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The Artificialization of Agriculture in the Region

The Artificialization of Agriculture in the Region

By Walter A. Pengue

We are exposing populations to extremely toxic chemical agents, which have cumulative effects. (From the book Silent Spring, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, 1962)

The artificialization of agriculture in the Region.
From "revolution to revolution" ... (1)

"Hunger is the biological manifestation of a sociological disease ..."
Josué de Castro, "The Geography of Hunger"

Agriculture and food in the rich native America.

The first contingents of individuals belonging to the species Homo sapiens that reached the American continent did so through the Bering Strait a little over 30 thousand years ago. It was a late occupation, which should be conceptualized as the true "discovery of America." These first groups of hunters and gatherers found a favorable environment for their survival and achieved a spectacular demographic expansion, starting from a quite reduced genetic base, that is, a relative homogeneity and then an isolation from the continent that lasted millennia.


The first Neolithic Revolution manifested itself here through the progressive domestication of the most diverse useful plants and animals and the consequent appearance of agriculture and livestock, in a space where a prodigious wealth of flora and fauna was available.

Since the dawn of agriculture, Man has selected, improved and saved seeds, which allowed him to ensure sufficient harvests for his sustenance and survival throughout the centuries.

Only in America, food production was based on the use of almost a hundred different plants - under infinity of varieties - that before the arrival of Europeans, had a system of production, storage and distribution of food that fed sixty million inhabitants. The goose, the apinchu, the ullucu, the mashua or the aracacha - all roots - which together with more than 700 varieties of potato, contributed to an improved diet also with legumes such as beans ( pallar, purutu, tarui, chuy) and finally optimized with the domestication of corn or zara and the quinoa. Our native peoples cultivated hundreds of varieties of the first, such as the muruchu or hard corn, the capia or tender and even cam-sha (roasted corn) which is nothing more than the famous " pop-corn”. The women prepared corn flour by grinding the grain on stone slabs. With this they cooked different types of bread ( zancu, so much, huminta). The machka It was toasted flour sweetened with honey - energizing for children - and even mixed with water, they used it to make vinegar. They made honey from the reeds, since the reeds were sweet and the leaves served as food for animals. Even some types of mushrooms that came out on the cob standing, and darkened it - the upa - They were prepared in a very special stew.

Go to the above as a small sample of a rich and wide biodiversity - not only agro-environmental, but sociocultural - that allowed the development of our Meso and South American peoples and that later would be repeated worldwide, laying the nutritional foundations of other nations of the world that became of these resources. Culinary and nutritional wealth, which spread without restrictions, and allowed countries of the now developed world to freely receive and take advantage of varieties and lines of crops as important as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, sunflowers from our continent and others such as wheat, oats, soybeans and rice that have become the global food base, often to the detriment of local species and varieties.

In any case, although the selection and improvement process was already concentrated in fewer varieties, it was always in the hands of the farmer, who repeatedly saved and exchanged different seeds for the following seasons with other producers.

More closely, it adds to this process of practical domestication, the contribution of the science of plant improvement, which facilitated a significant increase in the productivity of crops, but on the other hand, could not provide a solution to the growing crisis for access to food, which becomes evident with the advent of the deeply questioned model of Green Revolution.

Thus, the process of managing the seed itself by the farmer and conventional improvement programs begin to be reversed in many regions, at the beginning of this century with the arrival of new knowledge about the “ hybrid vigor”. Here is the first step to the appropriation by specific groups of the benefits of genetic improvement that have been shared socially. The process deepens in the first decades of the twentieth century and places the incipient links for the birth of the first large seed companies and the sufficient bases of power that positioned one of the most prominent grain entrepreneurs of those countries even in the US vice presidency. epochs.

Hybrid seeds are the first generation descended from two different parental lines within the same species. The business is that there are very few who know these parental lines - the breeders and their companies - who generally have a higher yield and want to reproduce in successive generations, segregate, and can give a new generation, with uneven plants and yields, which are not generally usable for farmers.

The farmer then, must buy the seed every year, to ensure its harvest, transferring part of the income to the hands of the companies, owners of the management of the genetic material and its crosses. The basis for patents and world market dominance was being sown.

From this point, the large seed companies begin to accumulate increasing economic development and management of world agriculture. Transnational corporations linked to agricultural production and health have concentrated enormous power [2].

Success in commercial hybridization has occurred in crops such as corn, sunflower and sorghum, but it has not yet been possible to expand to rice, wheat or soybeans, species that unlike the previous ones - which are used as food for livestock such as corn and sorghum - are the food base of a significant portion of the world . In these varieties, in a much lower proportion than in previous times, and under greater uniformity after the Green Revolution, farmers have tried to continue saving their seeds, which, according to the companies, goes against their commercial interests, which they see in this ancient practice a risk and economic damage, and one of the sources of backwardness - in his opinion, social and economic - in which vast regions of our planet are found. The crematistic rationale for these actions is understandable, but world food security, or at least the poorest regions of the world, cannot be left solely to the discretion and judgment of private interest.

The capitalization of agriculture in the South under the banner of the Green Revolution means that farmers "choose the" best "seeds, plant them evenly over the largest possible area and apply chemical fertilizers to them. Reducing agriculture to this simple formula leaves crops exposed to attack and soils extremely vulnerable to deterioration ... This reductionist agriculture makes chemical fertilizers and pesticides necessary products to protect itself from its own vulnerability (Lappe, FM and Collins, J, 1977). "What is transferred from North to South is not only capital and technology but also a set of social and environmental costs" (O'Connor, J, 2001).

Artificialization of agricultural production systems.

These technological changes in Latin American agriculture continue to strengthen the development of a strong process of unequal capitalism, which not only impacted the rural sector but also the economy of these countries. The arrival of industrial agriculture increased the forms of artificialization of nature in an unprofitable way. Latin America, converted into a source of production and supplier of raw materials for the world, a process that can be summarized in the following: 1) A rapid displacement of communal agriculture producing food for local consumption, 2) the growth of agriculture of exportation that pushed traditional production systems towards more fragile and marginal lands, 3) the deterioration of the terms of trade already highlighted since the middle of the last century by the ECLAC school from the Argentine Raul Prebisch, which implies an overexploitation of resources and an undervaluation of products whose distance is increasingly unfavorable for the entire Region, 4) the expansion of agro-export systems and their consequent concentration, which also generally implies an expansion of the land available to sustain the scale, which on the one hand increases deforestation and the opening of the agricultural frontier and, on the other, the displacement of small and medium producers, together with the peasant and indigenous economies, with social and environmental costs not even considered. The monoproductive agriculturalization and pampeanization processes that we will see later, as an extrapolated model, are a clear syndrome of unsustainability or "sustainable underdevelopment" (Cavalcanti, C, 2000), 5) the artificial decline of food in developed countries to the inhabitants of the cities that hides the pressure on the farmers and the systems for each year to produce more and at a lower price, 6) Social, health and nutritional changes with the appearance of new infections and chronic diseases, 7) Increasing loss of sovereignty and weakening of endogenous local development systems, 8) political and institutional commitment to the development policies of international organizations that have generated more problems than the specific solutions to which in some cases they reached, 9) scientific and technological commitment to productivity of agro-export systems and little development and generation of apr knowledge opiable for local production systems, 10) Strong commitment of the mass media (press, radio and print) with the promotion models of industrial agriculture and 11) strong interference by corporations in national decisions on “rural development ”.

It is evident that the development style that was imposed in the Latin American region since the mid-20th century gave absolute priority to urban-industrial processes, leaving the rural environment to its own free will, a situation that contributed to deepen the general crisis of traditional agriculture. . Notwithstanding this, agricultural production grew between 1950 and 1975 at a rate of 5.5 percent per year, where export agro-production systems began to once again have an important pre-eminence. It is there, where its importance should be evaluated in a much more complete way, considering also relevant, additional criteria such as the strategic position of food self-sufficiency, and food as a cultural support not only economic, the persistence of non-monetized family economies, the relevance of family farming, the occupation of territorial space, the absorption capacity of the rural labor force, the importance of women in the rural sector, the creation of a space for the generation of conditions towards industrial urban expansion and the geopolitical integration of the territory.

Regional agricultural production has always been heterogeneous from a social, technological and productive point of view. "In recent decades, this differentiation between production systems has been accentuated. At one end of the spectrum we find traditional peasant systems, with sustainable practices, anchored in a consolidated culture, generally based on the multiple use of ecosystems and a minimum use of external inputs. These systems are subject to permanent erosion, to the point that in some areas only vestiges of them remain. Rural and urban proletarianization seems to have been the inevitable fate of a good part of the children of traditional peasants. At the other extreme, we find agro-production of a commercial nature, which from the environmental point of view implies an artificialization of ecosystems that often transgresses the threshold of long-term sustainability ”(UNEP, 1990).

The industrial agriculture model promoted by the Green Revolution has had visible connotations and others not so much. In recent times, scientific and critical research works have grown that show that “the industrialized management of natural resources breaks the rates of rearrangement and replacement of waste, producing a growing increase in entropy. The possibility of reusing only a part of the waste causes these to be transformed into different forms of contamination and generate a growing loss of the productive aptitude of natural resources. " (Guzmán Casado, G, González de Molina, M and Sevilla Guzmán, E, 2000).

The Green Revolution

There is no doubt that since the arrival of the Green Revolution, certain specific crops have substantially increased their yields. In a first stage, some of the most spectacular achievements were the development of varieties of wheat, rice and corn with which the amount of grain that could be multiplied was multiplied. obtain per hectare.

The arrival of Norin 10 and dwarf varieties, laid the foundations for a new agriculture, which changed the grain / biomass relationships, facilitated the collection processes and made a quantitative leap in terms of the demand for external inputs (fertilizers and pesticides). that these crops demanded. When these improvements were introduced in Latin America and Asia throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many countries that until then had been deficient in food production became exporters and then in some cases to be importers of technologies. and supplies.

Many of the "development aid" plans during these times, facilitated the growth of external indebtedness of these nations and their farmers, many of whom, since they could not continue to meet the demands of an increasingly demanding external market, also began to be seen expelled from their estates and farms.


It was after the Second World War that, thanks to the Green Revolution, these semi-dwarf varieties of wheat and rice became available to millions of small farmers, first in Asia and Latin America and later, even to this day in Africa. high yield, obtained by traditional plant breeding. Farmers who, in the first instance, as today with the campaigns to promote transgenic seeds, were given away seeds and agrochemicals to "test" in their own fields. The production increases achieved during the first decades of the Green Revolution were extended in the 1980s and 1990s to other crops and less favored regions

The benefits, reflected in increases in the productivity of certain crops, brought about by agricultural improvement were indisputable, but were accompanied by problems and negative impacts of equal or greater magnitude, in terms of social and environmental costs (Box) that they generated, especially in developing countries, where their mitigation was generally not considered.

“We are exposing entire populations to extremely toxic chemical agents, which in many cases have cumulative effects. Nobody knows yet what the results of this experiment will be, since we do not have any previous parallel to serve as a reference ”.

Rachel Carson, 1962.

If we take into account the environmental damage, which is not included in global competitiveness (Daly, H, 2000) and the enormous energy costs that must be used in these types of agriculture, we can question their sustainability and therefore their future permanence. The policy of " sow the oil”(As promoted with these ideas of the Green Revolution or by economists like El Serafy, S, 1981), transformed into tractors, agricultural machinery, canals, dams, irrigation systems, fertilizers, pesticides, long-distance transportation, shows to be more unsustainable yet.

Again today, large megaprojects planned for Latin America are once again transcending in the light of the promotion of biofuels or to find sustainability in monoculture, such as those promoted for the production of corn and soybeans in Argentina or the mamona and sugarcane of sugar in Brazil, all in search of new fuels. The well-known concept of El Serafy will now be converted into that of “ sow soy", To produce the fuel that allows the machinery to continue running to produce more soybeans, today looking for a model of" sustainable soy”(Dros, J.M., 2004).

In reality, what was always left aside in export agriculture, as in the previous cases, is the fact, linked to agricultural production to achieve food sovereignty or not lose it, as can happen today. It is necessary to argue that only integrated agricultural systems are sustainable (Pengue, W.A., 2004) and that these also evolve towards one side or the other, permanently.

As it is easy to understand, today's agriculture requires heavy capital investments and a business approach far removed from that of traditional agriculture. In fact, this is where some of the main problems of food distribution arise. The problem of hunger is not a problem of production, but of distribution and of construction or loss of capacities for production. In traditional agriculture - poorly called subsistence, by the agribusiness sectors - the population fed on what was produced in the area close to which they lived.

At the present time the global market turned food into merchandise, sustained in a fictitious mobility hand in hand with a massive use of cheap energy, forgetting the basic function of these products for the peoples, their nutritional and nutritional function. Many times, the world forgets, who sets the prices of these inputs, who values ​​and how these "cheap energy" and also sometimes, at what real costs, in human lives and natural resources, these goods are obtained.

Environmental impacts of the Green Revolution

In one way or another, agriculture generally involves a strong process of landscape transformation, changes in energy flow, homogenization of species and, in fact, the displacement or loss of biodiversity.

Modern agriculture has multiplied the negative impacts on the environment and society. Deforestation, large dams, irrigation canals, structural loss of soil, nutrient export, salinization, contamination with fertilizers and pesticides are among some of the impacts of the Green Revolution.

The gravity generated in the health of thousands of peasants, farmers and citizens around the world, fully demonstrates that the costs of the intensification of agriculture far outweigh the benefits in terms of productivity achieved, making us wonder about what It would have happened, if the enormous amounts applied to promote the Green Revolution had been invested in an agroecological production process based on family farming, with more just and efficient marketing systems.

The productive increases derived from the Green Revolution were accompanied by a series of adverse impacts on both environmental and social issues, of which, given the extensive bibliography on the matter, I will only mention briefly ...

(1) From the Book INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE AND TRANSNATIONALIZATION IN LATIN AMERICA. The transgenesis of a continent ?, UNEP, GEPAMA, 2005. (Excerpts from Chapter 2).

The complete work can be requested from [email protected]

* WALTER A. PENGUE. Agricultural Engineer with a specialization in Plant Genetics (UBA). Master in Environmental and Territorial Policies (UBA). PhD candidate in the Agroecology Program at the University of Córdoba, European Union. Specialist in Ecological Economy and Sustainable Rural Development. Member of the International Society of Ecological Economics, founding member of the Argentine-Uruguayan Association of Ecological Economics, the Ibero-American Network of Ecological Economics and the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology. Member of the IADE Board of Directors.

[2] “It is difficult to understand how international cereal companies were able to glide through history as discreetly as they did. Cereal is the only resource in the world even more important than oil for modern civilization… But like oil, cereal has its politics, its history, its effect on relations between countries. After the Second Warrr At the World Cup, dozens of previously self-sufficient countries began to depend on a distant source - the United States - for a critical part of their food supply. As North America became the center of the planet's food system, trade routes were transformed, new economic relationships took shape, and grains became one of the foundations of the postwar American empire. Food prices, the dollar, politics and diplomacy: everything was affected. " (Morgan, Dan, The Grain Dealers, 1984).


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