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The smallholders in Capanema changed over to sustainable production at a time when ‘organic’ was just starting to become an issue in Europe. Over the years, they developed a market for their organic soy. This market is now threatening to collapse due to traces of Endosulfan.

Towards the end of the 1980ties already the smallholders of Capanema decided to do without  the use of pesticides. The reason for this decision was the repeated – and sometimes fatal – poisoning incidents resulting from its use.

A market for organic soy

Manual Harvesting of Soy

By conviction, the smallholders started looking for sustainable production methods that wouldn’t harm human beings and the environment. A market for organically cultivated products didn’t exist yet at that time. The farmers didn’t know that their renunciation in fact yields higher value. In 1994, the first company arrived in Capanema trading with organic soy and offering an adequate surcharge for the significantly higher work load to the farmers. Organic cultivation has become a well-known term in the region. Five years later, the Swiss company gebana imported organic soy from Capanema for the first time. In 2002 its sister company gebana Brasil was founded in Capanema.

Means of existence: organic farming

Since then there is an increasing number of smallholders producing organically; by now more than 300 farmer families. The prices for organic soy however can be up to 50% higher than the market price of the conventional product, depending on its quality. This enables  the farmers to live off their 10 to 20 hectars of land.

Smallholding production enables the cultivation of high quality soy. Up to now a German tofu producer was the largest buyer of organic soy from Capanema. But due to the traces of Endosulfan they cannot use this years’ harvest for their organic tofu. Therefore gebana Brazil is not able to grant the organic premium to the farmers – even though the farmers are in no way guilty for having traces of Endosulfan in their harvest.

And now?

Quality Inspection at gebana Brasil

The soy can at best be sold as animal feed which is normally the case for inferior beans. But not even the sale as animal feed is certain. Soy for animal feed is worth a lot less than soy for nutritional use, large losses are expected. With the “Chega” campaign the organic farmers and gebana Brazil hope to gain the support of as many people as possible.  Endosulfan has to be banned immediately. Furthermore, a claim for damages is being reviewed. The Capanema organic farmers and gebana consider that the agro multinational firms who are responsible for the contamination of organic soy should take the consequences.  Consumers  as well as farmers should be free to buy  and produce as they please.

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