The United soya republic

Jordi Ruiz Cirera

2013 - Ongoing

Paraguay; Argentina

A journey through the heartlands of the Southern Cone's agribusiness, the United Soya Republic is a portrayal of the changes to the landscape and socio-economic tissue brought about by intensive farming and exportation of produce in Argentina and Paraguay.

Food insecurity has become one of the most pressing issues of our time due to longterm global developments such as climate change, population growth, water scarcity or the growing demand for meat and dairy. Largeestate agriculture focused on genetically modified seeds, and the substantial use of agrochemicals to improve harvests, has been implemented in several parts of the world, bringing together genetic engineering, food processing, and bio-fuels, with the underlying promise of tackling hunger.

Along several trips I met with landowners, labourers, activists, jobless farmers, and those affected by toxic pesticides put on the land to understand and illustrate the complexities of land issues and it's effects on the local communities. There I documented the destabilizing effects of this growing agricultural shifts, witnessing cases of social unrest, deforestation, environmental contamination and internal migration – an issue that is ever more present in our world. After a while I realised the heart of the project would be to document the inequalities existing in the rural areas, inequalities made worse by the demands of the global market and neoliberal policies.

This work is part of a long-term photographic documentary with which I seek to speak of the challenges of food production and its distribution in our globalised world.

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  • A peasant shots a firecracker to alert the population that a fumigation is happening near the community. In that situation peasants occupy the soy field in order to stop the fumigation, since they consider it to be against the community environment and its populations health. On a similar situation two weeks before the police protected the fumigation and heavily repressed the peasants leaving several injured.

  • Burned traces of Guayaqui Cuá community after its eviction two days before. 22 peasant families were evicted and their properties burned by nearby cattle-ranch security men working together with local police officers allegedly on behalf of the large-estate owner who directs the ranch. According to government authorities the lands are owned by the government but the large-estate owner has been expanding his property and claims ownership over the area where peasants were living. Multiple ownership of lands is a major issue in Paraguay and is linked to corruption of authorities in the country.

  • María Lina Estorales cries while explaining how she and the other 21 families of the small community of Guayaqui Cuá were evicted and their properties burned two days ago. She stated nearby cattle-ranch security men together with local police officers went on behalf of the large-estate owner who directs the ranch and evicted them without notice. According to government authorities the lands are owned by the government but the large-estate owner has been expanding his property and claims ownership over the area where peasants were living. Multiple ownership of lands is a major issue in Paraguay and is linked to corruption of authorities in the country.

  • Cows at estancia Santa Amalia, a large estate soya plantation and cattle-ranch farm. Since 2008 an indigenous group has occupied part of the plantation, claiming ownership as their historical lands from where they were expelled years ago when the estancia was created. In 2010 the land-owner, a German citizen, was attacked, allegedly by the indigenous, and they were expelled by the police. However in 2014 they returned and are currently on an ongoing conflict with the large-estate owner for the land ownership.

  • A soya field in the heavily depopulated area of Minga Pora. One of the neighbors explains there used to be 72 families on this street, while now only 6 remain. The combination of economic pressure or threats to sell their lands, the pesticides pollution, and the reduction of services in the area, are creating a domino effect living the area almost inhabited.

  • A group of men unload tree trunks to be turned into charcoal in a brick oven in Pampa del Infierno, Chaco Province. Charcoal production is a big issue in the region as it is both a cause and a result of the growing deforestation of the wider Chaco area. Local organisations believe the need for new land to use for agribusiness drives the deforestation in the Province. Dozens of charcoal production sites can be seen in this small town where local sources state the forest surface area has reduced from 70% to 20% in the last 20 years

  • A group of men fish on the Paraná River in Buenos Aires province. The river has swelled due to an increased amount of rainfall caused by the El Niño phenomenon, which some link to climate change. There is also a lack of vegetation due to agribusiness and cattle ranching. The floods lasted for weeks between April and May 2016 and threatened to destroy crops in several provinces

  • A group of young men kill time in Aviá Teraí, Chaco Province. Large-estate soya plantations surround the town, which has a population of around 6000 and no running water. Unemployment rates here are very high and a large number of the inhabitants live off of government handouts

  • Juan Cruz Vacarezza, 8, sits on a horse at the El Mediodía farm in Bragado, Buenos Aires Province. The Bragado family has occupied this land since the end of the 19th century. Currently they have over 1800ha of land, which they use to produce corn and soya. They also keep 350 horses for contests and shows, and employ an in-house horse breaker

  • Sheeps at El Mediodía family farm in Bragado, Buenos Aires Province. The family has occupied this land since the end of the 19th century. Currently they have over 1800ha of land, which they use to produce corn and soya. They also keep 350 horses for contests and show, and employ two in-house horse breakers

  • A landowner and manager of harvesting machines meet on a soya field while a harvest takes place. Rojas, Buenos Aires Province

  • A view of Puerto Vicentín in San Lorenzo, Santa Fe Province. In 2007, Vicentín, a leader in the production, transportation and export of agricultural commodities in the country, became the first Argentinian company to export biodiesel. Today, the port can load as many as 270 ships per year and also transports and exports soybeans arriving from Paraguay

  • Inside the test room at agricultural and agro-industrial biotechnology company Bioceres where crops with different genetically modified makeups are tested. Bioceres is a market leader in Argentina and holds a strong position in South America. The first genetically modified wheat was developed here, and is due to be released in Argentina in 2016

  • A group of teenagers swim in river near Tava Jopoy community. Neighbors claim it's severely polluted due to pesticides used in the neighboring large estate plantations, with whom the they are on an ongoing conflict with regular protests against the fumigations.

  • Norma Herrera and her daughter Brisa pictured at their home in Barrio Ituzaingó near Cordoba, Argentina’s farming belt. Brisa had leukemia at the age of three, from which she recovered after a long battle. Two of Norma’s sons have traces of agrochemicals in their blood, and her mother in-law died from cancer a few years’ ago. Norma believes these health effects are linked to pesticides in the environment as a result of fumigations of the surrounding soya fields, and states that since early 2000 the number of cases of leukemia, other types of cancer, and miscarriages have increased in the neighbourhood. In 2003, Norma, along with other women from the neighbourhood, founded the group Madres de Ituzaingó, a grassroots organisation that campaigns to stop soya field fumigations. The group eventually managed to stop them in what has become one of the most well known protests against fumigations in Argentina

  • Fabian Tomasi, 50, in his house in Basavilbaso, Entre Ríos. Fabian, a former airplane fumigation company worker, has developed severe toxic polyneuropathy, dermatomyositis and type 1 diabetes, which he attributes to exposure to pesticides during his working years. He says he used to work without protection and adds that two of his former colleagues became blind. The two company owners died of cancer, he says, which he also attributes to the pesticides. Previously weighing 90kg, he currently weighs 45kg and can barely walk as a result of his degenerative diseases. He lives with his 20-year-old daughter and 80-year-old mom who look after him, and he strongly campaigns against the use of agrochemicals in Argentinian fields from his computer at home.

  • Inhabitants of the Pozo Barranquero community in Santiago del Estero drink mate in their house. The family has been living in this house for over 100 years, but they never had ownership rights to the property. In 2003, a person who held these rights and for the entire area, arrived and requested they leave. The owner began cutting down part of the forest as he intended to use the land for cattle ranching. The 14 families that remain in the area are embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with the new proprietor and are trying to uphold their right to live on the land

  • Cars due to be repaired outside a derelict house in Gancedo, Chaco Province. Several men who came to the town to work in the carpentry and woodwork industry share the house. While the jobs and population in most towns and small villages in this area are decreasing, Gancedo is growing, according to its mayor. This is due in part to the recently implemented supply of drinking water and opportunities in agribusiness and the woodwork industry

  • Juan Ramón, 16, takes a bath on a barrel in front of their makeshift home in the streets of Asunción where he has been for eight months together with his family. They were living in the “bañado”, the area surrounding the river until recent floods resulting from El Niño, as well as deforestation due to agribusiness further up the river forced them to evacuate. The bañados have been gradually populated with newcomers on the city, coming from rural areas and with poor perspectives.

  • Lights of Terminal 6 Port illuminate the sky. The port, located on the Paraná River on the outskirts of Rosario, bills itself as “most important agro-industrial export complex in Latin America”. Its strategic location within the navigable area of the Paraná River allows it to export worldwide via large vessels but also to receive raw material from Paraguay, which is transformed and then exported, providing important revenue