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Progress that contaminates…


By Veronika Macku.

I wake up in a small town called Malvinas Argentinas that still maintains something of the traditional village feeling. It is situated very nearby to Córdoba, the capital of the province of the same name, in central Argentina. Edgardo, twenty-seven year old student of agro-economy, Ernesto, his father in his early fifties, and I are heading to a small farm, situated half an hour driving from Malvinas. That is where Edgardo cultivates vegetables and breeds animals for the last three years. He felt attached to nature since he was a small child. While Ernesto drives, he listens to his favourite music: local folklore.

Just when we cross the Malvinas road sign and a red line appears and the houses disappear, we observe a soybean field on the right side, and a special tractor, that the locals call mosquito, that disperses pesticides over the field. Edgardo opens the window of the car, puts his hand outside and says: “The wind blows to the north, in the direction towards Malvinas, do you feel it?” I do the same, I put my hand out the window, and I agree. The wind is strong today. The town is behind us, but a few houses are spread over the field. We keep gazing a little bit more at the landscape and we keep driving to the farm.

The dogs are barking and welcoming us. At the farm a brother and sister live, both are in their fifties. Walking through the farm I come across chickens, sheep and goats. Behind the farm is a small field where some vegetables are growing. However, the fence separates the soybean and the vegetables. To earn a living, the farmers rent the fields to the soybean producers. Edgardo together with another student started their sustainable project in a small part of the field. The agro-economic students desire to show that agriculture can be done differently. They want to cultivate a variety of vegetables and breed animals in a way to maintain order and biodiversity while avoiding the usage of pesticides.

But things are not so easy. They have few resources and their plough has just broken. Ernesto and I drive to the nearby villages and ask if somebody is selling an old plough. Unfortunately, they only sell modern machines that are very expensive. We were told that people only buy ploughs to decorate their gardens. Now back at the farm, Edgardo introduces me to the struggles of the two siblings that own the farm. Their brother died a few years ago. He was walking on the road next to the farm and the wind blew the pesticides from the soybean field towards him. He started to get sick soon after being covered in pesticides; he got seriously ill and three years later he died. Edgardo concludes with his main point: the soybean gives them money to live from by renting their fields, but on the other hand, it produces them serious harm. Edgardo is concerned that people in his hometown of Malvinas, are not fully aware of these potentially serious health risks.

After the morning trip, I am playing in the living room with Felipe. His face, with dark eyes and dark hair, sparkles with energy as always. He is pulling all his favourite toys out of the cartoon box and we play together on the floor. After a while he takes a small grey plastic thing and he shoots at me if it was a gun. I remember the other day, when he was playing with this object as well. That time it was not representing a gun, it was a car. I wanted to know what it was so I asked him. He put it next to his mouth; he imitated breathing, and kept laughing and playing. He explained to me that when his grandfather, Ernesto was sick he needed it to breath. Now his grandfather is not sick anymore, and so he uses the inhalator as a toy.

It was in 2010 when Ernesto still worked as camion driver, transporting cereals. The company he worked for inserted a phosphane pill into the cargo container in order to kill insects inside the cereals. Soon after the company started to introduce the phosphane into the grain, Ernesto started to complain of headaches. He wanted his clothes to be washed properly and his wife started noticing a strange smell on the clothes. He started falling asleep very often. His family saw him fall asleep many times when they were chatting with his family or friends. Ernesto eventually got seriously ill. He was diagnosed with advanced pneumonia and the doctors did not know if he would survive. When they found out some more details about his recent job, they were able to start a proper treatment.

Now, his wife Silvia and their children are involved in the social movement against the factory that would process and store genetically modified corn in their hometown. The movement started two and half years ago. Argentinean president Cristina Fernández was in New York and had just announced a large investment and development project in Malvinas, but the family does not agree with the Monsanto factory being built in their town. On the door of the kitchen a tiny sticker with a skull is glued, that says: Monsanto kills. Progress that contaminates is not progress.

Veronika Macku is an MA student Social and Cultural Anthropology. She is doing fieldwork in Malvinas Argentinas, Córdoba, Argentina.

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