SAN RAFAEL RESERVE, Alto Vera Province, Paraguay – “You are about to enter the most beautiful place in the world,” Daniel advised me as we bumped along on the rutted red road, which was growing more rutted and narrower by the minute as the dark forest closed in around us. Waist-high ferns and vine-draped trees rose in the darkness.
It had been two and a half hours since we’d left Encarnacion, Paraguay’s southern hub on the banks of the Parana, and it had been nearly an hour since we’d seen any kind of human habitation. Instead, miles and miles of wheat fields stretched to the horizon – the winter crop here, which will be harvested soon to make way for Roundup-Ready soy.
“The changes here in Alto Vera have been really dramatic in the past few years,” Daniel tells me. He’s watched as the vast Atlantic forests of his native land and the small farms that once dotted them have fallen, mile after mile, to make way for these fields.
“What’s happening is very sad,” he said. “The campesinos who have lived and farmed here all their lives are in a very precarious situation – if they have one bad season, they will be hungry all year. When a big producer comes to them and offers them money for their land, many of them can’t refuse. At $6,000 a hectare, it’s an inconceivable amount of money – they think they’ll be able to live on it for years, and they move to the city. Within a year or two, it’s all gone.”