Soy - killing you - killing the planet

Soy testimonies---health effects of soy---(and I can vouch for this---my own daughter was diagnosed with abnormal thyroid after being on a soy heavy diet for several years.)

Soy Farmers' Dream Road May Hasten Amazon Ruin

BRAZIL: September 23, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Plans to pave a muddy road in the lower Amazon Basin should create a new soy boom in Brazil, but at a potentially high ecological price - exposing the world's richest tropical forest to destruction.

A roughly 625-mile stretch of dirt road links Brazil's soy-rich center-west, where most of its future agricultural growth will occur, to the lower Amazon River port of Santarem, the Atlantic and important export markets.

Torrential rains, however, make BR-163 and a few smaller roads virtually impassable from March through June, barring access for the soy belt to Europe and Asia via Santarem.

Conservationists fear that work to improve the road will hasten the ruin of the lower Amazon without government action to contain illegal logging and land invasions.

But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is under pressure to fulfill campaign promises to create jobs and boost an economy that slipped into recession in the second quarter of 2003, while keeping a lid on fiscal spending.

The government has written the paving of BR-163 into its development plan as part of a program to stimulate exports.

A consortium of companies, including oil giant Petrobras and multinational grain broker Cargill, are so convinced the road would generate growth and profit that they are discussing funding the development of BR-163 out of their own pockets.

Jose Luiz Glaser, Cargill's director of soy in Brazil, pointed out that BR-163 had been in the government's development plans for many years but no improvement of the road has been carried out.


"It is a project that will happen - but I think it will take three to six years," said Glaser, who added that the company is conducting a viability study on improving the road.

In April, Cargill opened a $20 million soy export terminal in Santarem with a capacity to move 800,000 tonnes of soy a year, most of which the company expects to come from the center-west - via BR-163.

Soy is the country's top farm export and should account for 10 percent of trade revenues in 2003. Brazil accounts for 25 percent of the world's soy after the United States, but should overtake its northern counterpart as the top soy producer in the next five to seven years at current growth rates.

Agriculture is one of the main engines of the Brazilian economy and, in future, most of the growth in the sector will come from the underdeveloped center-west savanna and other equatorial regions in the north and northeast.

Despite advantages such as seemingly endless, cheap, arable land and abundant water, Brazil's fertile center-west savanna has neither developed sufficient highways, integrated railways nor river barge systems like the United States and Europe.

"This road will be the spine of agricultural and economic development from the center-west to the Free Trade Zone in Manaus (upriver on the Amazon)," said Dilceu Dal'Basco, state representative in Mato Grosso, Brazil's top soy state.

The port is three days closer to Brazil's main soy markets in Europe and Asia than ports in the industrialized south. Freight costs from central Mato Grosso to Rotterdam would fall 20 percent, according to Transportation Ministry data.

"Agriculture would not be the only area to benefit," said Jony Lopes, coordinator of planning at the Transportation Ministry's infrastructure department.

He said goods coming from the Free Trade Zone in Manaus would halve travel time to the main markets in the south of Brazil and cut freight costs by 30 percent.


Deforestation of the Amazon, home to up to 30 percent of the planet's animal and plant species, jumped an alarming 40 percent last year, the Environmental Ministry said recently.

Even talk of paving the road, which often has potholes big enough to swallow cars, undermines the forest's survival.

"Just the possibility of the work spurs many of the poor to move on to the land along the road with the dream of being a soy farmer," said Roberto Smeraldi, who heads a group of international experts charged with advising Brazil and rich countries that fund Amazon conservation efforts.

Historically, when Brazil has faced the complex problem of creating economic growth to alleviate poverty while respecting the environment, the Amazon has remained an afterthought to the national agenda, said Violeta Loureiro, professor of sociology at the Federal University of Para.

"Soy is just another bulk commodity export," she said. "This is our history - exporting primary products like rubber, coffee and sugar that offer unreliable returns. Why not explore the medium term potential in the region's rich biodiversity?"

"The problem, which is not going away soon, is Brazil lacks the resources - the fiscal budget - to develop and protect these assets," Loureiro said.

Story by Reese Ewing



Informant: Bea Bernhausen


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Juni 2004

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