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Bitter Broccoli Is it possible to build 21st century socialism with 19th century capitalism?

Bitter Broccoli Is it possible to build 21st century socialism with 19th century capitalism?


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By François Houtart, María Rosa Yumbla

Broccoli cultivation grows in Ecuador, as an export product (97%). In 2000, 3,359 hectares were devoted to production and in 2010, 5,000. Between 2005 and 2013, the growth of exports was 13% annually. In 2012, 70,000 tons were produced with an income of 69 million dollars. In 2009, exports to the United States represented 33.6%, to Japan 16.77%, to Germany 16.23%, to the Netherlands 14.57% and to Sweden 7.05%. In recent years the market has expanded to new countries, such as Israel, making the US share relatively smaller. Ecuador is the 6th exporter of the product in the world. In 2013, the production destined for the United States was 2,000 tons per month with an input of 2 million dollars [1]. There is a competitiveness problem. The cost of production in Guatemala is 2,215 dollars per hectare, in Mexico 2,500, while in Ecuador it is 2,600. On the other hand, the dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy does not allow the adoption of monetary policies.

With the waiver of the tariff preferences agreed by the United States (ATPDEA), the Ecuadorian State will pay producers a 14.9% tariff for broccoli, [2] that is, a compensation of $ 149 for every $ 1000 of value. export [3]. Thus, the North American importer will not be obliged to sell the Ecuadorian broccoli more expensive [4]. Otherwise it would not be possible to compete with other Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. It should be remembered that the North American market represents between 35 and 40 million dollars each year. In addition, by Decree 136 of 10/08/13, the Executive exempted the broccoli export sector from paying 100% of the value of the balance of the advance payment to the Income Tax (IR) for fiscal period 2013, depending on the adverse situation of exporting companies. It was justified by the increase in supply from competing countries and by climatic effects that affected productivity levels.

The broccoli is sold to large distributors: Walmart in the United States, Siemssen, Teifkhul-Produkte, GMBU and Aldi in Germany, Mishibishi and Somitomo in Japan. Countries like Japan and Israel require specific quality standards (named Kosher for the latter country). For export, products must be frozen through IQF (Individual quickfreezing) processing. Thus, the integration in the world market of this sector of Ecuador's economy is verified. Locally, the distribution is mostly done by Supermaxi. On the other hand, this sector generates approximately 5,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs, which counts for the country. It appears clearly that this production is part of the change in the production matrix, with the desire to “implement cutting-edge technologies in the agricultural sector so that the country is positioned as the world's leading producer” [5]. However, one can wondering about the ecological and social price of such production ¿The vast majority of broccoli companies produce in the form of monocultures, with all the consequences of this type of agriculture, both for the environment and socially [6]. In Ecuador, only three agroindustries dominate the market for frozen broccoli for export: PROVEFRUT, NOVA and ECOFROZ. The first two are in the province of Cotopaxi and the last in Pichincha.

What happens in a region where the process has been developed intensively can give interesting answers [7]. We propose the description and reflections that follow, as working hypotheses to be verified and deepened later, however with the conviction that they can already serve as a basis for action.

1. Broccoli in Cotopaxi: the companies 68% of the country's broccoli is grown in the province of Cotopaxi (MAGAP, 2011). Livestock farms were transformed into cultivation of this product. Near the capital, Latacunga, the two places with the most extension of monoculture in the province are the parish of Guaytacama and La Matriz de Pujilí. Two companies, a holding company and a corporation have organized the productive change: Brownville Investment, based in Panama and Corola NV, based in the Netherlands Antilles. They belong to two families that each own 50% of the capital of each company: the Correa Holguín family and the ZellerStarcewich family.


It is a radical transformation of the territory, which implies the reproduction of the historical concentration of land ownership and control of the production process. Since the nineties, the State promoted the agriculture of non-traditional export products. At the same time, indigenous and peasant agriculture, which had been relegated to low-productivity mountain lands, were transformed into smallholdings for mere subsistence. In the case of Pujilí, the indigenous communities that are affected in their agricultural capacity, their social organization and their identity and cultural values: are the Altamalag people of June 5 and San Gerardo, of Kichwa nationality. The landscape goes from heterogeneity to homogeneity.

In Pujilí, production started in 2008 and the first harvest took place in September of the same year. “On May 31, 2007, Mr. Peñaherrera sold the farm to Mr. Francisco Correa, who destroyed the stone walls, the churches, the bullring and transformed it into lots” [9]. The construction of a reservoir should also be added. of water with a capacity of 30,000 cubic liters. The essential part of production is in the hands of the company, which uses machines to reduce employment, which in Nitanga represents around 0.5 people per hectare. There are three harvests per year. Between 10% and 20% of the productive activity is carried out under the form of contracts with medium landowners, who must have a minimum of 20 hectares and a debt capacity of at least $ 1,400 per hectare.

They receive the seedlings, the fertilizer, the pesticides, on condition that they exclusively sell their products to the company. They must renounce their productive autonomy and depend on the international market.

2. Environmental conditions of production Broccoli production requires a lot of water. In Pujilí, there are two reservoirs, one large in the moor and the other near the plantation. In the latter, 185.48 liters per second are absorbed by the company, leaving only 4 liters per second for the Altamalag community on June 5. There was a serious decrease in access to water on 80 hectares of their territories.

But too much water or hail showers is also negative. To avoid these inconveniences, the company used geoengineering, installing anti-hail cannons and began to bombard the clouds to prevent hail from falling in the broccoli monoculture and, on the contrary, generating a shortage of water for the community crops. In addition, the noise of the cannons was unbearable for the population.

Not only the waters suffered from pollution, but also the soils. There is talk in the place of a decrease in productivity and for this reason the company would soon think to move to Peru, leaving impoverished lands in the region. However, some leaders say that this possible migration would be due to the abandonment, by the Government of Ecuador, of the ATPDEA. In 2011, the Ministry of the Environment declared that Agronagsinche did not comply with environmental regulations and there was a trial, on 05.09.11. Despite this, the inhabitants of the region affirm that there was practically no change. For example, it is fumigated very close to houses, without respecting the 200 m rule.

At the same time, an important environmental factor is the proliferation of pests and diseases that occur due to the intensification of this monoculture and that become resistant to chemical products.

3. The working conditions of production and processing In Nitanga, approximately 650 field workers work. In the Provefrut agribusiness, around 990. In the production process there is a double labor market: wage earners, who have a contract and social security, and support or temporary staff, who do not enjoy these rights, which It is illegal. In Pujilí, the second category represents 35% of the workers. The vast majority are women. They are temporary and recruited by leaders for a duration of two to four weeks. The leader receives $ 12 per worker per day and pays $ 10. These and these workers are between 18 and 35 years old. They are obviously outsourced day laborers and their awareness of this fact leads them (and particularly them) to a feeling of helpless rage, because they have no means of asserting their rights.

The results collected from 80 surveys conducted in 2012 show that in the field, workers work from Monday to Friday and occasionally on Saturdays, with a difference of 9 hours a day in Pujilí and 11 hours in Guaytacama. In addition, on average, they accumulate 27 overtime hours per month, which exceeds the limit allowed by law by fifty percent. For everyone, the pace of work is intense. For example, in agribusiness, 13 quintals (600 kg) are processed per day and per person. The agreed time for the meal varies between half an hour and an hour. Officially work starts at 7 a.m. to finish at 4:00 p.m., that is, 8 hours a day, but in fact it is much more, the average being 37 extra hours per month. However, workers interviewed say that there are cases of 60 hours and up to 80 hours of work per week. It is very common that overtime is not paid and various excuses are used for this purpose. If we don't go to work on Saturdays, says a worker, they take away 50% of the overtime done on working days. In addition, in the area called small school, where 40 workers are on probation for a period of one to three months and are qualified according to their performance. In these circumstances, workers do not have the time to work on their own crops.

The work in the broccoli processing plant, with 990 people, the majority women, is carried out in three shifts: from 6 am to 2 pm, from 2 to 9 pm and from 9 to 6 pm. The workers rotate every week . If the contribution of raw material is abundant, it works two shifts. The number of overtime hours is high (some workers speak of an average of 37 per week). The working conditions are harsh: long hours standing, in the noise of the machines, in the cold and also the stress to apply quality standards. The dining room is too small and you eat in a hurry. There are few latrines.

In neither of the production and processing sites is there a nursery for children, despite the fact that in both cases the number of workers exceeds 50 and that the 2010 labor code required it. There is no adequate attention to health problems, which are not few; as we will see. In Pujilí, a significant proportion of the workers come from the communities already mentioned.

Women form the majority of workers in production, almost 60% and in processing, 70%. It should not be forgotten that for a large part of them, this means a double job, with the responsibility they have in the family. The lack of daycare poses an even more acute problem. To avoid a lack of productivity, the companies asked for a certificate of no pregnancy, but now they demand a urine test, which is illegal.

From the beginning, workers complained about poor working conditions. The workers organized endogenously and received advice from a lawyer specializing in labor matters to form a union, which happened in 2008. Membership was clearly almost impossible for the support staff. On the other hand, there was a fear among the regular workers, due to intimidation from the companies: if you do not accept the conditions, there are 5 people waiting at the door to take their job. In 2010, the Employers' Committee was created to fight the union. New workers are required to join this committee. The result is that in 2012, at the Prodefrut plant in Guaytacama, 850 workers are affiliated to the Employers' Committee, that is, 82.6% and only 17.4% to the union. In the Nitanga production company, it is 100% of the workers who are affiliated with the Employers' Committee. However, according to interviews with workers in the two sectors of the industry, all kinds of trust in the management of companies has been lost, which intimidates, tries to buy into potential social leaders and despises workers, especially if they are indigenous, they qualify as backward.

The two operating entities are: Nitanga NV, which exploits 1,100 hectares in Cotopaxi and Provefrut, which processes and then exports the product via Superior Food and Crops Inc. With a production of 32,000 tons of broccoli per year, Provefrut represents 58% of the exports of the frozen broccoli. In Pujilí, the four old farms on which the broccoli plantations were made changed their names: Santa Cruz is now Agronagsinche S.A .; Rejas received the name OCYA, S.A .; Selva Alegre became AgripromunS.A. and Monterrey in Nevados Ross. According to María Rosa Yumbla, this change of names is revealing of the passage from the form of hacienda to that of a company. It is a vertical integration of an agribusiness for production and an agribusiness for processing and marketing. The multiplication of legal entities corresponds to tax or labor advantages, but the property remains in the same hands. It is also important to note that the two top institutions are located in places that are tax havens. The local headquarters are in Quito, where the owners also live [8].

4. The effects on the health of the workers and the population According to the workers and also the statements of doctors, occupational diseases have multiplied, such as tendinitis, hernias, lumbago, and respiratory and digestive diseases and agrochemical poisoning. The IESS data on the matter are confidential. The only sure thing is the multiplication of cases and the little medical attention that workers receive. In the case of support staff, each illness results in job loss and as a consequence of financial income, without any right to a medical resource.

A particular case of the consequences on the health of the rest of the population is that of the Belesario Quevedo school, in the middle of the broccoli fields, on the road from Pujilí to Cusubamba, a few kilometers south of the town of Pujilí. On March 15, 2010, that is, two years after the start of the broccoli crops, and the use of highly contaminated chemicals, an agreement was signed between a delegate from the Ministry of the Environment, a representative of the municipal government of Pujilí and responsible for the company. The decision not to use harsh chemicals around the school, to do the spraying by hand and to change the broccoli production for other products, less demanding in pesticides. About six months later, on September 3 of the same year, a journalist, Nelson Fueltala, revealed that the situation had not changed and that the company was damaging the health of children. When the wind was strong, everyone had to leave school, because of the unbearable smell of chemicals. Many children suffered from dizziness, headaches, and sight damage.

On October 18, 2010, the Ministry of Public Health made an inspection, revealing that out of 42 children present in the school that day, 40 were affected by some condition probably due to chemicals, 35 of them with pharyngotonsillitis. On February 8, 2011, a severe headache was detected in a girl from the same school and on March 24, a teacher found herself at serious risk for brain pathology. On May 11 of the same year, the Pujilí Cantonal Council for Children and Adolescents acknowledged the facts.

Finally, at the end of 2011, the school was closed by the will of the teachers who could no longer bear this situation. The children were distributed to other schools in Pujilí, many times further from their places of residence.

5. Protests

The first protests were against the noise caused by the bombardment of the clouds. On April 6, 2009, a march was organized and a collective letter was signed. The problems of water and the lack of respect for legal processes were quickly added to the protests. There were two meetings in the Pujilí mayor's office. The Popular Education Center created in 2008 played an important role in supporting communities and workers in their demands. In 2010 and 2011, a prior consultation was organized, but it was only about the presentation of the company's management plan by its leaders, in the presence of the parish authorities. These meetings ended in sometimes virulent disagreements.

On August 11, 2009, the Pujilí Court declared the bombings illegitimate. The defense of the companies was based on several arguments. In the first place, they created jobs and had contributed to the development of the region during the last 20 years. The bombings were carried out with the latest technologies experienced in New Zealand. Irrigation was done responsibly. The use of the chemicals followed international standards, quite strict for the production of broccoli and no disease had been detected as a result of this practice. The company appealed, but was again convicted.

On January 26, 2010, there was a new wave of protests, due to the breach of the agreements. New bombings had taken place. The water intake was taken care of and a new intervention from the authorities was requested. The company changed its method of bombing the clouds, using quiet technologies.

6. Is it possible to build the socialism of the XXI century with the capitalism of the XIX century?

The flexibilization and intensification of work and its outsourcing with disrespect for the labor code, are the result of an exploitation aimed at reducing the cost of production, increasing the rate of profit and capital accumulation and also to compete in the world market. In the case of broccoli, capital uses labor to the limit of the workers' physical life and does not have to worry much about the reproduction of labor forces, because the reserves of potential workers are high. The project to reform the Labor Code tends to reduce certain rights of workers, such as the mandatory nature of childcare, food services and medical services, as well as increasing the number of legal overtime. In truth, the export of broccoli allows income of useful currency for the economic growth of the country.Through the tax, this activity gives the State possibilities to fight against poverty, seeking better access to education and health, subsidizing certain consumer sectors and giving direct support to poor sectors of the population through bond programs. But we have seen what the price is in the case of broccoli. The first step would be to measure the cost / benefit ratio of this type of economic development, as the Chinese are beginning to do, who note that the economic growth of recent years is almost nullified by the degree of ecological and human destruction that it has caused to medium and long term.

On the other hand, the assistance nature of the fight against poverty (certainly important and effective in many cases), financed by export resources, runs the risk of hiding the need for structural measures. It is true that strengthening health and education institutions and their access, already falls within this perspective. But first of all, it is an agrarian reform that would be necessary, favoring family farming and the reproduction of cultural values ​​and the identity of the Kichwa, with dynamic policies. It is also about creating jobs worthy of human beings, within a different work structure. It is also necessary to study more closely what was the influence of broccoli production on the reduction of poverty in the region. In the canton of Guaytacana, for example, almost 20 years after the start of this activity, there are still 75% of the poor (people who cannot satisfy their basic needs) and 86% of them live in the countryside. It would also be important to study to what extent the environmental and social practices of broccoli companies do not contribute to creating poorer people, a fact hidden by the State's welfare policies.

All of this leads to a question about the concept of a new productive matrix. In several press articles, the extension of monoculture (sugar cane: 10,000 hectares, biofuels: hundreds of thousands of hectares [10], broccoli: increased production for export) is presented as an integral part of the new productive matrix. How to combine that, in practice, with Good Living affirmed as a fundamental goal of society and the State in Ecuador. Wouldn't it be that the “new productive matrix also ignores externalities?

7. Proposals for a transition It is obviously not enough to describe the situations and analyze them, but rather it is necessary to propose solutions. This is what we want to do in this last section of this work.

1) Systematic studies

To have a solid basis for action, some studies are necessary, which do not prevent short-term measures, but which would help the formulation of longer-term solutions. These are 4 essential fields. An agronomic study on the state of the soils, the water system, the most suitable crops, etc. An anthropological study of communities and their organizations. An economic study on the cultivation of broccoli including externalities and a legal study on indigenous lands, the phenomenon of companies in chains allowing escape from labor and tax law and on the status of a national company and its location in tax havens.

2) Short-term measures

In the short term, the following measures can be proposed: the implementation of labor and environmental laws; the repatriation of capital from tax havens to Ecuador; the protection of trade unions. 3) Medium-term measures One can think of the following initiatives: allowing communities to purchase land from companies, as proposed [11], helping them with agricultural credit and promoting community companies on the one hand and the constitution of peasant cooperatives on the other, diversification of production, without excluding broccoli; adoption of organic methods for agricultural production; re-fertilization of soils; promotion of family gardens to produce legumes and the raising of small animals; reorganization of the irrigation system.

4) Long-term measures

Broccoli processing calls for appropriate technologies and a regional organizational base. In the long term it would be desirable either to give the company a cooperative character as property of the productive entities: communities or production cooperatives, or to transform the composition of the capital to constitute a mixed company, with 51% public capital. Finally, in the framework of CELAC or UNASUR, it would be necessary to conclude regional agreements on a Latin American scale that could reduce the competitive aspect by playing on comparative advantages (lower wages, less expensive working conditions, less environmental protection expenses, etc. .).

Such measures would enter into a process of transition to another development project, perhaps less rapid, but much more robust in the long term. It is not about proposing a return to the past, but rather building visions of the future, based on a new paradigm, demanded by the environmental and social failure of capitalism [12].

Notes [1] ElTelegrafo, 07.15.13. Most of the data comes from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAGAP). [2] Figures provided by the Study and Analysis Center (CEA) of the Quito Chamber of Commerce. [3] Executive Decree No. 100, of September 2, 2013. The total of subsidies is estimated at 23 million dollars. [4] Edwin Ulloa, The remedy against the Atpdea blows, El Telégrafo, 21.09.13. [5] Víctor López, president of the Chamber of Agriculture of Zone 1, in El Comercio, 06.10.13 [6] Professor Marc Dufumier, emeritus professor at AgroParisTech, writes: ”Unfortunately, it must be recognized that within In an increasingly globalized world economy, many farmers, in order to remain competitive in the international market, implemented large-scale agricultural production systems causing serious environmental damage: drop in the rate of soil humus, erosion and salinization of soil. the arable lands; mudslides and landslides; loss of domesticated and wild biodiversity; overmortality of bees and numerous pollinating insects; untimely proliferation of predatory insects, pathogens and weeds, contamination of food, air, water, and soil; extreme lowering of the water table; inconsiderate recourse to fossil fuels (oil products and natural gas); greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and contributions to global warming, etc. Family farming, soil fertility and sustainability of agroecosystems, manuscript prepared for the seminar on Peasant Agriculture in the vice-presidency of Bolivia, 21-14.10.13. [7] Many data that we will use in this work come from the thesis in preparation at FLACSO (Rural Territorial Development Program) by Maria Rosa Yumbla, From Finance Employer to Company Employer ”. [8] Writes Marc Dufumier: Latin America is still dominated by agrarian structures of extreme inequality, with very large properties in which the absentee owners do not work themselves and generally invest very little capital. These notables whose large properties are entrusted to salaried managers (butler, foreman, etc.) are in fact not interested in investing heavily in their properties because it is generally more profitable and less risky to invest their money in other sectors of activity than agriculture. : the real estate sector, commerce, finance, etc. " (Ibid). [9] Interview with an indigenous resident of the 5 de Junio ​​community in Pujilí, by María Rosa Yumba, op.cit., P.47. [10] See F. Houtart, The Agro-fuel Scandal for the South, Ed. Tierra, Quito, 2012. [11] In fact, it is quite paradoxical to see communities request the purchase of lands that were expropriated by force, to become Church lands and later on estates. [12] See F. Houtart, From the Commons to the Common Good of Humanity, Ed. What is noted in this case raises many questions regarding the other broccoli crops in the country, but also for the entire sector of monocultures, whether they be banana, sugar cane or African palm. The integration of agriculture in the logic of capitalism leads to the forgetting of externalities, that is, everything that does not enter into the market calculation. It is about environmental, social and cultural damages. The loss of biodiversity, water pollution, the destruction of soil fertility, the disturbance of territories, the change of landscapes, but also the rights of workers, the dignity of work, health are ignored. of the workers and the population, the social organization and the culture of the indigenous communities. These factors are taken into consideration only when they begin to affect capital gains and hence their accumulation. That is why the intervention of the State is needed, to accompany the struggle of the workers, the demands of the communities that defend life, its possibility of reproduction and the efforts to keep their identity alive and current. The socialism of the XXI century demands these goals, in contradiction with the practices of a capitalism of the XIX century, as we observe it in the production of broccoli in Cotopaxi. Sumakkawsai as a project requires the reconstruction of an overall (holistic) vision of reality, taking into account all these considerations and not only capital gains.

Ñangara Marx


Video: Discussion w. Blaire White (June 2022).


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