Burgeoning soybean market transforming South American environment
The global market for soybeans is exploding, largely driven by massive demand from China, and the resulting modern-day agricultural gold rush is transforming the landscape in South America. Farmers are chopping down rainforests, colonizing savannahs, damming rivers, and digging canals, all in an effort to get more land to raise the crop, which has lifted many of them out of poverty in an astonishingly short period of time. Argentinean acreage devoted to soybeans went from about 17 million in 1997 to more than 34 million today, Brazil from 32 million to 57 million. The boom in farming is driving down prices, meaning that American soybean farmers are relying more and more on federal subsidies ($1.6 billion this year) and may soon be driven from the market entirely. South American governments welcome the economic boost and largely look the other way as forests are cleared illegally.