September 15, 2008


Land reform restricts soy farming in Paraguay



The Paraguayan government is planning land reforms that could limit the spread of soy in parts of the country, the world's No. 4 soy exporter as it is a priority for the administration of former Roman Catholic bishop, President Fernando Lugo.


Agriculture Minister Candido Vera said the government hoped to present a bill to Congress at the end of this year that would limit some farming activities in certain areas in order to avert conflicts between large-scale soy growers and peasant farmers.


The possibility of regulating farm production is a project that's currently being discussed by experts, but the government wants other people to be involved, he said.


Paraguay's small economy is heavily dependent on earnings from farm exports such as soy and beef, and agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of gross domestic product.


Harvests have grown fast in the last five years and a record crop of 6.8 million tonnes was gathered this season.


However, environmental campaigners blame the country's soy boom for deforestation and soil erosion, and Vera said the land reform would analyze the environmental impact of soy farming and its affect on rural communities.


"Soy farming couldn't be permitted in the district of Neembucu where you need to have ranching or crops that require irrigation," he said.


Farm leaders have expressed concern at the government's land reform plans, but officials say they will be consulted on the bill because the aim is to "avoid confrontation and build consensus."


The land reform also envisions redistributing small holdings to peasants and subsidizing poor, small-scale growers.


Land redistribution plans by the leftist government in neighbouring Bolivia have angered wealthy landowners in the main soy-growing region of Santa Cruz.


Industry analysts expect Paraguay to produce about 7 million tonnes of 2008/09 soy. Farmers will start sowing in about a month on an estimated growing area of 2.8 million hectares.

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