POLICY & REGULATION: Multinational corporation Monsanto begins experimental cultivation of GM corn in Paraguay
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TITLE: TRANSGENIC CORN MOVES FORWARD
SOURCE: Latinamerican Press, Peru
AUTHOR: Gustavo Torres
SUMMARY: "In Paraguay, genetically modified corn was prohibited in 1993 by Environmental Impact Assessment Law 294/93; however, in January the Paraguayan Institute of Agricultural Technology ? recently created by President Fernando Lugo ? authorized the multinational corporation Monsanto to experimentally grow transgenic corn, a move that foreshadows a point of no return for best practices in agro-ecology and organic agriculture because of potential genetic contamination. This jeopardizes the development of campesino family farming and traditional indigenous production"
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TRANSGENIC CORN MOVES FORWARD
Multinational corporation Monsanto begins experimental cultivation of genetically modified corn.
In Guaraní, corn is called avati. One of the many legends about this versatile plant tells of the misfortune of a young man whose fiancée dies after she is hit by a stray arrow. The name of this maiden with luminous white-blonde hair was Avati (áva: hair, tî: white). Anguished over losing her, he decides to never leave the graveside of his beloved. On that very land, dampened by so many tears, a mysterious plant with long leaves began to grow. With time, it bore fruit, and from that moment on, ears with golden kernels began to multiply and were used to make various types of food.
This fantastical story may not accurately explain the origin and evolution of this grain; however, it does shed light on certain aspects of folk wisdom and a world view expressing its relationship with nature. It is with this impressive background that several generations of indigenous and campesino communities that live on Paraguayan territory have been producing and conserving dozens of varieties of native seeds for human and animal consumption. This ancient practice is nevertheless being threatened by multinational biotechnology corporations and elite agricultural exporters.
In Paraguay, genetically modified corn was prohibited in 1993 by Environmental Impact Assessment Law 294/93; however, in January the Paraguayan Institute of Agricultural Technology (IPTA) ? recently created by President Fernando Lugo ? authorized the multinational corporation Monsanto to experimentally grow transgenic corn, a move that foreshadows a point of no return for best practices in agro-ecology and organic agriculture because of potential genetic contamination. This jeopardizes the development of campesino family farming and traditional indigenous production, which will be the primary parties affected if genetically modified seeds got out, according to the National Campaign for Paraguay Free of Genetically Modified Corn, which includes environmentalist and human rights groups.
Farmers in the villages of Caazapá, Guaira, Caaguazú and Misiones, in eastern part of the country, are being pushed out by agribusiness with increasingly frequency to the detriment of traditional farming. It is during this transition that the use of transgenic corn seeds emerged, brought from soybean-producing areas located in the departments of Itapúa, Alto Paraná, Canindeyú; in these regions genetically modified corn seeds are smuggled in from Brazil and Argentina. According to estimates by the National Service for the Health and Quality of Plants and Seeds (SENAVE), there are about 100,000 hectares of genetically modified corn in the country.
Transgenic soy is legal in Paraguay, however, and Paraguay was the last country in the soy-producing region ?which also includes Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay? to allow its use. In October 2004, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock approved the commercialization of four varieties of Monsanto-developed genetically modified soybeans, but in reality almost all soybean crops were already transgenic.
The fear given this new reality comes from the fact that Paraguayans do not consume soy; corn, on the other hand, is a mainstay in the country´s diet.
State control, constricted
Now that Monsanto has permission to experiment with genetically modified corn, the IPTA´s scientific/technical team, as established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, will be responsible for evaluating the results of experimental crops in accordance with the regulations recommended by the National Commission for the Biosecurity of Fisheries and Forestry.
The IPTA must also ensure compliance with technical and administrative requirements during the trial, and will establish the responsibilities therein. For example, Monsanto is required to comply with biosafety standards by staying at least 600 meters away from other cornfields and maintaining a buffer area of 10% around any parcel.
In this context, state agencies such as the SENAVE and the Environmental Secretariat are trying to comply with existing laws and strengthen public institutions. SENAVE has no power to authorize this crop, but it does have the mandate to enforce legislation in this case, given that the cultivation of transgenic corn is prohibited by law.
The actions of state bodies collide with the interests of large-scale producers like the Agricultural Coordinator of Paraguay (CAP), the Trade Union for Production (PMU) and the Rural Association of Paraguay (ARP), which are all part of the country´s primary economic power and have the backing of major media outlets. These outlets in turn develop strident campaigns to discredit the government´s determination to control the illegal cultivation of genetically modified corn.
The strongest actions are directed at the head of SENAVE, Miguel Lovera, whom rural entrepreneurs and the media accuse of being against progress in agricultural production, development and technology. For its part, the Senate, with an opposition-led majority, requested from the Executive branch the immediate suspension of intervention in the cultivation of genetically modified corn, while campesino and indigenous organizations give full support to current SENAVE authorities.
?We welcome the fact that SENAVE, for the first time in its history, is in full compliance with the mandates that environmental standards require of it, in carrying out the destruction of transgenic corn in the region of Alto Paraná and by announcing that there is a timetable to be enforced in zones where these crops grow. The actions of this state institution clearly demonstrate a commitment to the Paraguayan people, which contributes to in the fight for the recovery of sovereignty over territory, culture and food,? Vía Campesina Paraguay, an umbrella organization for Paraguayan campesino groups, said in a statement late last October.
Lovera told Latinamerica Press that ?the decision of the State, during my term, is based on compliance with current regulations. What is prohibited is not permitted and vice versa. We are simply applying these principles to achieve what is proposed by the national government and state policy so that development models can coexist, provided they are compatible. The mission given to me is to level the playing field for competition and coexistence; obviously I have to promote actions that allow just that.?
?If there is an excessive expansion of one monoculture, whatever it is, and it impacts other types of agriculture determined to be vulnerable, of course we would have to intervene and balance these options,? he said.
Regarding genetically modified corn, the official said that since it is illegal, SENAVE will pursue control and elimination of these crops.
?What we´re doing is destroying the illegal cultivation of transgenic corn, just as it is done with marijuana in our country. It is that simple,? said Lovera. ?It´s unfortunate that some producers have fallen into that trap, although in reality many voluntarily do so because they have lived with impunity for years. We are determined to change this, to make Paraguay a more serious country where coexistence is rooted in the standards and regulations from the rule of law. That´s what we´re working on.?
Illegal crops in traditional campesino regions
On a tour of the district of Yuty in the department of Caazapá, a large amount of genetically modified corn crops was found on small farms. The south central region of the country remains the domain of traditional farmers, though in light of the increase of transgenic soy monoculture and agro-business, they are beginning to feel threatened by contamination risks to the native corn crops.
In this area of the country, traditional corn varietals consumed include Avatitape, Avati Locro, Guaikuru Avati, Avati Mbya, Morotí Avati, Pichinga Avati, Avati Tupi, Tupi Morotí Avati, and Tupi Pytã Avati, among others. A local producer in Capiitindy, in the district of Yuty, who asked to remain anonymous, told Latinamerica Press that genetically modified seeds are increasingly grown in the community.
?The small farmer is beginning to plant genetically modified seeds, often tempted by the supposed benefits that these have ?for example, not having to hoe (remove the weeds), as they are resistant to weeds. The transgenic corn grown here is smuggled in from Argentina, but it´s common for private seed suppliers to already carry them,? said the campesino farmer.
?In regard to agriculture, it has not been found that genetically modified crops have higher yields; on the contrary, it generates a dependency by farmers on multinational corporations,? said Silvia Gonzalez of the Agricultural Law and Land Reform Studies and Research Center (CEIDRA) during the presentation of the Corn Bill to the National Parliament in late October 2010.
It merits reiterating that Paraguay has signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which entered into force in 2004. This treaty aims to safeguard the genetic diversity of cultivated plants, and therefore Paraguay is obliged to take necessary measures in order to protect traditional agricultural knowledge, as well as the fair distribution of benefits and decision-making.
Campesino organizations, indigenous people, and civil society are aware of the negative impact that may result from the introduction of genetically modified organisms.
?Genetically modified organisms and pesticides on the table mean more exclusion, more misery, more needless deaths, more dependence on multinational corporations and more humiliation for Paraguay,? notes the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women Workers (CONAMURI).