Uruguay: we are surrounded

The expansion of soy monoculture and tree plantations in Uruguay has led to an increasing concentration of land in the hands of a just a few foreign corporations and big landowners. Both soy and trees are meant for export markets. The soybeans are exported without any kind of processing, and eucalyptus trees are either exported as logs, or transformed into cellulose paste.
Uruguay: we are surrounded

One of the main problems about this trend is that urban inhabitants, who represent the vast majority of Uruguay’s population, are largely unaware of its social and environmental impacts. This makes it difficult to exert sufficient pressure on decision makers: the critical mass of people needed to question the current agricultural model and demand public policies which facilitate access to land and secure the permanence and livelihoods of small family farmers, is not strong enough.


what happened?

To raise public awareness about the impacts of expanding export-oriented monocultures, a project was developed to gather and process current data on land distribution and concentration, and other related social and environmental impacts. The project also published popular education materials and organized media and lobby activities. It also supports small-scale family farmers struggling to stay on their lands, and social movements aiming to access land.


The results of the research into Uruguay’s soybean agribusiness are set out in a document entitled 'Radiografía del agronegocio sojero' (Radiography of Soybean Agribusiness). This document highlights which transnational companies and economic groups are benefiting from this agricultural model; it also exposes the sector’s hidden costs in Uruguay, in terms of environmental degradation, the use of agrochemicals, the displacement of rural families and traditional production systems, and reduced job opportunities in rural areas.


A video called 'Con la Soja al Cuello' (Up to the Neck in Soya) was also produced, with testimonies from affected communities from different regions of the country. This film has so far been shown in one of Montevideo’s cinemas, and in two towns in the interior of the country, as part of the Global Documentary Film Festival (which originated in Berlin).


The project also included media work, and the organization of a series of seminars and workshops in Montevideo, and in the Florida and Canelones regions. It also continues to support local struggles around access to land and against soybean monocultures; and an initiative of young people in Bella Unión to build a community radio.


what was learned?

It is difficult to expose the impacts of export-led industrial agriculture among urban people, as they are not affected by those impacts in their daily lives. They are thus more susceptible to the much publicized ‘positive’ effects of direct foreign investment and increasing exports. It is the local communities in the rural areas, the family farmers and landless rural workers, who really suffer the direct, negative impacts of the expansion of agribusiness and monoculture plantations.


It was clear that the production of educational materials, the organization of public activities and media work, were all key to communicating many unknown facts to Uruguay’s urban population. Documentary films and the testimonies of those affected proved to be the most effective way of reaching out to the general public, while workshops and printed publications were more useful for discussions with social movement leaders and activists.


what’s next?

FoE Uruguay / REDES will continue to expose the negative impacts of agribusiness on people, communities and territories, by building a national and regional network of social organizations and movements resisting this detrimental occupation of the rural territories; and by developing a joint campaign with peasants and family farmers’ organizations. They will also continue monitoring the real effects and hidden costs of agribusiness expansion in the country, and publish further documents based on facts and sound analysis.


with thanks to our funders: the sigrid rausing trust and the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)


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