Community opposes the construction of transgenic seed factory
Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina, has continued her husband's pact with the devil (a.k.a. Monsanto)
"It changed our lives," the people of Malvinas Argentinas are saying. They are referring to the arrival of the multinational agribusiness Monsanto, which announced the construction of a seed production plant that will be the "largest in the world," less than a kilometer (0.6 mile) away from this town in the central province of Córdoba. There is a fear of environmental damages, and through the Asamblea Malvinas en Lucha por la Vida, or the Malvinas Assembly Fighting for Life, the community is looking to stop the company's progress locally. Monsanto has been operating in Argentina since 1956. In 1980, the company started bottling the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup in Zárate, in the province of Buenos Aires, and in 1996 got government approval for RR soybeans, which are Roundup-resistant. Last June, Monsanto announced it would build a new plant to produce transgenic corn seed in Córdoba.
Argentina produces 20 percent of the world's soy crop, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, which reflects the company's expansion at a global level. Started in 1901, US-based Monsanto has 400 locations in 66 countries. It's number one in the sale of seeds (with 27 percent of the global market) and fourth in agrochemicals. The company sells 90 percent of soybean seeds, according to the March 2012 report "Combatting Monsanto," by La Vía Campesina, an international coordinator for rural organizations.
Town for sale
Monsanto arrived in Córdoba as the frontiers of industrial agriculture expanded, with backing by the administration of Argentine President Cristina Fernández, and were concretized in the Agri-food and Agroindustrial Strategic Plan 2020 which proposes increasing the allocation of land for grain production from 33 million hectares (81 million acres) in 2010 to 42 million hectares (104 million acres) in 2020.
On June 15, 2012, the president herself revealed Monsanto would be coming to Malvinas Argentinas.
"I'm very proud," Fernández said after meeting with company executives in New York during a summit of the Council of the Americas, which was founded by David Rockefeller in 1965 and brings together multinational companies that operate in the Americas.
Meanwhile, the people of Malvinas Argentinas, 9 kilometers (6 miles) northeast of the provincial capital of Córdoba, had no idea about the Monsanto project at that time. "I found out through the media," said Lucas Vaca, who is studying to be a geography teacher. Ester Quispe, who works at a school, added, "When I saw the video of the president making the announcement, I felt like she was selling out the town."
But three months before, the mayor of Malvinas Argentinas, Daniel Arzani, of the opposition party Radical Cívic Union, had approved the feasibility study to start construction work. This was confirmed by a notice of the project that the company filed with the provincial Secretary of Environment, under the governor of Córdoba, José Manuel De la Sota - who represents the Peronist Justicialista Party, like the president, but who is confronted with her - and who also publicly supported the investment.
In the same notice, on July 2, 2012, Monsanto elaborates that the first phase will include the construction of 40 storage silos with a 137 metric ton capacity each. There will be "176 silos more during subsequent factory expansions," which will be completed in 2017. In all, Monsanto said it would create 215 jobs and 19 subcontractor positions.
But press releases on the Monsanto website - and the figures repeated by national and provincial officials - indicate there will be 400 new jobs. Likewise, company statements refer to a 1.5 billion peso investment (US$300 million), while the project notice states it will be a 933 million peso investment ($186 million).
Poor and sick
Despite being surrounded by soybeans, the Malvinas Argentinas community doesn't benefit from the wealth generated by the crop. According to the 2008 provincial census, this town with an estimated population of 14,000 people has the highest rate of structural poverty in Córdoba in towns with more than 10,000 people.
A recent report by four departments (Psychosocial Medicine, Allergy & Immunology, Medicine I, and Pediatric Clinic) from the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the National University of Córdoba showed the health problems faced by people living near the crop, who feel the effects of the agrochemicals sprayed during soybean production.
Respiratory disease affected 551 people of 3,563 respondents, with a prevalence of 15.46 percent for all age groups according to the report - a 50 percent higher than estimated as common in the United States.
In addition, another report commissioned from the Center for the Study of State and Society (CEDES) and the Center for Population Studies (CENEP) by the Ministry of Health and presented in June 2007, estimated that in 2004-05, miscarriages amounted to 0.6 percent of women of reproductive age nationwide. In Malvinas Argentinas, out of 805 women of reproductive age who responded to the survey, one in six has lost a pregnancy, and in the neighborhood of Nicola Bari, the most exposed to agrochemical sprays, one in five suffered a miscarriage.
Malvinas Argentinas presents "the disease profile that is repeated in populations exposed to aerosolized pesticides" and submitting this population "to a new blow to its environmental health," like the one Monsanto will generate, "is not recommended from a medical standpoint and is intolerable from a social standpoint," the academic paper noted. "Living around the stockpiles of grains causes high risk for respiratory disease," because of the dust from cornhusks sprayed with herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, the team observed. The Monsanto plant will be built just 700 meters (less than half a mile) from a primary school and a kindergarten.
The Assembly of Malvinas Argentinas has tried to stop Monsanto through courts and legislative action. Among other measures, they are asking that Article 4 of the General Environmental Law (25.675), which refers to the "precautionary principle," be applied. This means that "the absence of information or scientific certainty" should not dissuade "the adoption of effective measures, from a cost perspective, to prevent environmental degradation."
On Feb. 22, the Labor Court in Córdoba ordered "to suspend the effects of the ordinance issued by said municipality (Malvinas Argentinas), number 821/2013, authorizing to Monsanto Argentina SAIC a building permit for the first phase of a seed-drying facility." Although so far construction has stopped, it is likely that the municipality will appeal.
The community knows that if the seed factory begins operations in 2014, nothing will ever be the same.
"We won't decide the future of Malvinas, because Monsanto will decide it," said Vaca, the university student. "We will fight until we drop to defend the environment and my family - which is Malvinas."