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ARGENTINA
Biofuels take over
Hernán Scandizzo
4/24/2008
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Exponential growth of soy production aimed to satisfy foreign demand.

”The external demand of biodiesel is going to generate strong pressure for soy to take over the land surface destined to other food crops,” María Eugenia Testa of Greenpeace Argentina, wrote in the Página/12 newspaper. She says this trend will cause a reduction in native forests and a replacement of other crops because soy is so profitable.

The statistics back her up. In 1997, 11 million tons of soy were grown on 6 million hectares. Ten years later 47 million metric tons of soy were grown on 16.6 million hectares.

Argentina has become the world’s second-largest soy producer after the United States, and the world’s top soy oil exporter — the oil-producing crop comprises already 60 percent of the country’s agricultural production, displacing livestock farming and replacing wheat, corn, sunflower, lentil and peas, among other crops.

In 2006, Argentina exported 4,958 tons of biofuel valued at US$4.5 million, while in 2007 319,093 tons were exported totaling $268 million. According to the Argentine Biofuels and Hydrogen Association, the eight companies that export biodiesel have a production capacity of 600,000 metric tons a year. Seven new plants will begin producing as well this year, increasing the capacity to 1.7 million tons. Exports in 2008 are estimated to total 1.1 million tons.

The breakneck growth of biofuel production is not just based on external demand; internal needs are also pressing. A May 2006 law gives biofuel producers tax incentives and establishes that starting in 2010 the gasoil sold in the country will have a minimum 5 percent natural or “bio” component.

Sugar cane and jatropha
Soy is not the only crop used for biofuels. In the north-central province of Tucuman, ethanol is produced with sugar cane. Along El Impenetrable, a 40,000-square-kilometer (15,000-square-mile) dense forest in the northeastern Chaco province, the jatropha, a brush plant with medicinal properties native to Central America whose seeds can produce oil, is promoted by entrepreneurs, with government backing, as an alternative to produce “environmentally-friendly fuels” and create jobs in indigenous communities.

The agroindustry also is aiming at Patagonia. Investors eye its vast areas of land, plenty of water resources, and Atlantic Ocean ports. In the Negro River valley, where fruit and vegetable products are traditionally grown in irrigated lands, farming businesses are evaluating whether to start biofuel crop cultivation, including soy, rapeseed and safflower.

The government of the Chubut province last year invested in studies to produce biofuel from algae.

Forests lost
According to Greenpeace Argentina, “in the last nine years, more than 2 million hectares of forests have disappeared in the hands of agricultural businesses especially driven by soy.”

In December 2007, after several postponements in Congress — under pressure from soy producers’ lobbyists — an environmental protection law was approved to preserve native forests. The law set a 1-year limit for provinces where the natural resources are found to determine which areas of the land can be used in agriculture, livestock farming, protective areas and others, a step that must precede the authorization for new land clearings.

The struggle to conserve native forests had two high points last year: the determination of the Wichi community in the northwestern Salta province to stop the destruction of their lands, and the health and food crisis that plagued the Chaco province and killed 21 members of the Toba-Qom people, according to the local Nelson Mandela Center, a human rights organization.

The advance of the soy plantations into the Chaco sped up slash and burning in El Impenetrable forest, which is an important food growing and medicine zone for the Toba-Qom community. It pushed out crops such as cotton, whose harvest was a source of income for indigenous families.

Big agro-businesses also pushed out indigenous and campesino communities from the central and northern provinces in the country at a greater pace. The trend triggered the passage of a law in November 2006 that banned evictions of indigenous people for four years, during which time there should be a land regularization with the participation of the affected communities.

Both laws brought temporary relief but the question remains of what will happen when their validity periods expire.


USEFUL WEB SITES
Americas Program
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4558
Biofuelwatch
http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk
CounterPunch
http://www.counterpunch.org/tokar11012006.html
GRAIN
http://www.grain.org/seedling/
World Rainforest Movement
http://www.wrm.org.uy/  

Principal crops used to produce biofuel in Latin America and the Caribbean
• Sugar cane (bioethanol)
• Soy (biodiesel)
Also used:
• Palm oil, corn, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed oil, sorghum, wheat, tapioca, among others.

• To fill a car’s 50-liter tank with biofuel, 200 kilograms of corn is needed, an amount that can feed a person for a year.
• Some 10 hectares (24.7 acres) of food producing land destined for subsistence crops can employ seven to 10 farmers, while the same area used for sugar cane employs only one person. — Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.


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