Exposing the Fallout from Paraguay’s Intensive Agribusiness

Jordi Ruiz Cirera records the complex realities of life in Paraguayan peasant communities as they fall victim to the demands of the global food chain.

© Jordi Ruiz Cirera, from the seres, The United Soya Republic

I took this image in the small peasant community of Crescencio Gonzalez in Paraguay, in 2014. I’d been working on a long-term project, The United Soya Republic, about the impact of soya production on the landscape and the resulting socio-economic changes - in particular, the economic difficulties for traditional communities. When I took this image, I had been visiting local villages to learn of and document the peasants’ situation in relation to the soya monoculture; for example, the alleged impact of pesticides on health, and cases of land grabbing.

Peasants in rural Paraguay, the world's fourth biggest exporter of soya, are very active in fighting for their rights. They are involved in a long-standing fight for fairer land redistribution, for example, and are also fighting against the industrialisation of agriculture, which they believe will force traditional farmers off their land.

This man - a local peasant - is firing a firecracker to alert residents that a nearby soya field is being fumigated. This involves spreading the fields with pesticides. At this time, the community was protesting against fumigations happening near to their homes, which they believed posed a threat to their health. Environmental laws specify the distance between inhabited areas and a soya field that is being fumigated, but these laws are rarely respected.

I had been in the community for a few days and heard a rumour that a soya field was about to be fumigated. The inhabitants had gathered together that morning and marched towards the field where the fumigation was due to happen. We were under the scorching sun for a while, watching and waiting. When a fumigator got close to the houses, this man alerted everyone that it was time to invade and drive the fumigators away.

Everything happened quite quickly. Framing the man with the fire coming out of the firecracker would make a great shot, I thought. I felt that the location and smoke would convey the underlying conflict in the area. I only had one chance to get the shot, so I was happy it turned out well.

This is not an obvious image - you can only guess what’s going on when you see the image on its own - but I like it because it illustrates how the peasants are standing up for their rights.

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Jordi Ruiz Cirera is a Spanish photographer focusing on the portrayal of life in small communities around the world, considering the impact that globalisation has had on each.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.

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