The Soybean Wars

Paraguay is the fastest growing soybean producer in the world bringing untold riches to a very poor and corrupt country. The bean fields stretch far into the distance, consuming the horizon with waves of green leaves and a stink like dead animals from toxic agro-chemicals.

Towns have been deserted and thousands of peasant campensinos claim to have been kicked off their land. The campensinos say they have been "earth robbed" by Brazilian and Argentinean landowners who bribe, beat and even kill in order to grow soy. Landless and angry, the peasants swell the streets in protest. Hundreds of indigenous Guarani people have camped in front of Paraguay's legislative building because they have no other place to live. Others have become violent and stage armed "land invasions."

These illegal settlers are accused of kidnapping and terrorizing soybean producers and their families. In the past Paraguay's government has paid only lip service to the concerns of campensinos while using the military to squash their land invasions. The Colorado party has ruled Paraguay for 62 years, using corruption and "disappearances" to become the oldest government in the world. But next year's elections could be a watershed event. Fernando Lugo — the so-called Bishop of the Poor — is leading polls to become the next president of Paraguay. A former Roman Catholic priest, Lugo enjoys nearly unanimous support from the campensinos and stands a good chance of becoming the next South American leader ushered in by populist reform. Such is the impact of soybeans.

The Soybean Wars: A Radio Documentary

Soybeans, rows and rows of soybeans all around. In western Paraguay the fields that were once thick rain forests are now soybean plantations. They stretch far into the distance swaying hypnotically back and forth in the wind. This ocean of soy, though, is dotted with small islands — houses, actually, that belong to the subsistence campensinos who once eked out a living farming an array of crops like sugar, cotton, wheat, and maize.

Soy Bean Gold Rush

Paraguay is the world's fastest growing producer of soy beans. But the boom has been bad for native peasants. They lived for years on forestland that belonged to no one — logging and growing food for their families.

About ten years ago, the government either gave away or illegally sold the land to political friends in the soybean business. The soy farmers moved in, pushing the peasants out. It's a tense situation, with peasants squatting next to the soy plantations and hoping the next presidential election will bring them some relief.

Pandora's Box of Ills

As the world's hunger for meat increases because of expanding middle classes and changing tastes, feeding the animals to feed that hunger is having a significant impact on our planet's agriculture - nowhere more so than Latin America where forests are giving way to soybean empires.

Paraguay is the world's fastest growing soy producer; its eastern region - 2 ½ million hectares of it - is devoted to the crop that has brought wealth and development to one of the poorest countries in South American.

Soy Provides Opportunity, Challenges for Paraguay

The global production of soybeans is on the rise, thanks to increasing demand. The fastest growing soy producer in the world is Paraguay, the landlocked country in South America still recovering from years of dictatorship and corruption.

South America: Untold Stories

South America Discussion Series

October/November 2007

Presented by: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting / Virginia Quarterly Review

South America : Untold Stories

Journalists Bring their Stories Home


November 5 : Washington University in St. Louis

In partnership with Sigma Iota Rho, Washington University's International Studies Honorary Society, International & Area Studies and Latin American Studies