Global Connections: Your Actions

Submitted by Content on Thu, 2006/12/14 - 1:31pm.

The South American Soybean Connection

George Sranko
George Sranko

By George Sranko
Executive Director of the Collaborative Process Institute

The more we know, it seems, the more difficult it is to make wise decisions and to act accordingly. Take, for example, the role of the lowly soybean in world affairs. Most of us are big consumers of soybeans; usually without realizing it as we munch our breakfast cereals....or, well, most processed foods. Fast foods are replete with soy ‘ingredients' and soybean oil. There is likely a soybean in some form lurking near you now as you read this; they are ubiquitous in our modern world. The good news is that soybeans are so amazingly useful in so many ways; they are nutritious with beneficial proteins and oils, and they help power our modern industries as biofuel.

The bad news? Soybeans are one of the most destructive crops on the planet, responsible for deforesting vast swathes of South American rainforests. Scientists have developed a new variety of soybean that flourishes in rainforest climates and cerrado, a savannah ecosystem. Extensive areas of the Amazon rainforest and other sensitive South American ecosystems have been converted into industrial soybean farms, while the supporting infrastructure helps to accelerate deforestation.

Consumers in Europe are so concerned that they have pressured the big food chains to ban soy that was produced on illegally logged land. Greenpeace alleges that much of the feed used to fatten chickens for the fast-food chains is derived from soybeans grown in the Amazon. McDonalds Europe and other chains have been forced to stop buying soybeans from newly deforested land in protected regions of the Amazon.

By now, we're all familiar with ongoing campaigns to support fair trade coffee and efforts to persuade coffee growers to provide shade-grown, rainforest-friendly coffee beans. Now we have another - exceedingly less sexy - bean to keep an eye on.

But why concern ourselves to this degree over one humble legume when entire ecosystems and life support systems are under threat around the world? Can we even begin to compare the role of the soybean to the massive climate change catastrophe that looms ahead? Like all such stories, the soybean in South America is one thread of an interconnected web encompassing our entire planet. It is becoming patently obvious that the world is becoming too complex and the challenges too daunting for any one individual to get a handle on it all. Personally, I find solace and encouragement in the knowledge that, as we strengthen our connections as a global community and learn to collaborate, the light of public scrutiny and civil society is increasingly likely to shine into every corner of human practice, including global trade and commerce - and, of course, soybean production.

This is one compelling reason why the journeys and insights of informed and attentive travellers such as Danny Catt become so vital. Danny helps us to make sense of, and to marvel in, the complexities of our natural environment and humanity's overwhelming influence on our planet. It comes down to an optimistic and passionate reverence for life! And by life - I don't mean that of a party animal - I mean life in all its wondrous forms, from snakes and beetles to grade eight students. Our future hinges on our ability to recognize the world as it is (not as those with vested interests try to befuddle and deceive us into believing) and to collaborate with one another to co-create new, and often totally radical, solutions.

I learned a valuable lesson about optimism, passion and adventure on a river, amazingly called the Rio de la Pasión (River of Passion) flowing through the isolated jungles of Guatemala.

Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, two friends and I caught a ride on a supply canoe carrying provisions to the tiny villages up river. Roughly half way to our destination, in a tiny settlement called El Pato, the captain informed us that this was his last stop and he was turning around. El Pato means duck in Spanish; we suddenly found ourselves facing the prospect of being 'stuck in the duck'. A young couple from the U.S. had already been stuck for more than a month!

We could have easily become overwhelmed by this turn of events and resigned ourselves to our fate. Instead we chose to face our new reality and to continue to pursue our adventure with passion - we started bargaining to buy our own dugout canoe. We never paddled a stroke. The first boat going our way in over a month arrived and we managed to continue our journey by motor canoe. Things just seem to work out when we treat life as an adventure in search of creative solutions and treat one another with respect. I see a lesson in this for all of humanity.

If there's one golden rule that will help humanity get through the years ahead, it will be that of an Ethic of Respect - learning to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated: respect for one another, respect for other species, and respect for the planet. It boils down to a passion for life and respect for all life on earth.

I began this article with a statement that was designed to provoke; "The more we know, it seems, the more difficult it is to make wise decisions and to act accordingly." The response to this, of course, is that this statement only holds true when we allow ourselves to act as isolated individuals with all the answers! When we confront our new reality and work together we can co-create integrative solutions for even the biggest, impossible-to-solve problems. And there's no scarcity of those at the present time in human history!

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George Sranko lives in Victoria, BC. He's had the good fortune of working with Danny Catt when they were both park naturalists in the Rocky Mountains. George is a biologist with a Masters in Ethics and Governance and Executive Director of the Collaborative Process Institute .