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ARGENTINA
The road to food insecurity
Hernán Scandizzo
2/24/2005
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Extensive soy bean farming threatens Argentina’s rural population.

Over the last 10 years, Argentina has sought to keep up with international export levels of rival agricultural nations, and after adopting the use of genetically modified seeds, it has seen success. In spite of the export boom, however, many rural organizations and ecologists warn that the farming industry’s use of transgenic seeds has produced a devastating impact on rural residents’ economic security and health, and caused irreversible damage to the land.

Argentina’s use of transgenic seeds has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the Council for Information and Development of Biotechnology. There are currently 14 million hectares (34.6 million acres)— over half of Argentina’s farm land— cultivated with genetically modified soy seeds, a giant leap from 1996, when only 37,000 hectares (91,400 acres) were planted with transgenic seeds.

Julio César García, a member of the Chaco Sustainable Forum noted, "in the soy business, for every 100 hectares (247 acres) planted, there is profit of US$45,000." The fiscal gains are indisputable, but many are skeptical about this new type of farming.

"Until a decade ago, Argentina’s agriculture was based on a model of sustainability," Jorge Rulli, a member of The Group of Rural Reflection, a non-governmental organization that promotes rural life and traditional farming.

In an interview with the daily newspaper Rio Negro, he explained, "We used to farm an area for a year, and then for the next two use it for livestock grazing. With the use of natural fertilizers, it could be used for farming again. Now, in contrast, production is intensive but with high cost of inputs, creating dependence. Land is only used for growing crops. So over 10 years, there has been an enormous loss of nutrients, above all phosphorous and there is no way to restore them." There is no doubt that the production level in Argentina has shot up in recent years. In 1996, as soon as the government approved the use of the Roundup Ready soy, a product of the US company Monsanto, Argentina became the world’s third largest producer of soy behind the United States and Brazil. It also became the world’s leader in soybean oil and flour exports.

Soy displaces, destroys and devastates

In less than a decade, the explosion of genetically modified soy displaced cultivations of sunflowers, corn, flax, lentils, and sorghum. Its use destroyed areas of native forest and highlands and devastated rural and indigenous communities.

While they do point out the subsequent damages to the land, groups emphasize the impact genetically modified food will have on Argentina’s population.

According to the GRR, this farming model "produces commodities for export, and products insufficient in quality and quantity for our population, making it necessary to import food that was previously grown by our rural producers.

The organization emphasizes that this has led to the expulsion of over 100,000 farm workers —due to the fact that little labor is required— and a change in production parameters. An example of this is the growing tendency to raise livestock in corrals and sow beans in the fields. In ten years, the number of rural establishments exclusively dedicated to raising milk-producing cows and producing milk fell by 50 percent.

Severe heatlh threat

There is also a severe heatlh threat involved. With increases in GM crops, there is a higher chance that communities will live near cultivated areas, and as a result will be exposed to harmful agrochemicals.

In the Ituzaingo community in Cordoba province, residents link more than 60 cases of cancer to the aerial spraying of adjoining fields. In July, Sofía Gatica, an area resident, reported the death of her baby who was born with severe deformities. Her parents live just 50 meters (150 feet) from soy fields, and the pesticide endosulfan and heptachlor—both highly toxic— were detected in their house’s water tank. According to the GRR, similar cases were registered in other points of the province.

Following an investigation in Entre Rios province, Parana state, Dr. Darío Gianfelici concluded "the careless and indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, as well as its deficient storage is posing major health problems for farmers, their families and those of the adjoining areas."

In June, 2004, the 19th Argentine Congress of Agricultural Science met with investigators and both foreign and Argentine experts, concluding that heavy soy farming expansion in both northwest and northeastern areas of the country, which account for a large percentage of the industry’s growth, are systems that are virtually incompatible with sustainability.


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