Are the increasing of Child Malnutrition, Mortality Rates and Emigration Consequences of the Expansion of Agriculture in N.W. Argentina?

That was the question we asked, and the answer was finally published after three years of hard work: Barbarán, F.R., Rojas, L. and H. Arias 2015. Institutional and social sustainability assessment of agriculture frontier expansion: soya boom, reallocation policies and payment for environmental services in the North of Salta Province, Argentina (in Spanish). 

Wichi women collecting fruits of chanar in Argentinean semiarid Chaco.

Revista Iberoamericana de Economía Ecológica. Vol. 24: 21-37

Weak or unsuitable governance of natural resources imply the removal of biodiversity from the ecosystems, its productivity and resilience, prevailing hunger and poverty. At the same time, the demand of land affecting communities and local economies is a global problem: between 2000 and 2010 foreign capitals bought about 203 million ha. around the world. According to that trend, in 2014, more than 20 million ha. were planted with soya in Argentina, with an estimated harvest of 46 million of ton and a gross income of U$ 25 billon. In Salta Province (24 51’ S 65 29’ W, placed between the borders of Argentina with Bolivia and Paraguay) the deforestation rate was six times above the world average.

Considering the economic importance of agribusiness in Salta, we assessed the institutional and social sustainability of the expansion of agriculture frontier in the main production areas: Departments Anta (24 41’ S 64 15’ W), General San Martín (22 32’ S 63 28’ W), Orán (32 09’ S 64 19’ W) and Rivadavia (24 11’ S 62 53’ W). Considering the environmental policies, we discussed the impact of the national law 26331 to protected the native forests, considering its enforcement, concentration of the land property, the opportunity cost of the land in the study area compared with the payment for environmental services offered by that law and the migratory balances between humane population censuses of 1980, 1990, 2001 and 2010.

We also calculated the multiple correlations between surface cleared, malnutrition and mortality rates and in children, between 2002 and 2012. In Anta (r=0.81) and Orán (r=0.69) a high association between those variables was observed, in Gral. San Martín (r=0.42) is low and moderated in Rivadavia (r=0.63). All the migratory balances calculated were negative. The soya harvest is a main source of tax collection while the sustainable use of biodiversity has not a well-known technology and profitability, while the beneficiaries of that use (mainly native people) survive out of the economic system.

Those facts define an uncertain future for native forests. The law to protect the forests indeed encouraged the expansion of the agriculture frontier, according to economic priorities as well as the continuity of political power. Since the approval of the law in 2007, permits to clear 1.245.173 ha. were issued, but only 339000 ha. were cleared until now. Between 2002 and 2007, 1.025.220 ha. were allowed to be clared in Salta Province. 90% of the budget established to implement the law was indeed used to pay the transmission of soccer games by TV, communicating the political ideology of the federal government.

That is why the payment of environmental services means nothing compared with the profits of soya harvest. Despite agriculture build infraestructure, improved public services and attracted humane population to areas formerly degraded by overgrazing, it was not enough to change the trend to emigrate. Less than 10% of tax collection for soya exports is invested in the production areas, in consequence the provincial government can’t define its own development agenda, prevailing poverty and inequality. The positive co-relation between the variables studied, point out that government priority was not the regional development, but tax collection and public assistance.

The eviction of humane population, the concentration of land property and the violation of laws by the provincial and federal governments, demonstrate that soya production and the public policies related to it, are not sustainable in the institutional nor social dimensions in the study area. On the other hand, to give lands to original dwellers without an integral development project overcoming the problem of overgrazing will only guarantee the continuity of poverty and degradation in the ecosystem they claim as real owners. Is necessary to implement a long term plan for the use of the ecosystem beyond economic and political changes, taking in account the scientific research focused in sustainable development, infrastructure and incentives to generate inclusion, employment and to diversify the productive offer, as well as the humane resources with skills enough to implement it.


Work area: 
Social Policy
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