Agroecology’s boom in Argentina
Agroecology is defined as the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. This can bring up management approaches that wouldn’t be considered otherwise. In Argentina, organic agriculture has been expanding to the point it is the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and the second in the world after Australia.
This boom is a response to the failure of the current model which is based on agrochemicals and that has already disappointed producers and starts to worry consumers for its consequences.
According to the Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22% of the total global land devoted to this type of crops. Of this total 6.8 million hectares are located in Latin America and up to three million are in Argentina alone.
More so, the Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that in the 2014-2015 period the land under organic production grew 10%, this includes herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds. In the country today there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.
“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing for 20 years, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” told IPS Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology Company in the province of Córdoba.
“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” he added.
According to Eduardo Cerdá, and agroecology adviser, this process is different to organic production because it doesn’t use agrochemicals either but doesn’t require nor seeks for a certification. Organic production in Argentina is concentrated in four or five companies, he told IPS, and this brings a cost to the producer.
“We basically work to generate experiences, to accompany producers, to train students, as part of a vision of agriculture based on ecological principles,” he said. Cerdá is vice president of the Graduate Center of the Agronomy School at the National University of La Plata (UNLP) and says there is a growing interest in agroecology. In 10 years the area receiving specialized advice grew from 600 hectares to 12, 500 and now his colleagues are unable to meet the demand.
He says this is due to the collapse of the current model which for him is “exhausted.” Agroecology instead is “not an alternative but the agriculture of the near future,” he added.
“Producers are seeing that the promise of 20 years ago of what this technology would solve has not been fulfilled. Neither in terms of high yields nor in costs. They see that the costs are very high due to the amount of inputs that they use.” Here agriculture represents 13% of the GDP, 55% of exports and 35% of direct and indirect employment.
“The main crops grown in Argentina are transgenic soybean, corn and cotton. Organic producers are still very few and far between and they mostly grow fresh produce. We can count on our fingers the farmers who produce ecological grains, because there is no government policy that promotes this production,” told IPS Greaciela Draguicevich, head of the Mutual Sentimiento Association.
This association serves as a market for organic produces and is based on the social economy. “We discovered that the main problem was the middlemen so we directly contacted farmers. But we looked for producers of products free of agrotoxics, because we thought that it was not a good thing to keep consuming toxic chemicals and getting sick from our food,” she told IPS.
For them organic means that a product doesn’t have a social nor economic poisons, there is no exploitation, or gender-based wage differences, neither child labour. “Everything has to keep a balance,” she added.
For Pierrestegui, Argentina has a special potential for organic and agroecological production. “Argentina is not a great world producer of olive oil, but it is one of the few that are able to produce it organically. Spain, for example, one of the main global producers, works on very arid lands, where they need to use many agrochemicals and artificial fertilizers. Argentina has the advantage of good soil.”
Also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables, “conversion from conventional to organic production is generally easy in Argentina, thanks to its physical conditions.”
“The endowment of ample and natural fertile soil, the wide abundance of virgin land, and the low use of chemical inputs in conventional farming practices enable farmers to switch to organic production without major adjustments to their farming methods. The diverse climates throughout the country and a low pest pressure allow organic production virtually throughout the whole country,” reads the report.
For Cerdá, “the logics of nature are different,” and countries need to try and understand them and use more techniques such as agroecology.