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The Emptying of "Las Pampas"

The Emptying of


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By Ing. Walter A. Pengue

The touted fact of a new large Argentine harvest estimated at almost 70,600,000 tons, nevertheless hides environmental and social costs, poorly evaluated, which will put the Argentine productive base at risk in the temporary scenario of the coming decades.

Agricultural intensification, agro-export and resource degradation

"Underdevelopment is not a stage of development. Is it its consequence?" Eduardo Galeano, "The open veins of Latin America"

During the last decade, the Argentine countryside absorbed technological improvements that for some very specific sectors, allowed them to position themselves with great success, displace other productive activities and ensure international competitiveness, having to face, on the other hand, the economies of more developed countries such as the The US, the European Union or Japan that subsidize their rural producers very heavily. But this substantial increase in Argentine production has been done with a growing environmental cost in the framework of a strong economic concentration, undervaluation and overexploitation of natural resources, whose value - if it were included in macro and microeconomic accounting - would put efficiency in doubt. and sustainability of both the national and international model of "modern" agricultural production.


The much touted fact of a new large Argentine harvest estimated at almost 70,600,000 tons with income above ten billion dollars, nevertheless hides environmental and social externalities (costs), scarcely evaluated, that of continuing to produce intensively and recurrently only by targeting agricultural production towards the external market, they will put Argentina's productive base at risk in the temporary scenario of the next decades.

The pressure to produce and reach the suggested ceiling of "100 million" is significant. The question is for what, in what way and to whom will these benefits reach and the way in which today they will reach the Argentine social group, clearly the country was increasing its harvests year after year, but its results did not translate into a generalized improvement but only sectorial and every day more concentrated. This intensification in the use of natural resources - which belongs to all Argentines! - It confronts us with a gradual environmental deterioration. "It is strange that nostalgia for an agro-export model is awakened, successful in certain aspects but limited and unrepeatable, which Argentina could not overcome to match modern industrialized societies" (1).

In reality, the new productive scheme, on the one hand, has led the nation to a tremendous deindustrialization that responds to a "long-term structural crisis" (2) and, on the other, has dragged our economy to a primarization concentrated in very few agro-productive sectors closer to the African economies than to those of the second platoon of "developing" nations.

The environmental impacts of the overexploitation of agricultural resources due to agro-export pressure are and will be paid for by current and future generations of Argentines and range from problems "of erosion, loss of fertility and soil structure, salinization, export of nutrients, alkalization, crusting. , appearance of hardened horizons, impacts on biodiversity, increased levels of consumption of agrochemicals, affectation of the aquifer and problems of flooding "(3).

But if, on the one hand, our countryside is facing a growing economic concentration, a significant rural exodus, a proposal on an agrarian scale that in the current framework exclusive work has been done and a significant push from the corporations, on the other the so-called " productive efficiency "is supported by a relevant natural subsidy from the Argentine Pampa. An overexploitation of an exhaustible resource, which with the help of a mining extraction process can be completed within a few years. The current economic process is based on an important comparative advantage that until now has been its support but not recognized in accounting and therefore tremendously undervalued: the environment, which under the intensification of agriculture becomes increasingly unsustainable (4).

Only with soybeans, Argentina will have an agricultural production estimated at about 34 million tons. But what has almost never been taken into account in the accounting of establishments and national accounts - among many other externalities - is the fact that together with these grains, the main nutrients are extracted from the rich pampas soil - some irrecoverable - and are degrades the edaphic structure that generates them.

Annually, Argentina exports millions of tons of natural nutrients that are not recovered in a sustainable way. Only for its main crops, the country exports annually along with its grains - AT ZERO COST! -, about 3,500,000 tons of nutrients. Soybeans, the engine of Argentine export agriculture, represents almost 50% of this figure (5) (Table Nº1)

Table Nº 1. Soy: Estimation of the export of nutrients ( N, P) and its costs for the 2002/03 Argentine harvest estimated at 34,000,000 Tn

NitrogenMatchTotal
Nutrient extracted in Tons1.020.000 (1)227.8001.247.800
Equivalent in Fertilizers? Tons (2)2.217.4001.109.3863.326.786
Estimated cost of repossession for exports (4)u $ s 576,524,000u $ s 332,816,000u $ s (3) 909.340.000

(1) It should be taken into account that approximately 50% of the nitrogen is contributed by biological fixation, which returns to the soil by natural fertility, although it may not be available.

(2) The fertilizer equivalent, which allows us to estimate the value of what is exported, that is, the minimum necessary for replacement is urea granulated by nitrogen (US $ 260 per ton) and triple superphosphate (US $ 300 per ton).

(3) To the two nutrients calculated, it is necessary to consider the important extraction of other major elements such as K, Ca, Mg and S and trace elements such as B, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo or Zn.

(4) Note that only here is the replacement value of an industrialized element considered, which does not reimburse the total loss generated by losing the natural nutrients of the soil, which implies that the value of the estimated loss through replacement must necessarily be much more. raised to the commercially represented.

Total Phosphorous Nitrogen
Nutrient extracted in Tons 1,020,000 (1) 227,800 1,247,800
Equivalent in Fertilizers - Tons (2) 2,217,400 1,109,386 3,326,786
Estimated cost of repossession for exports (4) u $ s 576,524,000 u $ s 332,816,000 u $ s (3) 909,340,000

(1) It must be taken into account that approximately 50% of the nitrogen is contributed by biological fixation, which returns to the soil by natural fertility, although it may not be available.
(2) The fertilizer equivalent, which allows us to estimate the value of what is exported, that is, the minimum necessary for replacement is urea granulated by nitrogen (US $ 260 per ton) and triple superphosphate (US $ 300 per ton) .
(3) At the two nutrients calculated, it is necessary to consider the important extraction of other major elements such as K, Ca, Mg and S and trace elements such as B, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo or Zn.
(4) Note that only here is the replacement value of an industrialized element considered, which does not reimburse the total loss generated by the loss of natural soil nutrients, which implies that the value of the estimated loss through replacement must be necessarily much higher than that represented commercially.

"This is how the paradox arises that Argentina has appeared for a long time, among the Latin American countries that fertilized the least per hectare, having resorted to the natural - but not eternal - fertility of the Pampa" (6).

The serious effect that mineral extraction of nutrients has and will have on our soils in the immediate future is already very remarkable. Although the new genetics and the application of fertilizers have hidden the degradative effect of nutrients, in the case of phosphorus - which is not a mobile element - the situation is already dramatic (Map No. 1), because to stay in the current approach, it would be forcing itself to buy and apply industrial fertilizers - especially phosphorous and nitrogenous - to compensate even in part for the loss suffered and to sustain productivity.

On the other hand, it is well known that it is the mixed system of agriculture and livestock, which allows the Pampean soils a rest and recovery of nutrients in a natural way, added to the rotations of diversified agricultural crops and together with the implantation of pastures and natural grasslands allow its sustainability. This is and was the capital of the pampas. On the other hand, if the proposal is biased towards the recurrence of one or very few crops, despite the good conjunctural prices and the favorable situation for a sector, the replacement agriculture that is suggested in the necessary application of fertilizers will be necessary but not enough to protect the resource. Possibly, in the coming years this process could be exacerbated and new demands for "fresh foreign exchange" will grow even more to continue forcing payments for the services of the growing external debt.

The lack of strategic policies for development and not only the growth of agricultural production and the overexploitation to which it can be exposed to the last productive riches that we have left make that, on the one hand, the situation of loss of this heritage is viewed with special concern and on the other hand, it is demanded by the need for the use and application of new instruments that, as the most developed economies do, apply tools of the ecological economy and sustainable technologies available to produce, protect, regulate and distribute the benefits of the Nation's resources. , and therefore they are the responsibility of the whole society and not of any specific sector.


It is then the moment to recognize the important value that the nutrients in Argentine soils possess and to exercise the demand for the payment for free extraction - some environmental retentions perhaps? - That they are made through the recognition and percentage disbursement of the corresponding specific income that they produce together with the application of the sustainable regulation and control instruments that protect them.

* GEPAMA, FADU, UBA.
Doctorate ISEC, Uco, Spain.

Bibliography
(1) Rapoport, Mario et al. Economic, political and social history of Argentina. Bs.As. 2001.
(2) Schvarzer, Jorge. The challenges of industrial policy in Giai, E and Amigo, C, comp. Instead of the Model: Ideas for a national development strategy. IMFC-IADE.Bs.As.2001.
(3) Prego, A et al. The deterioration of the environment in Argentina (soil, water, vegetation, fauna) .FECIC. PROSE. 3rd Edition. nineteen ninety six.
(4) Pengue, W. Transgenics, Agriculture and Environment in Environmental Management, No. 90., Bs.As. Dec 2002.
(5) Pengue, W. What the North owes the South. Uneven trade and "ecological debt". The Argentine Crisis: The external debt. Le Monde Diplomatique. April, 2002.
(6) Martinez Alier, Joan and Oliveras, Arcadi. Who owes whom? Ecological debt and external debt. Editorial Icaria. Barcelona, ​​2003.


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