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By Esteban Magnani
The problems of industrial agriculture are that the land is degraded by the loss of microorganisms that sustain the biological cycle of crops, diversity is destroyed and a good part of the profit remains with the company that develops the technology, almost always a multinational .
One of the greatest challenges that new social movements usually face once they have overcome the initial instances of struggle is to achieve sustainability in an environment in which technologies and knowledge tend to be privatized. Faced with this, without a proper development of knowledge, the political project can be truncated or simply be reabsorbed by the productive dynamics of the system against which it fought.
The challenge also prompts the people of the Movimento dos trabalhadores rurais sem Terra (MST) of Brazil, formed in 1984 and which currently brings together nearly 300,000 families that have already managed to settle in some 1,600 colonies spread throughout the neighboring country. Thanks to the struggle, these peasants managed to appropriate unproductive land, both fiscal and owned by large landowners. Once the land was recovered, they discovered that they had only overcome the first obstacle: after years without working it on their own, the peasants had lost the knowledge of their ancestors when it came to producing. That is why most of them joined the prevailing agricultural logic in which the land is a passive actor in agriculture that must be fed a technological package of hybrid seeds, fertilizers and various pesticides and then extract the harvest.
The problems of this industrial agriculture (which is also used in Argentina) are that the land is degraded by the loss of microorganisms that sustain the biological cycle of crops, diversity is destroyed and a good part of the profit remains with the company that develops the technology, almost always a multinational. In addition, the rural knowledge of the peasants who operate a kind of agricultural "black box" whose inputs depend on a third party is lost.
Against this background, a struggle that did not include other forms of production would be truncated and would run the risk of repeating its sad history. As hunger understands little about technology, the MST's argument to break the path that returned the peasant to a situation of dependency had to be more economic than ideological: it became necessary to demonstrate to the peasants that if they became independent they could earn more. To achieve this independence it was necessary to recover the possibility of producing one of the oldest biotechnological resources that is currently patented by large laboratories: seeds.
The strengthening of the MST required a global plan for a new society that was based on many legs: the settlements have a new distribution that prevents the peasants from being isolated, their own newspaper was produced, thirty radios were opened, the boys go to school under a logic of popular education different from traditional teaching, etc. Also in recent years, the first generation of university students, children of peasants, has begun to join the movement, an unusual success of social mobility for one of the countries with the greatest inequality.
Among all these legs it was discovered that one was missing to ensure the economic independence of the peasants, largely illiterate and without legal advice, who signed contracts with multinationals that supplied them with seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and their industrial production recipe to produce seeds. that later the company, if it considered that the result was good, would buy again. A group of agronomy students linked to the MST saw the problem and discovered that in many cases the quality analyzes of the companies were distorted to lower prices and that, ultimately, all the work to recover the land simply ended up reproducing the same logic of exploitation that had motivated the beginning of the fight.
Given this evidence, in 1996 several members of the MST formed the Bionatur company in Rio Grande do Sul, a region with a cold and dry climate that is ideal for growing seeds. Bionatur is dedicated to recovering varieties of species that fell into disuse and distributing them among the peasants of the movement, together with information about more friendly / sustainable production technologies with the ecosystem, such as natural fertilizers based on milk, phosphates, honey, calcium and others. products that are easily available at low cost. Thanks to this venture, many settlements are already producing and marketing organic rice, soybeans, peanuts, cassava, corn, cashew nuts, coffee, bananas, peaches, and even naturally fed chickens and pigs.
In 2002 the company produced and marketed 7 tons of 32 varieties of seeds, a figure they expect to reach 15 tons and 56 varieties in 2008. Bionatur is the only company that completes the cycle of production, industrialization and distribution of organic seeds in Brazil, without genetic modifications or industrial fertilizers.
A general project
The ecological and productive project of the MST does not end in Bionatur. The objective is to generate a more sustainable exploitation of the land in the long term through other projects such as Abraço Verde (The Green Hug) in Ribeirao Bonito, which proposes to create a belt of native trees to protect crops from erosion, while others raze the Amazon rainforest to produce wood and more soybeans.
The debate that took place at the MST is included in another that still needs to be given: the limits of biotechnology applied to agriculture. When and when not? or not always? What happens when the development of a genetically modified plant allows it to be grown in areas that were not productive? The problem with biotechnology is that it has been developed by and for the benefit of a handful of companies that only pursue their own benefit, while arguing that thanks to the development of biotechnology the world will be able to feed itself without problems. That in Argentina there is malnutrition while soy is being produced to feed European cattle seems to deny that this possibility, at least for now, is feasible.
* Esteban Magnani was born in Buenos Aires in 1973. He has a degree in Communication Sciences (University of Buenos Aires), a career in which he also works as a teacher. He completed the MA Media & Communication (London University). He is a writer and journalist. He is a regular contributor to the newspaper Página / 12, is a member of the newsroom of Hecho en Bs.As., a magazine sold by homeless people and is a researcher in history and dissemination of science. He collaborated with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis in the documentary on new forms of social organization in Argentina made for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) network.