Paraguay’s Land Struggle

Intensive large-estate agriculture is taking over most of the food production in the world affecting harvests, feeding trends and life around the globe. Based on Genetically Modified (GM) seeds, and the strong use of agrochemicals to improve the harvest, this new model is bringing together genetic engineering, food processing and bio-fuels, with the underlying promise of tackling hunger, and creating huge revenues for big transnational companies who ultimately control the market.

However, this model is based on a neoliberal economy that empowers the deregulation of markets and the transfer of capital, thus leaving little revenue for the production poles. International organisations and NGOs state that its expansion is actually impoverishing local communities, by strangling small producers and destroying the local market economy, either in the Southern Cone, India or South Africa.

The Southern Cone is nowadays one of the main food producers in the world, and the spearhead of agribusiness. Significantly, the Syngenta Corporation dubbed it the “United Soya Republic” on an advertisement published in the newspapers Clarín and La Nación of Argentina; a bold statement showing the optimism and fervour with which agribusiness companies are attempting to control this area of the world.

In 2013 I started documenting the changes in the landscape and socio-economic climate that agribusiness is bringing to Paraguay, a country that has devoted itself to the agro-export model under promises of a never-ending growth. In the last 15 years the soya surface has tripled, and is currently the world’s fourth biggest exporter of these legumes, which are mostly shipped to China and the EU for cattle feed. The export of soya as well as meat and cereals places Paraguay as one of the fastest growing economies of Latin America, reaching a historical 13% GDP growth in 2013, one of the biggest in the world. In this context the small but powerful land elite has their eyes on the Chicago stock exchange, which sets the prices for agriculture commodities worldwide, and is seeing a promising future blurred only by the social unrest and the lack of authority in a highly corrupted country.

On the other hand, deforestation and land grabbing are on the rise in Paraguay, with 9000 rural families being evicted by soya production each year, and nearly half a million hectares of land being turned into soya fields. Independent studies link the uncontrolled use of pesticides such as Glyphosate with serious effects on human health, and protests against fumigations and over land-ownership are spreading, leading to strong confrontations between police, peasants and large estate owners.

This work documents the complex realities of the global food chain and its socio-economic implications, at a time when we are seeing a shift from the traditional view of agriculture (as a means to produce food), to a system designed to produce livestock food and oil for cars.