Friday, November 25, 2011

Bolivia Diaries: Day 12, Part 3 - Intro to Santa Cruz Agriculture

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. Our twelfth day was one I was eagerly anticipating. We left the city of Santa Cruz for two days with Productividad Biosfera Medio Ambiente (PROBIOMA). First, they took us to their training center, where we would spend the night, where they presented on their work. Then we visited a small, organic farm. The next day they took us to the heart of the industrial ag region of the department where we saw responsible soy production and lots of irresponsible soy production.

This diary covers their presentation on Santa Cruz agriculture.

For me, and I suspect for the rest of the group, visiting PROBIOMA was heaven. Suddenly were eating a variety of fresh vegetables and we didn't have to wonder if any of it had been sprayed with DDT. Miguel, the director of PROBIOMA, was absolutely lovely. During lunch, I asked if he had been in Cuba and he said he had. As I had guessed, many of PROBIOMA's ideas and techniques were inspired by what Cuba has done with biological pest controls.

The second presentation began with the definition of food security by the FAO: "The right of all people to have access to healthy and nutritious food, regardless of where the food comes from." What follows are Miguel's words, as best as I could transcribe them:

This definition of food security from the FAO, from 1996, actually has led to a strengthening of global agribusiness. It's also led to a number of crises: the food crisis, the fuel crisis, the financial crisis. The crises for which transnational companies and agribusiness are proposing a solution. They propose to solve the food crisis through a combination of GMOs and agrochemicals for increased food production and also for increased fuel production, through the production of biofuels.

Magnifying this crisis is the increase energy requirements of emerging economies - India, China, Brazil, and Russia for example - which are looking for new sources of energy for their growth. There has been an increase in demand for corn, cassava, sugarcane, and palm oil for agrofuels. So there is land diverted from production for food in order to produce fuel. So we have a combination of factors such as the conversion of crops and land to agrofuels, the lower production caused by climate change, and commodity speculation leading to the increased price of food.

According to the FAO, the price index of food is higher than it ever has been in the last 10 years. The results have been an additional 44 million people who have entered into poverty in the last year. In the world, we produce enough food for 12 billion people. But we only have 7 billion people. What happens with the food for the extra 5 billion? And we still have Somalia, we still have Latin America, we still have Africa, where people are hungry.

There's been a 77 percent increase in the price of maize, and a huge percent of corn now goes to ethanol. Both the EU and the US have set sustainable fuel targets. In the EU, 10% of its fuel has to come from biofuels. There high demand for cassava for biofuels in China, where they don't consume cassava as food, and it's of course one of the most important foods in Africa and Latin America. This is generating problems in the global market because the price of cassava has gone up.

This is leading to an increase in land concentration and biofuel land grabs that are happening more and more in Africa and S. America. For example, in Uruguay, 38% of the cultivable land is in foreign ownership. Uruguay exports in soy have increased and its other exports have decreased, so it is less diversified. There is a decrease in exports in beef and wool, for example.

What about Bolivia? Large soy producers in Bolivia represent 3% of the producers in Bolivia and control 55% of the cultivable land. And 69% of large scale soy producers are foreigners. Mennonites, Brazilians, and others.

The government has proposed - it claims - that small scale campesino agriculture is the solution to the country's food security. However, campesino production contributes 18% of the food consumed at the national level. And 82% is produced by agroindustry.

PROBIOMA argues that food security and food sovereignty is not only about food self-sufficiency. It's also about the distribution of land and who is in control of land. The area cultivated in the country has decreased by 9 percent in the last 3 years. That is the result of bad development policies and it has led to lower production. Why?

At this point, Miguel mentioned that Bolivia had put in place a restriction on exports. He thinks they should have done it differently. (I was unable to understand this part very well.)

Santa Cruz department produces 70% of the food in Bolivia. Of the industrial crops - soy, corn, wheat, sunflower, sugarcane, sorghum, white - Santa Cruz produces 82% of Bolivia's production. Santa Cruz is the granary of Bolivia.

Santa Cruz produces:
  • 72% of rice produced in Bolivia
  • 63% of wheat produced in Bolivia
  • 60% of corn produced in Bolivia
  • 100% of soy produced in Bolivia
  • 40% of vegetables produced in Bolivia
  • 38% of potatoes produced in Bolivia
  • 29% of cattle produced in Bolivia (Beni produces 43% of Bolivia's cattle)

There are 3600 varieties of potatoes in the world. 1600 of those are in Peru. 1400 are in Bolivia. There are 600 varieties in the rest of the world. In the last 15 years, Bolivia lost 40 varieties.

There are 3 foreign varieties of potatoes that are cultivated in Bolivia: Desiree, Holland, and Argentina. These are the varieties that are the most produced in Bolivia. Because the consumer habits have changed, they have driven a change in potato varieties produced. These three varieties are produced for junk food, like French fries.

Santa Cruz produces 38% of Bolivia's potatoes. They produce these three foreign, industrial varieties. He thinks this is because Santa Cruz has the best agroecological conditions - the best climate, the most land - for production but also because campesinos have never had any development support from the government. He thinks the campesino agriculture is nonviable and destined to disappear.

Next he showed a slide with a breakdown of Santa Cruz agriculture:

Livestock represents 30.8% of Santa Cruz agriculture (measured by value).
Industrial crops (oilseed, cotton, agrofuels, sugar) represent 34.1% of Santa Cruz agriculture.
Cereals: 15.2%
Tubers: 10.3%
Fruit: 5.0%
Vegetables: 4.5%

This is a reflection of international demand, he says. Antonio, an economist at PROBIOMA, added that capitalist agriculture has been so strongly developed in Santa Cruz, whereas in the Andes, agriculture has remained tied more to subsistence.

Miguel said that 90% of Bolivia's quinoa is for export. There is an extension of development of capitalist agriculture in quinoa, and an expansion of the agricultural frontier. What does this mean? It means that a crop can be a native, traditional crop but it's contact with the international market can totally distort its production.

This is the introduction of machinery, chemicals, and intensification of production and a transformation of the logic of production, which becomes more market oriented and less subsistence based. And the people in the Altiplano no longer eat quinoa. The campesino sells his quinoa and buys products of Santa Cruz agroindustry to eat.

In both Santa Cruz and in Oruro and Potosi these processes of industrial monoculture has led to processes of erosion and desertification. 90% of the soil in Oruro and Potosi (where quinoa is grown) are in the process of desertification.More than 300,000 hectares in Santa Cruz are in the process of desertification due to large scale monocultures.

The most vulnerable sector are the smallholder campesinos who don't have the ability to decide because seeds are controlled by agribusiness, they have small amounts of land, and they may become dependent on purchased inputs. They have lost their sovereignty and now depend on purchasing products. The small farmer in Santa Cruz might have 20 to 50 hectares and campesinos in Santa Cruz might have maybe 5 hectares are nothing but producers of raw materials in the end. They have no food sovereignty.

So what do we do know? Production is in the hands of large transnational companies, prices are set at international markets, there is a strong dependence on foreign technologies and the use of agrochemicals, and dependence on purchased seeds, and little value for biodiversity, endogenous resources and genetic resources. In other words, we have market oriented capitalist agriculture.

In response to this, the government has proposed legislation that passed mid summer 2011, the law 3525, the Rural Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry Revolution, which seeks to present a new model of rural and agricultural development that's environmentally sustainable with food sovereignty producing greater surplus, basically efficient production and more efficient use of natural resources and the available technologies.

But another law, Law 3546, contradicts the food sovereignty plan. That law will build an agroindustrial complex in the La Paz department's Amazon region, and it will build 6 agrofuel factories in Santa Cruz.

Here, our translator Tanya interjected that the first few drafts of the new constitution outlawed GMOs, and then at the very end, that was changed to simply say "the use of GMOs will be regulated by the law." Also, Miguel said, the import of agrochemicals has increased by 300% in the last 5 years. Biofuel feedstocks being tried in Bolivia include sugarcane and jatropha (a native palm).

He then showed a list of the massive number of agricultural projects from the government in recent years. One was EMAPA (Empresa de Apoyo a la Producción de Alimentos), the state owned enterprise created by MAS (the party of Evo Morales) to augment agricultural production. It gives credit to producers for the purchase of machinery, inputs, seeds, etc. EMAPA - instead of promoting agroecology or organic agriculture - has actually provided credit in the form of GMOs, agrochemicals, conventional inputs, etc, and it supports primarily medium and largescale producers. So actually, in practice, the importation of agrochemicals has been prioritized by the government of Evo Morales.

Also, 60% of food imports in Bolivia are wheat flour, sugar, rice, maize, and potatoes (primarily from Peru), which are foods that could be grown in Bolivia. In monetary value, food imports have gone up by 80% in four years. The irony is that a country so rich in biodiversity and genetic resources is importing so much.

Bolivia is not a country that can produce computers, cell phones, etc, but what does Bolivia have that the world lacks? Biodiversity. Bolivia's development policy should be rooted in the protection of biodiversity and genetic resources.

Bolivia could be a country with a lot of organic production with all of the biodiversity it has. It's not going to compete in the global market in terms of quantity. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay all produce soy. So does Bolivia. But they all produce GM soy. Bolivia could produce GM-free, organic soy and could compete in terms of quality.

The seeds produced in Bolivia, the majority of seeds produced and sold, are soy. Among all of the different kinds of seeds for soy, only two of the varieties are not GMO. All of the seeds are by Monsanto. Some were developed in Argentina, some were developed in Brazil.

In conclusion, said Miguel, what we need to do, number one, is to promote the production of crops on the basis of adequate nutrition. Prioritizing nutritious, local crops for local consumption, and also recovering and strengthening genetic resources for local biodiversity. This should be done while taking into account the use of land and the access to land and also the influence of international markets and commodities on prices. PROBIOMA promotes giving campesinos land that is appropriate for sustainable agricultural production (i.e. not giving them forested land) and they also promote cooperative farming arrangements as a viable way to scale up agricultural production. PROBIOMA also promotes the free reproduction and multiplication of seeds, which are not patented and not GMO. They also promote the use and development of sustainable technologies such as the development of biocontrols.

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