Industrial soy plantations are devouring this endangered South American habitat

Soybean plantation. Photo source: Pixabay
Soybean plantation. Photo source: Pixabay

The Gran Chaco — a landscape of dry tropical forest and savanna grasslands that straddles Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina — doesn’t have the glamorous image of the neighboring Amazon rainforest to the north.

Yet it is home to a wealth of biodiversity, including 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 mammals, 120 reptiles and 100 amphibians, including the screaming hairy armadillo.

Like the Amazon rainforest, the Chaco also shelters more well-known, and charismatic, animals — such as jaguars and toucans.

All this is under threat as soy plantations advance rapidly across the Chaco’s fragile terrain.

Genetically modified soybeans are “green gold” to industrial mega-farmers, whose plantations have since 1985 devoured 55,000 square miles of the Chaco — a chunk of land roughly the size of England.

In Argentina, the Chaco is being plowed under in a country that depends on soy for a quarter of its export earnings.

For Bolivia, soy products are only 10 percent of its export economy, but in Paraguay, that figure is 50 percent.

Beyond its ecological impacts, industrialized soy production has also taken a terrible toll in human health in Paraguay.

Environmentalists seeking to prevent destruction of the Gran Chaco are struggling to gain traction for their cause.

In Minnesota, activists and investors alike are targeting the American agribusiness corporation Cargill for doing business with soybean growers linked to habitat destruction.

In the United Kingdom, Tesco supermarkets and the retail giant Marks & Spencer are both promising to drop soy suppliers linked to habitat destruction.

Sources: The Guardian, Mongabay, City Pages (Minneapolis)

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