With Soybeans up to the Neck

by | Sep 11, 2023

This blog post is about Paraguayan farmers being fed up with the growing agribusiness industry in their country. For decades, they have been fighting for their land and constitutional rights, but without lasting success. Instead, they have to cope with an increasingly repressive state.

Paraguayan farmers are fed up with soybeans and the associated growing agribusiness in their country. It is occupying more and more land, replacing traditional and local means of production and making the population and the environment sick through the increasing use of highly hazardous pesticides. The livelihoods of the local rural population are literally being torn out from under their feet for decades. Families who do not leave voluntarily but resist are often forcibly dragged off their land by the police and put out on the street, leaving them with nothing but criminal proceedings. It is not uncommon for evictions to result in deaths.

Paraguay and its soy-dependent Economy

Paraguay is not an isolated case, but a particularly serious one with regard to the globally expanding agribusiness and its negative effects on the environment and the population. Following the territorially large countries of Brazil, the USA, Argentina, China and India, Paraguay is the sixth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of soy, after Brazil and the USA. Unlike the others, Paraguay’s economy is almost entirely dependent on agriculture and livestock. Almost 90 percent of all exports are primary commodities, and more and more land is being cleared for industrial agriculture. Although this industry brings a lot of profit to the country, it does not seem to reach the population as the peasant and indigenous communities are becoming poorer and poorer while soybean production is growing and growing at the same time.

The Fight for Land

The rural population, however, has been fighting tirelessly for land and constitutional rights since the end of the 35-year Stroessner dictatorship in 1989. But to date, they have not managed to successfully establish themselves on the political stage in order to assert or negotiate their interests. There are various reasons for this, but above all, they are confronted with discreditation, criminalization and repression by the Paraguayan state, which protects and promotes the interests of agribusiness.

Legal Prosecution of Resisting Farmers

In the past decades, there have been several parliamentary initiatives affecting peasant agriculture and indigenous peoples. Just recently in 2021, despite strong criticism from civil society organizations and the Catholic Church, a group of senators prevailed with a proposal to amend an article in the penal code that would increase penalties for “property invasion” from 6 to 10 years. The law protects people who have illegally appropriated land.

A Civil Society that not only needs Financial Support

Organized civil society in Paraguay does not have a long history. Due to decades of dictatorship and the continued rule of the same political party (Colorado) from 1947 to 2008 and then again from 2013 to the present, Paraguayan society not only lacks resources due to the absence of support from public authorities, but is also less aware of democratic principles and the right to political participation of all citizens. International recognition and financial support help civil society organizations implement their plans and expand their networks. But more importantly in the case of Paraguay, it even boosts their self-confidence and can increase pressure on the repressive government to respect democracy and human rights.

In conclusion, Paraguayan farmers are fed up with the growing agribusiness industry in their country. For decades, they have been fighting for their land and constitutional rights, but without lasting success. Instead, they have to cope with an increasingly repressive state.