Still Eating Tofu

Soybean field in Carlisle, PA. Image by Jason Trommetter. USA, 2007.

Stuck in DC and catching up on email I see that a number of my friends are wondering if Americans contribute to the problems in Paraguay by buying tofu and biodiesel.

The direct answer is no, American farmers produce more than enough soy for our own consumption. Plus there is no chance Paraguayan beans could compete in the US market because of tariffs and US farm subsidies. Nearly all of South America's soybeans are sold to the Chinese who have developed a taste for soy-fed animals to go along with their growing economic prowess.

It could be argued that American foreign policy is responsible for the past dictatorship and that the current fledgling democracy is a result of our post-Soviet disinterest in the region.

But going forward what Paraguayans need right now is an effective government where more than 20% of the population can successfully petition politicians to address their needs. That doesn't exist now and the results are peasants living in squalor who are poisoned from pesticides, soy growers who defend their land with shotguns, and politicians who buy votes for $10 each.

As a journalist I think the answer is more international scrutiny. If just a handful of reporters went down to watch the elections in April (and spent more than a few days there) my personal opinion is that things will begin to change and democracy will take a firmer root.

Despite all I have heard about the ills of soybeans in Paraguay I think they can help in this regard. Agricultural industrialization is industrialization nonetheless and soybeans have brought development, mobilized peasants, and encouraged soy growers to take an active interest in national politics. So to end this blog on an up note, Paraguay is in transition… most likely to something better.

There is much left in Paraguay to report on so I welcome anyone traveling there to reach out for my story ideas and contacts. Many thanks to my fixer Hector Gatti and photographer Carlos Bittar. I highly recommend each.