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Raising Resistance
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Paraguay's small farmers defend livelihoods against industrial soya production

Grace Philip

8th May, 2012

A new film, Raising Resistance, gives a telling account of how Paraguay's small farmers are suffering social and environmental ills from the country's meteoric rise in soya farming

Over the last ten years, Paraguay has changed dramatically due to the world’s increasing demand for soya. Approximately 80 per cent of the world’s animal feed is made of the crop, while our food is rich in it. The market for soya is set to grow further still with the implementation of bio fuel policies.

The land in Paraguay offers the perfect environment for opportunists wanting to make money from this aggressive, growing industry – cheap property, fertile soil and legislation means there is little to stop soya farmers forever expanding. This is why Paraguay has become the fourth largest exporter of soya, meaning that the world has become dependent on Paraguay to supply the demand for soya, while the economy of the Republic relies on continued investment in the industry. The major problem is that the local communities are resisting, and as a new film, Raising Resistance shows, they are not prepared to give up.

By weaving us through panoramic views of Paraguay’s soya growing zone and including interviews and scenes of the soya production process, Raising Resistance provides a balanced profile of the soya industry and how the small-scale farmers (campesinos) are horribly disadvantaged. The aggressive growth in the soya industry affects every aspect of life – their human rights, environment and society are all damaged and, as Raising Resistance shows, they are under-prioritised, sidelined and dismissed.

As part of the farming process, the soya producers spray herbicide on their land once a year (and sometimes more) and shockingly, they are not required to dispose of the agrochemical containers carefully. Instead, they are left in streams where the campesinos bathe. One child interviewed in Raising Resistance provides us with his account of how the poison in his bathing water has left him blind - Silvio Peralta has been left scarred by the soya industry, and Raising Resistance shows that he is not the only one.

The campesinos are not accepting the costs imposed on them and are standing up against their subordination. Raising Resistance shows how they protest by setting up camps in the soya fields to stall production. The campesinos are committed and prepared to face trouble with the police – a determination that becomes clear at the end of the film. One of the final scenes shows the broadcast of a march in Asuncion, the capital, in which militant-looking police beat protesters to the sound of gunfire, whistles and chaos.

While the desperation of the campesinos is represented, we are also left appreciating a note of irony. The soya producers spray an indiscriminate herbicide on their land to protect their crop from strangling weeds - the soya being safe because it has been genetically modified to become transgenic soya, and is therefore immune to the herbicide. The wind carries these herbicides onto neighbouring farms - these crops are not genetically modified to be resistant, leaving farmer, Juana Gonzales, with ‘rotten peanuts’ for her crop. Ironically, the weeds in the soya fields are adapting and growing resistant to the herbicides that are designed to kill them. The evolved weeds spread across the field in the wind, strangling the transgenic soya plant.

Raising Resistance is telling, exposing and thought provoking – the creators, Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet, force us to appreciate the effect such a powerful industry can have, while portraying the ironic parallels between the resistance growing among the campsinos and the weeds that are becoming resistant to the soya farmer’s herbicides. The film portrays this resistance against the injustice brought on by unchecked growth, both in the fields and in an industrial sense, making the title apt and the message strong.

Raising Resistance has been shown at film festivals in various locations around the world - the UK premiere being at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival of March this year – and is available online.

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