The golden bean

In Bolivia, a country in Latin America, the landscapes have been changing rapidly. Where peasants once grew potatoes, pumpkins and wheat and raised chickens and pigs and other crops and animals, now you can only see large fields of just one crop: soy. These lively, diverse landscapes that were also filled with people are now devoid of a human presence. People have been replaced by machines such as large tractors and even planes sometimes spraying pesticides from the sky. But why so much soy?

Infinite plantations and schnitzels

What is all this soy used for? All this soy has to do with the consumption of meat! Soy is used as animal feed. Bolivia sends the soybeans to Europe. The EU is the biggest importer of soy meal to feed farm animals. In the past, soy was not so important as feed for animals, which instead grazed outside or ate leftovers. With the industrial livestock model employed today, animals are kept inside and fed directly with protein such as soy supplemented with maize and forage. We call these places factory farms. So the more meat we eat from factory farms, the more soy must be produced. In fact, the EU, USA and other industrialized countries have the highest rates of meat consumption in the world. In developing countries meat consumption is rising quickly, but for now is still much lower than ours.


Threatened jewel of Latin America

Bolivia, but also Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil are increasing the production of soy for factory farms in the rest of the world. That means that today, in Bolivia, there are fewer family farmers, lower production of staple foods that people eat everyday and more industrial soy production for export. Do you know Cerrado? Cerrado is the second biggest biome in Brazil after the Amazon Forest and makes up over 20% of the country. Soy plantations and ranches require a lot of land, so not only previous farm land is turned into soy fields – forests are burned down as well. The Amazon Forest and Cerrado are shrinking. This has a major impact on global climate change because Amazonia helps regulate weather patterns all but also stores a lot of CO2.


Connecting the dots

Factory farms can be placed anywhere. They are not attached to land and function like a factory in a linear model. The problem is that when we produce feed on one side of the planet and raise animals on the other side, we break the virtuous cycles that you can observe in most family farms models. In a responsible farming approach, all elements play a role within a system. The manure produced by animals is used to further enrich the soil for producing their future feed. That cannot happen in a linear system. Factory farming is then a cause for the depletion and pollution of soil and groundwater. Meat production also requires a lot of water. The factory farm method uses 15,500 liters of water to produce just one kilogram of beef. A small swimming pool full of water to produce 4 steaks? A surprising amount, until we look at what a cow eats during its lifetime: 1,300 kilograms of grain and 7,200 kilograms of forage. It takes a lot of water to grow all this fodder! Not a rosy picture – so what can we do about it?

Be creative in the kitchen!

We already know that on average rich countries, including us Europeans, eat a lot of meat. There would not be enough land available to feed humanity if everyone on the planet copied our level of meat consumption. But it’s not only about meat – there are also milk, eggs and other dairy products such as cheese that all come from farm animals. So the first and easiest step would be checking how much of all this we actually eat and seeing if there are ways we can swap them sometimes for something else. Can you find recipes that show you how to cook without all these things? Here are few:
View creative recipes

Better and local

We’ve revised how much meat and dairy products we eat. Now we can check where the products come from. Were they produced in a way that doesn’t harm the environment? Were the animals able to graze outside? Are they fed feedstuff grown locally instead of in Latin America? That way we don’t need to ship soy thousands of kilometers across the ocean to Europe and the impact of meat production would be less on the planet.


European Year for Development
Czech Development Agency

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