Brazil's GMO dispute and the neoliberal agrarian model in Brazil (13/2/2007)

1.The Neoliberal Agrarian Model in Brazil
2.Brazil: Syngenta under fire in Brazil GMO Dispute
3.New Biotech Policy Could Speed Brazil GMO Approval - ANBio

EXTRACT: In 2005, almost three hundred thousand workers in the countryside lost their jobs and migrated to cities.... There are no indicators of a waning of rural poverty and social inequality. Ten transnational companies - Monsanto, Bunge (agribusiness and food), Cargill, ADM, BASF (chemicals), Bayer, Syngenta, Norvartis, Nestle, and Danone - control virtually all agrarian production, pesticides, transgenic seeds, and foreign commodities trading. (item 1)

1.The Neoliberal Agrarian Model in Brazil
by Joao Pedro Stedile
Monthly Review, February

Joao Pedro Stedile is a member of the national board of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) and of Via CampesinaBrasil.


Since Fernando Collor's 1989 presidential victory, and most notably since Fernando Henrique Cardoso's two terms in office (1995–98 and 1999–2002, respectively), economic policies have been enacted in Brazil that represent a subordinate alliance of the country’s dominant classes with international capital. Unfortunately, under President Lula these same sectors have remained in control, and economic policy caters to their interests.

The results are well-known. There has been denationalization, the Brazilian economy is even more dependent, and our best and most profitable companies have been handed over to transnationals. Banks have had fantastic profitsBrazil has offered the highest interest rates in the world. The role of government in the economy has been cut back. Policies have been enacted that privilege the transfer of wealth to the financial system through the state sector.

Under Lula's government, the neoliberal model is now being applied to the agrarian sector. An alliance has been sealed between the major capitalist farmers and ranchers and the multinationals that control the international commodity trade, the seed trade, pesticide production, and agri-industry.

This neoliberal vision for agriculture gives priority to large holdings that make extensive use of agrochemicals and pesticides and that concentrate on monocultures of commodity crops for export. They use just 60 million hectares of the 360 million available for cultivation, and 85 percent of the area under exploitation is used for sugarcane, soybeans, and coffee. Looking for higher labor productivity, large producers drive workers away from the countryside and exploit the few remaining, who earn the lowest wages in Brazil (the equivalent of about $150 a month). The road to competitiveness for our wise agrarian capitalists is one of large estates for larger-scale production, combined with among the worst rates of compensation. Their production techniques attack the environment, destroy biodiversity, and compromise natural resources through the large-scale use of pesticides, with a heavy cost to society and future generations.

Consequences of the Neoliberal Agrarian Model

In 2005, almost three hundred thousand workers in the countryside lost their jobs and migrated to cities. Land holdings keep growing by absorbing smaller properties. In the past few years estates with over one thousand hectares have absorbed over thirty million new hectares. There are no indicators of a waning of rural poverty and social inequality. Ten transnational companies - Monsanto, Bunge (agribusiness and food), Cargill, ADM, BASF (chemicals), Bayer, Syngenta, Norvartis, Nestle, and Danone - control virtually all agrarian production, pesticides, transgenic seeds, and foreign commodities trading.

In the 1970s, Brazil’s farm machinery sector sold almost 65,000 tractors a year; in 2005, with the concentration of land ownership, only 32,000 tractors were sold. Clearly, this model doesn’t help even Brazil’s industry.

An Alternative Proposal

Against such a model, we present an alternative based on family-run and campesino agriculture that has the support of rural social movements, church groups, environmentalists, the forty-five organizations in the National Forum for agrarian reform, and the widest array of representatives of rural workers and of the people in rural areas. This alternative model defends the organization and occupation of land of small and medium-sized farms; calls for aid for five million agricultural families in smallholdings; and urges the implementation of an agrarian reform that would guarantee land to four million landless families. It stands for intercropping and improved rotations as a way to better manage the soil and preserve the environment. It gives priority to the production of healthy food, without pesticides. It defends a type of agriculture that hires workers, creates jobs, and guarantees an income for rural workers. It stands for the use of environmentally friendly agricultural techniques that use conventional seed already adapted to our country, and it is against transgenics.

Measures Taken by the Lula Government in Relation to Campesino Agriculture and Agrarian Reform

The fight on the agricultural front never ends in Brazil: on the one hand, there is the international financial capital model that unites capitalist farmers and ranchers with multinationals; on the other, there are family farmers, campesinos, and their movements, united with urban workers. What exactly has the Lula government done with respect to the agricultural sector? Which of the opposing camps have fared better under his government’s policies?

According to the Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores (MPA), the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), the Movimento das Mulheres Camponesas (MMC), the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), and the Associação Brasileira de Reforma Agrária (ABRA), which delivered a document to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in March 2006, the measures implemented by the Lula government can be divided between those that advanced campesino agriculture and those that impeded it.

The list of measures taken in support of campesino agriculture is impressive. There has been an expansion of employment and income insurance for farmers to protect them against natural disasters. Loans made available to small rural producers have nearly tripled. Subsidized electricity and home construction have greatly expanded in rural areas, and larger budgets for rural education programs have been enacted. The government has begun a biodiesel program that will open new markets for campesino agriculture by requiring that 2 percent of the volume of diesel fuel be produced from vegetable matter. More resources have been allocated for technical aid for rural settlements, though this is given through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), preventing a democratization of this program. Lula’s government has supported, albeit weakly, the cistern program, which provides family-sized water-capturing cisterns in the arid Northeast. In Roraima, the Raposa Do Sol has been demarcated a native historical area. Of great importance, federal forces have not repressed social movements in rural areas, although military police departments under the control of governors still repress them. (The federal police previously did repress aboriginal movements in several states.)

Unfortunately, however, the government has also supported numerous measures and positions that have impeded the development of campesino agriculture and have explicitly or implicitly advanced the interests of big farmers and financiers.

It is important to note that the overall macroeconomic policies, especially those related to international trade, of the Lula government favor agribusiness, providing a nurturing context for specific rural sector measures. For example, the government has wholeheartedly embraced neoliberal policies and supported international organizations such as the WTO and the World Bank. At the Montreal round of the WTO, the Brazilian government helped to block the initiative to make it mandatory worldwide for transgenic products to be labeled, thus defending the interests of multinational agribusiness companies.

Specific policies biased toward the big farm sector include: the continuation of the tax-exempt status for supplies used for export-oriented agribusiness (a hidden subsidy to the foreign commodity trade); legalization, through a presidential decree, of the use and trade of transgenic soy; ignoring any and all environmental research and the actual infringement of law through the smuggling of banned cotton and corn transgenic seeds; ignoring campesino and environmentalists’ demands in the drafting process of the biohazards law; lack of enforcement of the law ordering the food industry to carry warning labels on all products containing more than 1 percent of transgenics (although over 8 million tons of transgenic soybeans are sold in the domestic market every year, the warning labels are not used for any product); continuation of financial support through public banks for large agribusiness concerns, for a total sum that went from 20 to 42 billion reals per year (21 billion dollars by the latest harvest) - and for the ten largest transnational agricultural companies which, by themselves, got around 8 billion reals (4 billion dollars) from state banks; granting of credits through a federal development bank, the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Social (BNDES), for paper mills and eucalyptus foresting; and taking the initiative to pass a law opening national parks to logging interests.

The government has also served the interests of the rural elite by its inactions. It has failed to fulfill its promises to settle the landless families occupying large estates; implement an encompassing agrarian reform program; modernize the estate-productivity index used for nationalizations, last updated in 1975; pass a law to expropriate estates that use slave labor; stop the creation of the House and Senate Investigative Committee for land matters and to stop the final conclusions that define land occupations as a major felony; push for judicial punishment of rural massacres such as those in Corumbiara (1995), Carajás (1996), and Felisburgo (2004); stop the rise in violence in rural areas; remove older laws and statutes that block agrarian reform; demarcate native land belonging to several ethnic groups, especially the Xavantes, Guaranis, and Pataxos; control the advance of cultivation of soy and cotton in the Amazon and bush areas - a process which could have dire environmental consequences in the future; and create a wide network of cooperative agri-industries among campesinos.

Final Considerations

The Brazilian state with all its considerable resources still gives priority to policies that support the agribusiness model. Unfortunately, the Lula government is ambiguous in the sense that ministers for agrarian reform and the environment support the family model while ministers of economy, industry, trade, and agriculture support agribusiness. In this conflict, the interests of the campesinos are lost. Our analysis of the Lula government's policies shows that Lula favored the agribusiness sector much more than family-owned agriculture. The general guidelines of his economic and agricultural policy have always given priority to the export-oriented agribusiness. And agrarian reform, the most important measure to alter the status quo, is in fact paralyzed or restricted to a few cases of token social compensation.

2.Brazil: Syngenta under fire in Brazil GMO Dispute
Fresh Plaza , February 6, 2007

The Swiss multinational seed and crop science corporation, Syngenta AG (SYT), is in the crosshairs of an anti-transgenic seed dispute it might not win in Brazil.

On Nov. 9, for the first time ever in a Latin America nation, Syngenta had one of its genetically modified crop research facilities shut down and expropriated by the Parana state government in southern Brazil. No financial figure has been given, but some estimate losses in the millions of dollars for Syngenta. The 123-hectare property was located roughly six kilometers from the Iguacu National Park in western Parana state. The park is also home to the immense Iguacu Falls on the Brazil-Argentine border, and is considered a world historic landmark by the United Nations.

Parana governor Roberto Requiao, a transgenic-foe since he was elected five years ago, signed a decree to confiscate the property in November on the grounds that it broke federal environmental laws. Those laws said genetically modified crops could not be planted within 10-kilometers of a nature reserve.

Syngenta argues it was given permission by the biosafety agency of the federal government, CTNBio, to test transgenic corn and soy on the site. Syngenta has owned the property since 1986 and in November managed to get a federal court to agree that the company had been operating legally in the area. Moreover, in early 2006, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva changed the 10-kilometer law. The distance between genetically-modified crops and nature reserves has been shrunk down to just 500 meters.

The Parana government, the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency, known as Ibama, agrarian reform activists and their lawyers say the 500 meter ruling doesn't count for Syngenta because they were experimenting with the seeds before the presidential decree was signed. So far, theirs is the dominant view. "Syngenta has been notified time and time again that they cannot plant, test, or do anything with GMO on that site and they have arrogantly ignored the state," said Roberto Requiao's spokesman Benedito Pires.

"They cannot plant there. CTNBio does not interpret the law. We are following the law. Syngenta has been fined for breaking that law and to this day they have not paid it," he said. According to Andrea Vulcanes, the manager of Ibama Parana, the agency fined Syngenta 1 million Brazilian reals ($476,000) in March 2006. The company has contested the fined.

"We fined them because they cannot be testing GMOs near that park," Vulcanes said. "We know what CTNBio and others have said and we are considering it. But whether we retract our fine our not, that doesn't mean Syngenta can get its property back from the state. That's a whole other matter," she said.

Syngenta sells over $8 billion in seeds and agrochemicals each year under the Callisto, Garst and Dual Gold brands to name a few. Only Monsanto and DuPont sell more. This week, the company asked a Parana court to review the governor's decision to expropriate the land, located in Santa Tereza do Oeste. It marks the second time Syngenta has asked a court to get involved in the dispute with the state. Parana is one of Brazil's top two agricultural producers.

Syngenta's problems began in March when over 600 rural workers and unemployed peasants, that make up part of the Via Campesina agrarian reform movement, invaded the site. The occupation argued that the company had no rights to plant genetically modified crops in the area.

They remained on the property for months before police finally kicked them out. Once Requiao said he was interested in turning the site into a center for the study of environmentally friendly agriculture, Via Campesina invaded again, arguing they had to harvest the corn they planted to eat during their time there. Parana is already the home to an agro-ecology center. It is run by some members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement, or the MST, long considered an arch rival of middle class and elite farmers and land owners.

Requiao's anti-transgenic policies have been the result of pressure groups like the MST and others. "The anti-GMO movement is very different here than it is in Argentina or the U.S. There are social movements of small farmers who are very much against transgenics and they will continue pressuring the governments here," said Darci Frigo, a lawyer for the group Terra de Direitos in Parana.

The group specializes in labor rights. Frigo was the lawyer who alerted Ibama to the Syngenta property being inside the transgenic-seeds buffer zone set by the government. Small producers argue that genetically modified seeds cross-pollinate with other local varieties, harming biodiversity. It also makes it harder for farmers to sell once their crops have been contaminated, because if it is discovered that their plants have genetically modified traits from Monsanto, currently the only transgenic brand allowed for sale here, those farmers will have to pay royalty payments for the seeds.

Monsanto has genetically modified soy and cotton in the Brazil market and partners with a handful of companies to make varieties of those seeds. Requiao has fought Parana transgenics and won small victories in the past. He banned transgenic crop exports from the massive Paranagua port for some four years. But in 2006, by the order of a federal judge, the port was required to permit genetically modified soybean exports once again. Syngenta is hoping a similar ruling will fall in favor of the company in the near future and they can move back in to Santa Tereza do Oeste.

Brazil is the world's No. 2 soy producer behind the U.S.

3.New Biotech Policy Could Speed Brazil GMO Approval - ANBio
by: Kenneth Rapoza
Dow Jones Newswire, 12 Feb 2007

Sao Paulo - Brazil's new biotechnology policy could make it easier for genetically-modified organisms to get commercial approval, the private National Biosafety Association, ANBio, said Friday.

"If this policy is really implemented and not just something on paper, then we will see faster commercialization of transgenic seeds in Brazil," said Leila Oda, president of ANBio.

The process of commercial approval for transgenic seeds is in the hands of Brazil's Biosafety Commission, or CTNBio, which counts on the opinions of various ministries, from the science and technology departments to environmental and health ministers.

"Bureaucracy and ideology will be eliminated. The focus will be on the science," Oda said.

The government said it will invest 510 million Brazilian reals ($242 million) over the next two years and BRL10 billion over the next 10 years to make Brazil one of the top five leaders in crop science research and application.

Not all the money will go to researching transgenic crops. Some BRL300 million have been set aside for pharmaceutical studies, equipment, and agroenergy, according to the Science and Technology Ministry.

For Brazilian farmers, approval of genetically modified crops, long a political controversy, doesn't just mean productivity improvements. It means saving money and controlling costs.

"Farmers don't have any control over the foreign exchange rate. And the (Brazilian) real keeps strengthening against the dollar. Farmers don't have any control over commodity prices in the U.S. What do they control? Overhead expenses. They're going to want to reduce costs and one way is GMO," said Fabio Meneghin, a consultant for agribusiness consultancy, Agroconsult.

Brazil's government crop science institute, Embrapa, said farmers can save as much as 15% to 20% on agrochemicals and other costs by planting transgenic soy and cotton.

The 2006-07 season marks the first time Brazilian farmers were permitted to plant transgenic soy. Some 50% of the crop is expected to be genetically modified. Soy is Brazil's No. 1 crop, followed by corn.

To cut costs, corn farmers plant illegal transgenic corn. Farmers charge that CTNBio takes too long to approve genetically modified organisms.

Only Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy and Bollgard cotton are permitted on Brazilian farms. Various companies have been granted licenses to make varieties of the Monsanto seeds for different soil and climate types throughout Brazil.

Makers of transgenic corn, like Bayer CropScience and Syngenta Seeds, are still waiting for CTNBio to approve their products.

Six of the 10 transgenic seeds awaiting government approval are corn, three are cotton and one is rice. Bayer, Syngenta, Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, a Dow Chemical company, are all waiting for approval. CTNBio meets again on March 20.

"Brazil farmers need transgenic crops to cut costs, especially for corn and cane," Meneghin said.

"Any policy that attempts to make the commercialization process easier is welcome by farmers. Though it won't be viewed as friendly to environmentalists," Meneghin said.

This week, a Parana state judge ordered CTNBio to cancel its final review of Bayer's LibertyLink corn slated for next week.

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