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Close-up of hands holding a soybean Foto: Daniel Karmann dpa/lby
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Food supply

Mirjam Gehrke / als
August 31, 2012

Soy farming in Argentina is often linked to land-grabbing and displacement of small-scale farmers. Aid organizations are demanding action from German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner during her trip to South America.


During talks with government officials in Argentina and Brazil, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner is discussing ways to tackle hunger and food supply shortages in developing countries. DW spoke with Rainer Lang, spokesperson for German aid organization Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), about what the group expects from the minister.

DW: Mr. Lang, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner will be in Brazil and Argentina until Monday (03.09.2012), focusing her talks with officials on "improving the global nutrition situation," according to her ministry. But aid organizations such as yours are demanding that Minister Aigner take a stand for human rights. What do you mean by that?

Rainer Lang: We want to see an end to the displacement of small-scale farmers from their land to make way for the large-scale cultivation of soybeans. Such displacement occurs every day in Argentina. According to our partner organizations, in the month of July alone, 35,000 hectares (about 87,000 acres) of land in northern Argentina was cleared for cultivation of soy there.

What impact does this have on small-scale farmers in the country?

Small-scale farmers and the indigenous population have no livelihoods anymore. Large-scale farming companies cultivating soybeans on an industrial level need few personnel. The locals must then be content with very small lots of land. But they are too small for them to actually be able to nourish themselves and their families off of their farming - much less have surpluses to sell on the market. It's a dire situation. Entire sections of the population are being pushed into poverty this way.

Rainer Lang Copyright: Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt
Rainer LangImage: Brot für die Welt

What effect is the expansion of soybean cultivation having on food security in Argentina in general?

Millions of tons of soy are imported to the EU to feed livestock. As the race to use soybeans for making biofuel heats up, additional sections of land will be cleared to make way for cultivation, thus driving out yet more small farmers. The areas of land for food supply farming are dwindling. A process of suppression and displacement is occurring: increasingly, farmlands are being used to produce livestock feed or crops for biofuels.

Brazil and Argentina are among the world's biggest producers of soybeans, with global demand determining the price. How can German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner make an impact on the situation in that part of the world?

We think Germany can play a leading role in the EU with regard to the situation. German opinion is important. [Leaders] must repeatedly stress risks to global food supply, especially in such precarious situations, and the problems related to soaring food prices and their effect on poor people. Statements by a German minister on this topic would carry a lot of weight.

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner Copyright: Timur Emek/dapd
Agriculture Minister Ilse AignerImage: dapd

What needs to happen in Argentina itself?

There are laws in place for protecting the indigenous people and small-scale farmers; the directives are good. But it's all theory - little is put into practice. There's a huge gap in between. Our main demand of Argentina is that it really implement already-existing laws. It doesn't have to create anything new.

Argentina is no exception. In what other regions of the world are such conflicts occurring, in which the EU carries indirect responsibility for human rights violations?

It's occurring all over the world. A delegation that included members from Bread for the World was recently in Indonesia to witness what is happening there. Palm oil is produced in the country. Huge plantations are set up. Entire valleys are transformed into mono-cultures and the people get expelled from there.

The same thing is happening in Africa. Investors are buying up larger and larger sections of land and then leasing it out. In Mozambique, a massive piece of land that was already promised to small-scale farmers was ultimately sold off to a South African company. They ended up cultivating sugar cane on a large part of it, while the small farmers got the short end of the stick. They are too powerless to be able to stand up to the huge companies, and certified property titles do not exist. These are major problems.

Are there also examples of small-scale farmers benefitting in some way?

Yes. We have some projects, such as in Mozambique, where we work together with partners to fight for the small farmers' property rights. It's a difficult process, but some real progress can be made if one goes about it with conviction and utilizes the help of lawyers. There has been some success in Ethiopia - in people being able to live autonomously and provide for themselves from the land they cultivate. Those successes can set an example for how things should develop.

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