Argentina: Disappearing Farmers, Disappearing Food

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Worldwide,
industrial mono-culture farming has displaced traditional food production
and farmers, wreaking havoc on food prices and food sovereignty.
This is particularly true for the global south, where land has been
concentrated for crops destined for biodiesel and animal feed. In
response, peasants and small farmers organized actions in more than
53 countries on October 15 for International Food Day as an initiative
of Via Campesina, one of the largest independent social movement
organizations, representing nearly 150 million people globally.

The National
Indigenous Campesino Movement of Argentina joined the protests taking
place around the world by organizing a march in Buenos Aires for
International Food Day. Argentina has often been described as South
America’s bread basket because it once produced grain and beef
for much of the region. But with the transgenetic soy boom the nation
has shifted to a mono-culture production for export, displacing
traditional food production and farmers.

Hundreds of
campesinos marked the day with protests against this agricultural
model outside of Argentina’s Department of Agriculture. “For
the government, the countryside [is made up of] the landholding
organizations and the agro-businesses, we practically don’t
exist,” says Javier from the campesino movement in Cordoba,
an organization that includes more than 1,500 families who have
depended on traditional agriculture for generations. “We are
also part of the countryside. We are the ones who live on the land
and protect the land. We want to continue to live on our land, for
future generations.”

Evicted
Farmers

According to
Argentina’s 2008 agricultural census, more than 60,000 farms
shut down between 2002 and 2008, while the average size of farms
increased from 421 to 538 hectares. The shift to soy has replaced
cultivation of many grains and vegetables and even the country’s
beef production. Researcher at the nation’s social research
institute CONICET, Tamara Peremulter outlines the affects of mono-culture
soy on food production. “Soy historically hasn’t been
grown in Argentina. Soy was brought in during the 1960’s during
the Green Revolution. Transgenetic soy has been brought to lands
where before cultivation wouldn’t have been possible. The low
production cost of soy helped this process. Soy has replaced other
crops, invading areas that were historically for cattle grazing
and dairy production. Soy has also invaded indigenous and traditional
farming communities. This model also implies deforestation and loss
of biodiversity”

Land access
and disputes over land titles has become one of the central issues
for traditional farmers being replaced by machinery and high-tech
mono-culture farms. The National Indigenous Campesino Movement of
Argentina (MNCI) reports that 82 percent of farmers live off of
13 percent of the nation’s land used for agriculture, while
4 percent of large land holders or “growing pools” financial
investors in the agro industry own more than 65 percent. The disparities
in land titles have lead to violent evictions.

On October
12, 2009 a day on which indigenous communities commemorate the genocide
of their people following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in
1492, an indigenous farmer, Javier Chacoba was murdered during a
protest against the forced eviction of indigenous people off of
lands. The 68-old farmer died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen
by Dario Amín, a landowner. Members of the Chuschagasta community
had been camping along a provincial highway bordering the lands
to demand land recognition for the Chuschagasta when Amín
and two ex-police officers showed up at the protest. “On the
day commemorating 519 years of genocide in Latin America, we suffered
the loss of our brother (Javeri Chacobar) for simply standing up
for his rights, defending his dignity and land that belongs to him,”
said Margarita Mamaní, member of the Chuschagasta community.

“They
have been evicting farmers and members of the indigenous community
from lands. People have been killed in the evictions,” says
Ricardo Ortiz, an indigenous representative from The Campesino Movement
of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE). More than 9,000 families make up
MOCASE, a grassroots movement of traditional farmers and indigenous
groups. “Now they killed a farmer in Tucuman, a brother. He
was in a march to demand their rights and the man who bought the
lands took out a gun and shot the man and injured four more. The
government has been blind, deaf and mute; this is why we are worried.”

Police Repression

In 2008 alone
more than 35 campesinos were arrested and arrest warrants issued
for 95 more, in Mendoza, Formosa and Santiago del Estero, in communities
rejecting the agro-industrial model. Santiago del Estero is a province
once rich in forest land and untouched by soy. This changed as the
boom in soy prices has made these remote areas now profitable for
soy growers.

This is a “witch
hunt,” as the MNCI has described the situation for campesinos
resisting land evictions, and defending traditional cultures. Local
police enforce eviction orders and meet any resistance with police
force, clubs and many times bullets. “Campesinos resisting
are suffering a violent political persecution. We demand that detained
farmers are released, that officials, judges and police that violate
human rights be investigated and that evictions are stopped,”
declared the MNCI.

Agro Industry
Creates Joblessness

The shift to
mono-culture crops and land concentration has stretched into cultivations
traditionally employing small farmers such as vineyards. Argentina’s
wine industry has boomed in recent years, with the total value of
Argentine wine in the US increasing from 75 million to 146 million
dollars between 2006 and 2008. Mendoza is Argentina’s largest
wine-producing region, with a micro-climate perfect for the Malbec
grape. Access to water is a major issue for rural and indigenous
communities there.

Marcelo Quieroga
from the Union of Rural Workers (UST) says that much of the vineyards
in Mendoza have been monopolized by French and Swiss investors,
who buy land and mechanize wine production. “They are using
machinery to replace workers. By producing high-quality wines for
export the wineries have essentially monopolized the production.
Who suffers is the rural worker who can’t find work, and ends
up living in a shanty town due to rural unemployment.”

Rural displacement
results in poverty and joblessness; the poorest provinces in Argentina
have ironically hosted a boom in soy industry, with soy fields replacing
forests and even cattle-grazing land. The MNCI has reported that
the soy model creates only one job post for every 500 hectares cultivated.
Meanwhile, traditional agriculture provides 35 job posts for every
100 hectares cultivated, while also guaranteeing food diversity,
production for local markets and sustainable use of resources such
as land and water.

Food Sovereignty

Industrialization
and the globalization of Argentina’s food system has led to
spikes in food prices, and increasing rural poverty. This has become
a global trend. “A billion people are without food because
industrial monocultures robbed them of their livelihoods in agriculture
and their food entitlements,” writes Vandana Shiva in the Nation
Magazine.

Via Campesina
does have an alternative to the agro industry, pushing for governments
to promote local, traditional farming which provides communities
with real food. “It’s time for all civil society to recognize
the gravity of this situation, global capital should not control
our food, nor make decisions behind closed doors. The future of
our food, the protection of our resources and especially our seeds,
are the right of the people,” said Dena Hoff, coordinator of
Via Campesina North America.

Food sovereignty
as defined by Via Campesina is the peoples’ right to define
their agricultural and food policy, and the right of farmers and
peasants to produce food. Worldwide communities are seeking an alternative
to a model controlled by Cargill, Monsanto, General Foods, Nestle
and Kraft foods. Starved by industrialization and concentration,
citizens are now hungry for traditional production methods and diversity
in the food system.

Reprinted
from Global Research.

November
4, 2009

Marie Trigona
[send her mail] is a writer,
radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina.

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