Soy Monoculture Deeply Divides a City in Brazil

The municipality of Lucas do Rio Verde, located 280 kilometers north of the Mato Grosso state capital, Cuiabá, has a complete urban infrastructure, even though it has existed as a separate municipality for only 16 years.

It currently profits from the monocultural production of soybeans, which have transformed it into the second largest producer of grains in Brazil.

Nevertheless, after an environmental disaster in March, when the city was sprayed with pesticides, the agribusiness environmental model divides opinions among large landowners, the mayor, and small farmers.

Lucas do Rio Verde has 25,000 inhabitants and one of the highest demographic growth rates in the country. Its population is growing around 12% annually.

Although the United Nations (UN) considers it the third best municipality in which to live in the state, small farmers criticize the soybean monoculture model, because it tends to concentrate income.

"This is a model that cannot be sustained in the long run. When the price of soybeans was US$ 21.42 (45 reais) a sack, as it was in 2004, the crop advanced upon the Amazon, cutting down the forest and concentrating landholding even more. The landowners said that agribusiness was the solution for Brazil.

"Now, with the soy price at US$ 7.14 (15 reais), they are wailing and want the nation to foot the bill, by having the government defer their debts," affirms the president of the Lucas do Rio Verde Truck Farmers’ Association, Celito Trevisan.

The Radiobras reporting crew tried to contact three large soybean producers in the region to get their comments on the use of pesticide sprays and the regional development model, but none of them wanted to be interviewed.

The local mayor, Marino José Franz, affirms that his administration is dedicated to "making changes" in the current model. In his view, what is needed is to deepen agribusiness even more.

The solution for the dependency of the local economy, according to Franz, lies in the "verticalization" of production. That is, instead of the exporting soybeans, corn, and rice from the municipality, he wants to attract industries that transform these grains into oil, animal feed, and other derived products, adding value to what is produced.

That is also why Franz laments that the municipality is still experiencing problems in getting its products to market, since the only means of access is the BR-163 highway, which links Cuiabá to Santarém (PA). The highway is in bad shape.

He indicates the solution on a map published by the city government. "Our way out is by rail. A spur of the North-South railway could transport our products to the Port of Itaqui in Maranhão," the mayor insists.

As a soybean exporter himself, he argues that if the municipality is able to resolve the logistics problem, the industries he wants will set up factories in town.

The president of the Lucas do Rio Verde Rural Workers’ Syndicate, Nilffo Vandcheer, on the other hand, claims that the solution lies in the diversification of production in the municipality and the strengthening of family farming and the cultivation of organic products.

In his view, agribusiness creates few jobs, concentrates income in the hands of large landowners, and ravages the environment through the intensive application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and heavy equipment that compacts the soil, preventing water from filtering down and causing erosion.

"Agribusiness has already destroyed the municipality’s forests, has eliminated the diversity of plant and animal species in the region, has contaminated the rivers and lakes, and is presently even jeopardizing the health and quality of life of the residents," he commented, referring to the use of pesticide sprays..

Agência Brasil

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