Filmmakers: Glenn Ellis and Guido Bilbao
For much of the past decade Argentina has seen a commodities-driven export boom, built largely on genetically-modified soy bean crops and the aggressive use of pesticides.
Argentina’s leaders say it has turned the country’s economy around, while others say the consequences are a dramatic surge in cancer rates, birth defects and land theft.
People & Power investigates if Argentina’s booming soy industry is a disaster in the making.
Filmmaker’s view: Bad seeds
By Glenn Ellis
As I flew in to Buenos Aires to make this film, all the talk was of President Cristina Kirchner’s latest gambit. Her foreign minister had pulled out of a meeting with the British foreign secretary to discuss the Falklands (or the Malvinas depending on your outlook). And for the people I rubbed up against in Argentina’s smart and chic capital, on discovering I was English, this, along with Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ moment, was the topic on everybody’s lips. “We won the war”, they would say. “After the fighting we got rid of our dictators but you had another 10 years of Thatcher.”
When I explained I was in the country to cover the soya boom, which has given Argentina the fastest growth rate in South America, but also allegedly caused devastating malformations in children, there was a look of disbelief. “Here, in Argentina? Why haven’t we heard about it?”
A good question: why had not anyone heard about it? And when I ventured a little further explaining I also wanted to cover what is best described as a dirty war in the North of the country where campesinos are being driven off their land, and sometimes killed, to make way for soya plantations – the bemusement increased. “That’s historical” people would say, “it’s been going on since the time of the conquistadores.” So when I arrived with my crew at Argentina’s second city, Cordoba, 700 kilometres North West of the capital, to meet Alternative Nobel Laureate Professor Raul Montenegro, I was not quite sure what to expect.
Montenegro, a world-renowned biologist, looked the part of a pioneer, in khaki shirt and jungle boots. “I have pesticide in me”, he said, almost as soon as he opened the door. “Here we all have pesticide in our bodies because the land is saturated with it. And it is a huge problem. In Argentina biodiversity is diminishing. Even in national parks, because pesticides don’t recognise the limit of the park.” Montenegro is a man in a hurry. “You must see for yourself”, he said pointing to his Land Rover and taking us a short drive out of Cordoba to a slight rise in the vast plain which surrounds the city. Here, as far as the eye can see, endless acres of soya stretched to the horizon. “More than 18 million hectares are covered by this GMO soya but it’s not solely a matter of soya because over this plant on this huge surface more than 300 million litres of pesticide are used.”
A soy republic
Not so long ago Argentina topped the world for meat production, but here there was not a cow in sight. It is a picture replicated across the country. The transformation has taken little more than a decade and the vast majority of soya seed in Argentina is provided by US chemical giant Monsanto. Continue reading