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Under threat

Background - 26 July, 2004
A significant part of the temperate jungle of South America has already been lost or degraded and almost all of what remains is under immediate threat.

Araucaria forest and lakes of Chile's last temperate rainforests.

In Chile, where most of this ancient temperate jungle remains, little has been done since 1992 to protect this endangered forest region.

The production of timber increased by 83 percent in 1996 to 1998 compared to the previous decade, while the percentage of land designated for conservation increased by only 0.4 percent.

Soya expantion

Soya expansion is the latest threat to native forests and jungles in South America, sustained by the increased demand for soya based animal feed from both the European Union and China. Forests are being converted for soya production in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil. These areas are considered to be some of the most biologically diverse forest ecosystems in the world.

The 'United Soya Republic' as the genetic engineering industry now calls Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, is growing at the expense of native forests, such as the Yungas and the Great Chaco forests, and at great cost to biodiversity, other traditional crops, as well as to human health, forest homes and livelihoods.

The rapid expansion of soya cultivation in Argentina is largely uncontrolled phenomenon, in 1971 only 37,700 hectares of Argentina's arable land was used to grow soya. In the last 10 years, this area has increased 150 percent to a record 14.2 million hectares.

This model of industrial agriculture began to boom in the 1990s, when the international financial institutions encouraged governments of the poorest countries to open their economies up to foreign investment. This opened the way for the large 'agribusiness' multinationals, such as Monsanto, which found a ready market for genetically modified soya amongst Argentina's farming sector.

This cultivation has now moved to environmentally fragile areas such as the northern Argentinean provinces of Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Salta and Formosa. Over one million hectares of Argentina's forests have been destroyed to grow soya since 2000, and the amount is rising.

Initially, biotechnology industry spokespeople and even some Argentinean authorities said that higher yields of genetically engineered soya would avoid the need to deforest Argentina . Eight years on, the forests are under threat and it's clear higher yields of soya have only been achieved through cultivating more land and deforestation.

Argentina is now the world's third largest soya producer and it's top soya exporter. Over 90 percent of its harvest is exported, 98 percent of which is genetically modified.

The appropriation of forests for agriculture often involves the forced eviction of 'campesinos' families and communities of indigenous people, who have lived and worked on the land for generations in areas such as Los Juries, the province of Santiago del Estero, Salta Forestal and Lapacho Mocho. Taking advantage of legally weak title deeds or no title deeds at all, corporations and industrial farmers are buying vast areas of forest at very cheap prices, sometimes as low as US$ 50 per hectare. The people living on the lands, often called 'usurpers', have no legal rights and are totally at the mercy of the landlords.