Agroindustry Causes Widespread Deforestation and Violence in Latin America

Representatives of organizations from Africa, India, and Latin America gathered in Bogota, Colombia, to discuss the impacts of agroindustry in ancestral territories, along with the importance of food sovereignty. The international forum was called, National Food Sovereignty: Industrial Agriculture v. Community and Family Agroecology.

Present at the event were networks of campesinos, Indigenous, and Afro peoples, along with civil society organizations like Grain, Vía Campesina, Alianza Biodiversidad, and el Grupo de Investigación en Territorios, Agroecología y Sistemas Agroalimentarios (Terras) of the National University of Colombia, to mention just a few.

Álvaro Acevado Osorio, professor at the National University of Colombia, and Doctor in Agroecology, explained that agroindustry is focused on business. It is based upon the appropriation of common goods, and generating political favors for the benefit of social development policies. While that happens, the rights of the communities are diminished.

As an alternative to agroindustry, there is agroecology, which is based in rights and permitting the rural and urban communities to produce food according to their own cultural conditions. Conditions that are “appropriate for both producers and consumers and that allow access to the common goods that facilitate production like seeds, water resources, etc.” At its core it is a discussion of rights, it is a dilemma between privileges and rights,” says Acevado Osorio.

In Latin America

Southwest Colombia, in Cauca, is predominantly inhabited by Afro peoples, and their lands are the most productive of the entire country. This has caused conflicts over land and the displacement of communities.

The monopolization of land in Colombia is occurring due to the production of palm oil and the flower agroindustry. In Ecuador, there is an issue with Tilapia fish farms contaminating water. All these examples show the dominance of agroindustry which is contaminating the Latin American region.

Mexico was mentioned for the construction of the Maya Train megaproject, the contamination of animal industries, avocado plantations, among other things. These industries also generate violence in the communities and the forced displacement of thousands of people.

“Extensive deforestation is taking place in Latin America. For example, the Amazon has the highest deforestation rate on the planet, and the effects are becoming ever more evident,” said Javier León, of the organization Grain.

Resistance against agroindustry has led to increased criminalization of Indigenous peoples and communities characterized by persecutions, harassment, and violence from the state.

On this point, the organizations lamented the systematic violence against Indigenous and campesino leaders in different countries. They expressed their concern that the Latin American region has the highest number of deaths and disappearances for the defense of human rights and life. Women are the main protagonists of these resistances or of alternative proposals to this intensive model of expansion in Latin America.

Speaking of a more complex situation, they mentioned India, where there have been suicides related to industrial agriculture. Between 1993 and 2006, there were around 150,000 suicides of campesinos, and according to the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, the number has continued to rise. In September 2023 alone, the United Nations documented an increase in youth suicides.

A Disaster

The experts agree, the Green Revolution “was a disaster.” One of the immediate impacts was the loss of local diversity of seeds. For example, India had 100,000 varieties of rice, now they have less than 5,000. There are 4,000 endemic varieties of cotton, but in ten years they have become extinct. Now they only plant genetically modified cotton that is controlled by one company: Monsanto.

The agrotoxins are part of the problem. They contaminate the soil, water, and air. In many cases, they are dispersed from above, into the air.

Other impacts are the degradation of soil, erosion, monoculture, the disappearance of species, water toxicity, including subterranean waters, and also hundreds of patients sick with cancer.

“That was the devastation of the Green Revolution, but it was not sufficient. In various countries in Africa, along with in India, they are talking about a second Green Revolution, like the first one wasn’t enough,” said the representative of Grain from India.

For the organizations at the event, the alternative is food sovereignty organized by the people from below. The object is to be independent of external inputs and companies. They are committed to the conservation and preservation of seeds and the practices of sustainable agriculture.

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