Paraguay's Painful Harvest
Friday 7 November 2008 7.35pm
Free Catch-Up: Watch Unreported World Again
This week's Unreported World comes from Paraguay, which has become one of the world's biggest suppliers of genetically modified soya - much of it destined to feed cattle that ends up on European plates. The programme reveals how our demand for meat is driving the industrial farming of soya to epic proportions. It's a phenomenon that's led to violent clashes between peasants, foreign landowners and the police, and accusations that insecticides sprayed on the crops are causing serious birth defects.
Reporter Tanya Datta and director Andrew Carter begin their journey at a land invasion where hundreds of landless peasants take over part of a soya farm. The team discovers that the protest is part of a nationwide peasant uprising, pitting ordinary Paraguayans against a wave of soya farmers - mainly Brazilian - who they claim are colonising their country, pushing people aside and contributing to the almost total deforestation of the eastern provinces.
Nearby, the team meets Pedro Silva, a seventy-one year old peasant who was shot five times by unknown assailants after he refused to sell up his smallholding to a soya farmer. Two Brazilians are currently awaiting trial for attempted murder.
The team moves on to the region of Ca'aguazu where locals are concerned that the intensive use of chemicals in soya farming is affecting their health. One man blames the soya farming for causing babies to be born with deformities, while a woman claims that many locals suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting due to the chemicals. The team discovers that two of the chemicals applied to soya plants in Paraguay are banned in Europe and decides to investigate further.
Datta meets Roberto Gimenez. He tells her that his three year-old son Jesus died after the soya fields around the family's home were sprayed with chemicals. The morning after the spraying Jesus had started to complain about irritation in his eyes. He developed a rash, then serious breathing problems. Eight days after the spraying he died.
The team visits a paediatrics hospital on the outskirts of the capital, Asuncion. They meet Dr Stela Benitez, who tells Datta about her research into the link between birth defects and agricultural chemicals used in soya farming. Her work, which has been published in a respected American paediatrics journal, shows that mothers who live within a kilometre of a sprayed field were twice as likely to have a baby with a defect.
Datta meets young mother Rosa, who grew up close to soya plantations, and her baby Sabino. He's one month old but his head is the size of a nine month-old. He's suffering from a huge cyst which has stopped his brain from developing, making his chances of survival slim.
To hear the other side of the story, they talk to a prominent Brazilian soya farmer. Erni Schlindwein champions the use of the latest farming technology and GM crops. He says locals don't like the fact that foreigners are making a success of soya farming in Paraguay and that the chemicals used wouldn't harm a chicken.
Paraguay has become reliant on soya and the global food business. With food prices increasing the industry is going to become ever more important and powerful, and the hard truth is the global food business doesn't need peasant farmers.
NOTE: Good to see this going out on one of the main UK TV channels.