Bolivian farmers fueled up by soybeans

A soybean field is harvested with a combine

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Over the weekend, voters in Bolivia approved a new constitution. It calls for redistributing land so that Bolivia's indigenous people have more of it. But there's strong opposition to that idea in the most capitalistic parts of Bolivia, places where President Evo Morales isn't welcome. Those areas just happen to be where the natural resources are. Morales outlawed biofuel production, but as I said, there's strong opposition in those parts. We have this report from Annie Murphy.


Annie Murphy: The soy plantations of Santa Cruz are dusty and sweltering hot. Thirty years ago, this was all jungle. Now, tractors harvest mile upon mile of soybean fields.

But truck drivers like German Justiniano were having trouble getting the soy to market this season because of a fuel shortage in Bolivia.

German Justiniano (voice of interpreter): We've got a big problem with diesel, don't we? There isn't any. And it's really hurting the agriculture industry.

Some farmers have suggested using those same soybeans to make biofuel. That's what other South American countries are doing to solve their energy shortages. But right now, using food to produce fuel is illegal in Bolivia.

Juan Pablo Ramos is Bolivia's Vice Minister of Environmental Affairs. He says his government is taking a stand against biofuel, because it cuts into food supplies and harms the environment.

That doesn't faze entrepreneur Mario Moreno. His company makes biofuel on a small scale, and it's used only as an additive in fertilizers and pesticides. Or at least that's what he tells the government. Inside his office, Moreno pulls out a jug of biodiesel made from soy. He says the thick, golden liquid is perfect for running car engines and farm machinery.

Mario Moreno (voice of interpreter): Instead of crying and standing in line for gas, we need solutions. The way out of this fuel shortage is already in our hands.

Like Moreno, many farmers are getting fed up. So they're banding together and planning to use some of their crops for biofuel. Environmental Minister Ramos says that will lead to a direct confrontation with the law.

Meanwhile, gasoline shortages continue nationwide. And the soybeans that some believe could be the answer sit in the sun and slowly rot, waiting until truckers find more fuel.

From Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this is Annie Murphy for Marketplace.

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