In 2019, almost 6 million hectares were burned in the Amazonian and Chiquitanian regions, killing 6 million mammals (this number does not include other species like birds, fish, lizards, or insects). Ever since, the wildfires in Bolivia are burning millions of hectares every year (1 hectare equals 2.47 acres). Other fires are active in other critically important areas for the ecosystems. The pandemic helped to stop the intensity of the fires, burning 4 million hectares in 2020. Sadly, 2021 is becoming one of the worst ones in terms of fires, because by August the burned hectares surpassed the amount destroyed during the same period in 2019. This means that at this pace, 2021 could become one of the most devastating for the animals and for the forests of all Bolivian history.
One of the most important facts that people need to know about this phenomenon is that livestock and soybean crops for the feeding of livestock are the two main reasons for fires and deforestation. For the past decade, the Bolivian government is promoting laws and public policies that benefit the big livestock companies. In 2019—while the fires were active—Bolivia and China signed a treaty for the exportation of beef, which increased the exportations by 700% that year and gave the livestock sector a profit of $50 million in 2020. This benefits only the few, because 10% of big farmers own 80% of the livestock in the two departments where 75% of the cows are being raised and slaughtered. The fires for the expansion of the agricultural border cannot be justified from any rational point.
In Bolivia, things are very tough because the government supports extractivism in any shape or form. Besides, mass media is owned by companies that sponsor the government, and a lot of people actually believe that by exporting soybeans and beef as commodities, the lives of everyone will improve. So, what can we do as civil societies that no longer want to witness the death of millions of animals and other environmental tragedies? As a society, it is very important that we raise our voices, step out of our comfort zones and practice self-organization in order to make other want to be a part of a bigger movement and to put pressure on the authorities. Here are some examples of what vegan groups are doing to raise awareness and funds.
During the quarantine of 2020, a lot of people paid their attention to virtual events. A few vegan groups of La Paz took advantage of that and organized an online Vegan Fest. These groups decided to include an event specifically devoted to fires and their impacts on the lives of animals, women and communities. Afterwards, an online auction was streamed to raise funds for the firefighters that were in need in the Amazonian region. This was very successful because in just one event 5000 bolivianos were raised (almost 725 US$).
An effective way to raise funds for an urgent cause, is to sell food in a specific location at an affordable price. To this date, the Vegan Fest group has organized 3 of these events, selling vegan food that can reach a broader market. For example, offering popular dishes like ceviche, chicharron, spicy noodles or burgers (all in tupperware or biodegradable containers, using local products). In all of the occasions, 100% of the profits were donated to a wildlife sanctuary called CIWY, that is located in a vulnerable region to fires. In 2020, the sanctuary had to evacuate some of their animals (including jaguars, bears and monkeys), until the fires were under control, so they needed immediate monetary help. In total, there has been a collection of 11.000 bolivianos (1,580 US$).
Social Manifestation on the Streets
This type of action may sound worn out (specially in a hectic city like La Paz, where these is a protest every day). Nevertheless, it is important that: societies learn about the causes and impacts of extractivism; governments hear that the people know what they are doing and are demanding to be consulted; and that the media gives the importance to environmental and animal topics. Moreover, we need to find creative means to send a message across. For example, on September 21st, the “Day of Love” (like Valentine’s day), several collectives put on animal masks, took colorful signs and did a performance outside the Environmental Ministry and the Rural Development Ministry, where the employers where having a party, dancing and giving away plastic green balloons. The social action caught so much attention, that the ministries decided to stop their party and the employers stopped dancing.
Sometimes we feel powerless thinking about what the animals must be going through: escaping fires, losing their families, running from their homes, getting injured, possibly being hunted and sold, etc. As people that live far away from the actual places where the fires are happening, we have come to realize there are two main things that we can do: raise awareness and raise funds. On the one hand, it is crucial that people are informed of what is happening, and that governments listen to our demands. On the other hand, it is urgent that people on the front line are not forgotten and receive constant help, whether it is money, equipment or qualified volunteers. Besides, it is remarkable that there are groups that have decided to put veganism as a transversal subject, seizing the opportunity to inform about the relationship between livestock and fires, as the complicity between big livestock companies and governments. It will never be enough until all animal suffering stops, but these actions are like seeds that will grow and reproduce, encouraging others to take actions.
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Photo: Sanders Lenaerts via Unsplash; Matilde Rada