Soy is an intensively grown crop, with high demands for resources such as energy, water, chemicals and soil. And as it is often grown on land that has been converted from forest to farm land it is considered to be contributing to large scale deforestation.
NGOs have documented cases of land eviction, misuse of pesticides and, in Paraguay, violent suppression of land protests related to soy. Greenpeace has documented use of slaves in soy farms in the Amazon region, with workers being duped into coming to ranches where their papers are taken away and they are forced to work.
The Brazilian government keeps a ‘dirty list’ of farms successfully prosecuted: in 2004, for example, it intervened in 236 cases of slavery in soy farms involving over 6,000 labourers including 127 children.
The problem, once exposed, has now largely been addressed. The NGO GRAIN has documented cases of land grabbing associated with soy in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Eviction of indigenous communities has also been reported from northwest Argentina and eastern Paraguay, where indigenous groups who have depended on the forest for centuries have been displaced and now live in poverty. A study in Argentina’s Chaco region documented 224 land conflicts, including a number related to soy, affecting 127,886 people on more than 2.7 million ha: one quarter of the families were evicted.
The majority of the land used for soy in the Cerrado and Amazon in Brazil is controlled by a few major owners, with many farms averaging 1,000 ha and some reaching 50,000 ha (or about 70,000 football fields).
In Chaco province, Argentina, where soy has replaced typical smallholder crops such as cotton, the number of farmers of fewer than 100 ha fell by 80% while the number of farms over 1,000 ha increased by 230% between 1998 and 2002.
By contrast, most soy in China and India is grown by smallholders; while productivity is lower, the economic benefits are spread much more widely.