Volume 1, Number 2 (2008)

Geografía de la Soja en la Argentina

Ana María Liberali

Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata y Centro Humboldt

 

This article briefly diagnoses the rapid growth of the production of soya in Argentina over the last twelve years, taking into account the geographic areas of expansion, as well as the social, economic, environmental and political consequences, and placing this phenomenon in the broader international context. Official statistics, bibliographic sources, and news reporting have been used in preparing the article. Also field work in rural areas has been conducted, including participation in several social events along with interviews with key informants. In Argentina, the nineties were synonymous with privatization, the regressive redistribution of wealth, the concentration of economic and political power, the demise of the railway network, external indebtedness, impoverishment, unemployment, de-industrialization and re-primarization of the economy, among many others plagues. Regarding the latter, the return to the primary economy includes more agriculture than livestock in rural production, with a 50% of the cultivated area occupied by soya crops. The critical point for the consolidation of the fast expansion of soya in the country was the 1996/97 campaign. During this campaign, the first transgenic soya seeds tolerant to glyphosate were released, along with the spread of direct sowing. The remarkable expansion of the area under cultivation made Argentina the third biggest world producer of grains after the U.S. and Brazil, and the world’s leading exporter of soy oil. Uncontrolled expansion of soya crops has generated huge profits for transnational business and even for medium and small farmers, as well as those with interests in financial speculation (seed pools). At the same time, it has increased unemployment and an exodus to the cities, where the declining industrial sector cannot absorb the surplus rural population. Besides, it has produced soil deterioration, watershed damage, destruction of fauna and large forests, and so on. Furthermore, the shift to soya production by many rural enterprises has resulted in a dramatic reduction of the production of food stuffs to meet domestic needs. In March this year the government announced an increase in export taxes, affecting principally soya exports. The interest groups affected complained and launched a strike, including blocking of highways and disrupting the normal supply of the domestic market (this resulting in food stuff shortages in the cities and increasing speculation about drastic economic instability). Rural institutions representing diverse actors that formerly had conflicting interests, united to launch this strike, which has deeply affected public confidence in the government. The conflict expressed rural entrepreneurs’ interests rather than the needs of rural workers, and it has worsened the economic and political stability characterizing the country in the years following the 2001-2002 crisis. Debate on this issue filled the front pages of the newspapers for many months, but it never dealt with issues of the working conditions of rural labor, the need for the production of food to alleviate hunger, solutions to the problem of unemployment, or the future of the soils and destruction of wildlife. Rather, with the large majority of media supporting rural institutions’ interests, the logic that prevailed was that of the right to property. In face of this, a small segment of the society endorses the need to socialize the means of production to achieve food sovereignty, to improve living conditions for workers, and secure the proper management of natural resources. Only these people raised the issue of socialization of the means of production as the only way to oppose not only the expansion of soya crops, but also capital which, as asserted by Marx, strikes at the same time against earth and humans, which in the end are the real bases of production.

 

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