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Interview with Vili Hoffmann, a smallholder in Capanema who has been cultivating organic soy for 15 years. His current harvest was contaminated with Endosulfan.

His German great grand-parents arrived in Brazil around 1900. The Hoffmann family has been living in Capanema for thirty-nine years. They have been cultivating organic soy on their 34 hectares since fifteen years. Soy is their principal source of income. Additionally, they own a couple of cows which allows them to use the milk for the production of organic cheese that they sell on the local market.

Vili Hoffmann*, what does organic cultivation mean to you?

Even before the organic cultivation we never really worked with poison and therefore weren’t harmed by it. But we’ve seen how our neighbours got sick and in some cases even died. It is for this reason that we’ve always refused to use it. We prefer working with our hands and horses. This may be more burdensome, but it is healthier.

The difference in price is considerable, we earn up to 50 percent more than with conventional soy. Therefore, for small farmers organic cultivation is ideal. You get a higher price and you don’t need to spend additional money on pesticides and GMO-seeds. Furthermore, a small farmer manages to do everything by hand, without using any machines or poison.

What is your attitude toward the current problem with Endosulfan?

The big companies earning a lot of money with Endosulfan, can’t imagine the severe consequences of the poison for the environment and the health of the workers.  Yes and now they say that when it rains the poison finds its way onto our fields. And our harvest of organic soy indeed contains traces of poison. We do not want this! This harms not only us and our clients but also the cattle that drink the polluted water in the streams.

What does this mean for your livelihood as organic farmer?

How can organic cultivation still be profitable for us when we are struggling with hard work doing everything manually when the poison infiltrates from the other farmers nearby anyway? When the air is polluted with pesticides? We have to fight this rigorously and make sure that this pollution stops. Where is this going to end for our children and grand-children? The people are being destroyed by the poison and we do not want this! If no one helps us and if the poison isn’t banned, there is no future for us.

* the interviewee speaks an old German idiom that has been passed on in his family ever since arriving in Brazil, without ever having been to Germany.

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