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Soy The Grain of Discord?

Soy The Grain of Discord?

By Walter A. Pengue

Since the 1990s, soybeans have been installed at the center of the agricultural production system, undergoing important transformations, which, sustained in an intensive technological model, contributed to defining a new profile of the agricultural country, which it believed to find relevant commercial advantages in the growing specialization.

The country is debated in the latifundio. Does social and political progress crash against him as against a Chinese wall? "Jacinto Oddone (1930).

Productive uniformity generates ecological, social and technological impacts. What agricultural model does the country need.

Since the 1990s, soybeans have been installed at the center of the agricultural production system, undergoing important transformations, which, sustained in an intensive technological model, contributed to defining a new profile of the agricultural country, which it believed to find relevant commercial advantages in the growing specialization.

Agroclimatic conditions, adapted varieties, availability of labor, port and agro-industrial structure, technical and management simplification, favorable exchange rate for imports and the unrestricted opening of the economy, facilitated the capitalization of the countryside and the movement towards continuous agriculture both in the Pampean Region and in more marginal areas.

The arrival in the middle of the decade of transgenic soybeans and direct seeding (a technological package that made it possible to accelerate the agro-productive cycles, sustained the use of herbicides and which certainly tends to reduce the levels of soil erosion) simplified more the process that achieves record after production record, making today we reach 13,750,000 hectares with an average production of 34 million tons.

However, while in the most developed economies of the world, the importance of diversification, industrialization, added value and services that provide more and better jobs to its citizens is fully discussed, the Argentine economy has regressed decades towards reprimarization, basically supported by monoculture and its dependence on the export of raw materials.

On the other hand, the emerging international situation of the "mad cow" crisis and the growing demand for vegetable proteins has meant that in recent years, and especially in the past and present, the price of grain is close to $ 220 per ton , improving the composition of the Argentine oilseed complex (with revenues of more than 8 billion dollars). The currencies swelled the coffers of specific sectors, contributed to the stabilization of macroeconomic variables and sustained a good part of the governance of the previous Administration of Eduardo Duhalde and the current one of President Néstor Kirchner, which also have in agricultural withholdings, an interesting source of income for your social fund.

However, other factors no less important, such as the losses generated by the standardization of production, should not have escaped the eye of the political decision-makers. José Martí (1853-1895) indicated that "the people who dedicate themselves to a single production commit suicide" and it is from this that Argentina must quickly leave. The situation cannot overcome the planning of the country. It will be necessary to realize that the lack of definitions of a national agricultural policy, which favors a sustainable administration of the natural and human resources involved, can expose us to unnecessary risks.

The hidden face of the soy boom is the intensive industrial agriculture model that we follow and that can produce ecological and social impacts, many of them perhaps irreversible. The assessment of technological risk and the necessary prudence in the face of such a powerful technology is poorly considered.

The paradox of a successful Argentina soy exporter and on the other hand, undernourished, is not such, since it only confirms the thesis - verified with coffee or sugar or rubber? - that there are many underdeveloped nations that have enriched advanced economies with their resources, subsuming their compatriots in more adjective hunger. What was once the breadbasket of the world may mortgage its resources behind immediate economic rent and face a significant loss of its Food Sovereignty. Bread for today, hunger for tomorrow ?.

MODEL. There are already technological, social and ecological issues pending to be resolved by the new model. The efficiency paradigm and the technological incorporation of transgenic soybean cultivars adapted to the Argentine ecoregions facilitated the displacement of entire production systems. Both the regional economies and many other productions saw their spaces occupied by the advance of soybeans. In the five-year period 96/97 -01/02, rice fell by 44.1%, corn by 26.2, sunflower by 34.2 and wheat by 3.5%, while the dairy sector disappeared by 27.3% of the dairy farms. Pig production fell by 36% and the cotton economy decreased 10 times (from 700,000 to 70,000 hectares). The numbers continue. The demand for new land for soybeans (which is beginning to rise in Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) continues to be sustained. The meager North American harvest (the lowest since 1996, today 65.6 million tons) and the reduced world stocks accelerate the process. Today, in vast territories deforestation for soybeans and livestock runs at the speed of caterpillars. Deforestation rates that in four years (1998-2002) reached 117,974 hectares in the Chaco, around 220,000 in Santiago, or exceed 170,000 in Salta.

Also agricultural SMEs may, despite good prices, be affected. We could ask ourselves if, beyond the search for increased yields, many farmers or the government do not perceive that highly intensive management can generate. It is very likely that these producers, year after year, see their pockets thicken with attractive rental payments and that their own fields - exploited by third parties - degrade crop after crop. The increase in scale, the basis of the new agricultural model, is an undeniable reality. In little more than a decade, the agricultural economic unit in the Pampas region increased from 250 to 538 hectares, while the number of farms fell by 24.5% at the country level, and even more in this region, by 30.5 %

If J.B. Alberti (1810-1884) thought that to govern is to populate, and he understood it in the sense that to populate is to educate, improve, civilize, enrich and magnify the Nation, it is evident that we are looking at another movie.

Agriculture and its services is what we must analyze. If the one who only looks to beat records to reach a possible goal - but at what cost! - of the 100 million or that other that incorporates in its center the true farmer. D.D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) said that agriculture seems to be the simplest thing, when your plow is a pencil and you are a thousand miles from the cornfield. Our field men clearly know that this is not the case, that the system is very complex, risky and that it deserves intense work in rural areas, far from the informational paraphernalia that floods them and called them - as if it were a shame to be a farmer - to the new players in the business, farmers or chacrers (is it because there are already 17,000,000 hectares that are in the hands of speculative foreign capital?).

In environmental terms, ecological economists speak of externalities, when the impacts produced are not included in the costs. In the case of soybeans, a battery of agrochemicals is used, especially herbicides (in a decade, the consumption of glyphosate went from one to 150 million liters) and insecticides now also added to fungicides and high-cost seed cures. The emergence of tolerant weeds, requiring even greater herbicide consumption, has not been long in coming. The relative risk of contamination with pesticides has shown a remarkable evolution, especially during the last fifteen years, possibly associated with the notable increase in the use of herbicides and agrochemicals linked to soy production.

The crop demands a large amount of nutrients that it extracts from the soil. Its recurrent sowing degrades it and facilitates a loss of minerals whose costs are not included in the accounts and put a finite horizon on agriculture. The ecological debt with our Pampas increases with each harvest.

Of the 70 million tons of grains that we export, only 2% are finished products (in developed countries they exceed 40%!). We send raw materials to fatten up the crazy European production system and we don't allow ourselves to put the rich local quality into our final foods. Less diversification, less value added, means less work, less wealth, less real progress and less equity.

PROTEINS. The intensive soybean model (basically protein) leads us to present a new discussion that arises between the North and the South: the Battle for quality Protein. That is, while rich economies consume better and greater amounts of animal proteins, impoverished nations are left with vegetable proteins, of lower nutritional quality. We Argentines eat worse today than thirty years ago and we are being induced to replace our old diet and culinary culture rich in wheat, meat, eggs, and milk with the cheapness of soya milanesa or "soy milk", which we could accept in a balanced basket, but very risky, if it is concentrated exclusively and even more so if it is directed to the poor, who are increasingly undernourished. In a year we lose from 230 to 180 liters of milk and eat ten kilos of meat less per inhabitant.

The dilemma then, does not go through the poor soybean grain and the possibility for producers that today take advantage of a short-term but short-term profitability. The problem lies in the agricultural model that Argentina must follow, and in this, the participation and responsibility of the State is relevant. It is to decide whether to favor a country that produces less and less diversity of raw materials in huge industrial estates that today generate soybeans (tomorrow it may be corn) or if we propose to think about the issue integrally and on how to rescue productive diversity, improve competitiveness in all our areas, optimize the natural Argentine brand and project a field for more than a million successful farmers instead of working with so few.

We are and will be for many years a net agro-exporting country, our comparative and competitive base passes through the land, that is why we must favor sustainable activities, of the field man linked to it, of the multifunctionality of agriculture, of the full recognition of the value of resources and their potential, due to the diversity that our country possesses. That is the basis of good management of the assets we have, which ultimately belong to current generations and even more so to future Argentines.

*Agricultural Engineer, Agricultural Consultant and Researcher of the UBA
Collaborator and Specialist
www.gepama.com.ar/pengue


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