By Miguel Altieri and Walter Pengue
Seedling, Jan. 2006
In Latin America, the frontiers to soybean production are being pushed back aggressively in all directions at a breathtaking rate. Driven by export pressures and supported by government incentives, soybean fields are taking over forests and savannah in an unprecedented manner. The implications of the monoculture model and its supporting machinery for the environment, farmers and communities are discussed below.
In 2005, the biotech industry and its allies celebrated the tenth consecutive year of expansion of genetically modified (GM) crops. The estimated global area of approved GM crops was 90 million hectares, a growth of 11% over the previous year (see map on p14). In 21 countries, they claim, GM crops have met the expectations of millions of large and small farmers in both industrialised and developing countries; delivering benefits to consumers and society at large through more affordable food, feed and fiber that are more environmentally sustainable. 
It is hard to imagine how such expansion in GM crops has met the needs of small farmers or consumers when 60% of the global area of GM crops is devoted to herbicide-tolerant crops. In developing countries, GM crops are mostly grown for export by big farmers, not for local consumption. They are used as animal feed to produce meat consumed mostly by the wealthy.
The Latin America countries growing soybean include Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The expansion of soybean production is driven by prices, government and agro-industrial support, and demand from importing countries, especially China, which is the world's largest importer of soybean and soybean products. Brazil and Argentina experienced the biggest growth rates in GM soybean expansion in 2005.  The expansion is accompanied by massive transportation infrastructure projects that destroy natural habitats over wide areas, well beyond the deforestation directly caused by soybean cultivation. In Brazil, soybean profits justified the improvement or construction of eight industrial waterways, three railway lines and an extensive network of roads to bring inputs and take away produce. These have attracted private investment in logging, mining, ranching and other practices that severely impact on biodiversity that have not been included in any impact assessment studies. 
In Argentina, the agro-industry for transforming soybean into oils and pellets is concentrated in the Rosario region on the Parana river. This area has become the largest soy-processing estate in the world, with all the infrastructure and the environmental impact that entails. Spurred on by the export market, the Argentinean government plans further expansion of the soybean industry, adding another 4 million hectares to the existing 14 million hectares of soy production by 2010.