product need to be de-mystified…" and that glyphosate, "…when used for convenience in a responsible and regulated manner, according to what needs to be achieved, is a product which can co-exist perfectly well with the protection of health."…"One needs to be clear about its benefits and any harmful effects it may have. The slightest damage to health is just cause for its removal from use, even if there is major economic benefit from the product's use…" In an attempt to follow the thought pattern of the socialist governor of Santa Fe, we could imagine that, not spraying agrochemicals within the 1500 metre zone could be seen as the "responsible" and "rational" way in which crop spraying must be carried out in the fields around San Jorge. Crop spraying does then take place, but at 1500 metres from the towns. In reality, this description could help to certify the soya growers as "responsible."

This is an example of how the agribusiness model works in Argentina and throughout the rest of the world. The depopulation of the countryside, an agriculture system with no farmers and the suppression of rural life continues unabated. And if that was not enough, the concentration of the population in urban areas is being legitimised. 'Shall we stop fighting the rural exclusion model', and seek protection in the towns and cities and surrounding areas where we will no longer be able to produce our own food and tools nor decide upon our own lives? Shall we be turned into consumers and destined to a dependence on the ups and downs of the global markets? Must we resign ourselves to what companies and markets decide to produce from the land on which we once grew our own vegetables and grazed our animals? Will we fight to live in Emergency Settlements and "for the right to live in cities" which, with each passing day, increasingly resemble overspilling shanty towns and their sprawling belts of misery?

For a number of years, we have witnessed on a daily basis how people who have been driven off their land are received by social organisations and how they are treated as if they had always been urban consumers. These new urban dwellers are given a few square metres of land as a home, and an allowance. From that moment they increase the ranks of urban dwellers in the new belts of poverty, which are growing around our towns. Their own history and heritage is now a thing of the past. They are no longer peasants. They are no longer indigenous people. They are no longer rural workers or members of small communities. They have become a blank canvas upon which others will re-write their own history. They have to learn to live in a new role as consumers and receivers of benefits, and at the same time, they have to learn to assimilate themselves into an ailing marginalised society dominated by gangs or controlled by drug traffickers.

If all our struggles were like the one in San Jorge we would run the risk of being unable to see the wood for the trees. How would we be able to disarm the colonialism of the industrial production model in which we are drowning? Is it possible to change a system when we are faced with the inherent bias and double-meanings which attempt to legitimise the current system? We believe that, faced with these challenges, we need to continue to think as organisations about how we should manage our campaigns and struggles. We need to be aware of traps, such as the proposal for the planting of certified soya (according to the agreements made at the Round Table on Soya: a round table attended by the soya growers and a number of environmental and social NGOs), or perhaps we will be faced with a niche policy for planting organically certified soya, managed by corporations such as Cargill, which keep Argentina dependent on global markets.

On the contrary, GRR attempts to engender a new way of thinking. Our campaigns and struggles have been devised from a global perspective and GRR cannot justify taking on single and never-ending battles, as has been suggested by certain NGOs such as WWF who are openly proposing globalisation. These will only serve to lead us down blind alleyways. To struggle against the contamination of a certain river can be justified from a local perspective, but not when we are aware that there are a growing number of rivers being contaminated. The same applies when we are asked to campaign to protect the puma, or the blue whale. We know that our industrial society has driven us to a terrifying extinction of the Earth's biodiversity, and we know that we are losing many species each year. A similar pattern would be evident if we campaigned for social projects for those people who arrive in our cities each day as victims of evictions from their lands and their way of life. Our aim is not to disprove each and every one of the theories put forward by the proponents of industrial agriculture. We do not want to take part in an endless game of cat and mouse. It is not a case of telling the soya growers where they can and cannot spray their crops. We do not believe that the battle is purely over Glyphosate, or even worse, to obtain a re-categorisation of Glyphosate from SENASA (Argentina's National Service for Health and Quality of Food Crops). The truth is that nothing can be gained from these battles, even though they have been proposed by "environmentalists" campaigning for "good agricultural practices." They are no more than a means to pass the buck to the producer, to legitimise the current model and the use of agrochemicals.

The reality is that, although we must campaign with sister organisations who are opposed to the policies of the Round Table on Responsible Soya against the new greenwash which is taking place on a global level, at a local level we are facing the hand-over of our lands, as in the case of Rio Negro province to Chinese landgrab or the Chaco to landgrabbers from Saudi Arabia or Qatar. If today we go home content because we have achieved a 1500 metre crop spraying exclusion zone around our urban areas, at the very least, we should get up tomorrow and think about what we might do to stop the devastating model of soya production and what we can do so that the millions of displaced people now living on welfare and in poverty on the edges of large towns can return to their lands.


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