THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Study Questions Sustainability of GM Soy Production in Argentina
Roundup Ready (RR) soybean, a genetically modified (GM) soy variety resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, was introduced in Argentina in 1996. By 2015-2016, GM soybeans were cultivated on nearly 20.5 million hectares, representing 60% of total land cultivated, and production reached 61 million tons. In 2015, the soybean sector accounted for 30.7% of total exports of the country and dominated the international soybean pellets market with nearly 33.3% of world exports, ahead of the United States and Brazil.
A new study uses a holistic approach to explore the long-term sustainability of the "soybeanization" of Argentinian agriculture, through an evidence-based assessment of the most relevant economic, social, and environmental factors. The research was based on a unique data set drawn from a field survey carried out in 2011 in two provinces of the Argentinian Pampas.
The key findings are as follows:
- Although GM soybean package adoption has increased farm productivity and profits, ithas made the country’s economy too heavily dependent on soybean production and exports.
- GM soybean production in Argentina has had significant harmful impacts on the environment, putting its long-term sustainability into question. Promoting sustainable agricultural growth is imperative.
- There are concerns over the increase in land under tenancy and in the number of short-term rental agreements which provide strong incentives for the intensification of land use and rapid conversion of rotational cropping patterns into permanent soybean production.
- The expansion of GM soybean cultivation has caused the loss of many jobs at the farm level, and a significant shift in demand away from unskilled to skilled labor. There is a high risk that former farm laborers will remain unemployed and fall into poverty.
The researchers call for further research and public debate in order to weigh the overall environmental and health costs of GM soybean production against its benefits.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
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IS GM SOYBEAN CULTIVATION IN ARGENTINA SUSTAINABLE?
Phélinas, P., & Choumert, J.
World Development (2017)
This paper explores the long-term sustainability of Argentina’s specialization in genetically modified (GM) soybean cultivation. We perform an evidence-based assessment of the most relevant economic, social, and environmental implications of the “soybeanization” of Argentinian agriculture. Our diagnostic relies on a combination of published sources and a unique data set drawn from a field survey carried out in 2011 in two provinces of the Argentinian Pampas. This data set allows us to evaluate with a reliable empirical base the socio-economic impacts of GM soybean cultivation. Our analysis suggests a conflict between the success of the “soybeanization” of Argentinian agriculture measured in terms of production and profit records, and the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of this new model of production. On the one hand, GM soybean technological package adoption has increased farm productivity, and reduced the costs per unit produced, resulting in a dramatic increase in profits. On the other hand, the specialization of Argentinian agriculture on soybean cultivation has increased the dependence of public finances on the foreign exchange revenue generated by exports earnings. We also find a mixed empirical picture of changing land distribution patterns and labor displacement resulting from GM soybean expansion. Finally, we find that the environmental implications of agricultural biotechnology appear alarming and the long-term sustainability of GM crops highly questionable. Promoting sustainable agricultural growth has become not only desirable but necessary.
The objective of this study is to analyze all aspects of the sustainability of GM soybean production in Argentina. We provide a thorough investigation of conflicting interests and views on the growth of soybean production. We use recent survey data to show that GM soybean production has significant economic, social, and environmental impacts.
Undoubtedly, Argentina enjoys a strong comparative advantage in the production of primary products due to its favorable climate and excellent soils (Chisari, Fanelli, & Frenkel, 1996). This advantage has been increasing in recent years thanks to the performance of the oilseed sector (Bekerman & Dulcich, 2013). GM soybean production has thus become one of the strategic components of Argentina’s economy as well as part of the country’s international positioning. However, GM soybean production has also increased Argentina’s economic dependence on soybean production and exports, raised social questions, and induced some negative externalities such as deforestation and soil pollution. On top of that, other externalities could arise such as health problems resulting from the intensive use of glyphosate.
GM soybean package adoption has increased farm productivity and reduced the costs per unit produced. The resulting dramatic increase in profits constituted a strong incentive to extend the scale of production. Although we found big disparities in land distribution, high tenancy rates combined with the expansion of production networks do not appear to increase land inequality. Instead, we find evidence that landholding size increased for all strata, the increase being largest in percentage terms for farmers at the bottom end of the land size distribution. The most worrying change in the agrarian structure is the increase in land under tenancy and in the number of short-term rental agreements. We have shown that this has given strong incentives for the intensification of land use and rapid conversion of rotational cropping patterns into permanent soybean production.
We found mixed empirical evidence about the labor displacement effect of soybean expansion. On the one hand, the expansion of GM soybean cultivation has undoubtedly contributed to reduced labor absorption in agriculture. The technical package introduced by biotechnologies has caused the loss of many jobs at the farm level, and a significant shift in demand away from unskilled to skilled labor was observed. On the other hand, numerous jobs have been created in the soybean value chain, for instance, in the processing, transportation, and storage industries. Whether they have compensated for the jobs lost in primary agricultural operations remains an open question, but it is likely that the adjustment to innovation has been particularly painful for former farm laborers who now face limited non-farm employment opportunities. There is a high risk that these laborers will remain unemployed and fall into poverty.
Finally, despite the publication of numerous studies stressing the adverse environmental impacts of GM soybean production, there is no clear-cut consensus on the topic. Overall, these mixed results are well presented by Bouza et al. (2016), Qaim and Traxler (2005), and Viglizzo, Frank, et al. (2011), Viglizzo, Ricard, et al. (2011). Stakeholders of the GM soybean agro-industry, as well as citizens, should engage in further research and public debate in order to weigh the overall environmental and health costs of GM soybean production against its benefits. There remain many concerns about the impact of GM crops on the environment, despite their profitability (Pohl Nielsen, Robinson, & Thierfelder, 2001). The production of the GM soybean will thus continue to generate debate until the economic/environmental trade-off is understood.