10 April 2008

Argentina Drowns In Sea Of Soya

Soya cultivation is advancing faster than any pandemic in the humid pampas of Argentina with disastrous consequences: driving up prices, destroying crop diversity and pricing fruit and vegetable out of the reach of many Argentinians, still recovering from the enforced hardships early this century when children were dying of malnutrition in that once-rich country.
The reasons for soya’s impressive advance is the profitability of the bean given its high international price, the possibility of obtaining two harvests and the availability of the genetically modified seeds. An Argentinian official report has this to say on the blight of the soya cultivation:

En 1998 the total cultivated area was 26.2 million hectares, of which 5 million was soya. In 2008, the total cultivated area is 30.2 million, of which soya takes up 16.6 million.

Cultivation of vegetables and fruit went down by 200,000 hectares. As a consequence, the prices of grapefruit, orange and lemon have since 2001 increased by 299%, 295% and 290% respectively. Leafy vegetables have lost half their growing area and the price of lettuce and tomato has increased by 282% and 277% respectively.

Soya covers 54% of the cultivated area but only 2% of the bean is consumed by Argentinians: 95% of it is exported and 3% is used for animal feed. The cultivated area under wheat, the true staple of the Argentinians, has declined from 7.3 million hectares a decade ago to 5.6 million hectares and production fell from 15.9 million tons in the past to 14.6 million tons in 2007 despite the huge advances in productivity.

Mixed vegetable oil, 90% of it sunflower oil, is the most popular cooking medium for the Argentinians. A decade ago, it was cultivated on 4.2 million hectares, now it is hardly 2.3 million, and production has fallen from 7.1 to 3.5 million tons. The price of a bottle has mixed cooking oil has gone up 458%.

Argentinians consume 70 kg of meat a year, and eat chicken at least once a week. Most poultry, as also pigs, feed on maize, and its oil is also used for cooking. Maize is cultivated in 3.5 million hectares in place of the 4.1 a decade ago, but increased productivity has taken its production from 19.3 to 21.7 million tons. Still a one-litre bottle of maize oil now costs 580% more than in 1999.

Rice popularly accompanies fish dishes. A decade ago it was grown on 290,000 hectares in provinces where no soya was grown. In 2007, its cultivated area fell to 168,000 hectares, production fell from 1.7 to 1 million tons, and prices rose 270%.

“Nicer than Quaker,” was used to describe a generous person. Now the cultivation of oats, often the first solid for babies in Argentina, has fallen from 177,000 hectares a decade ago to 66,000 in 2007 and its production from 555,000 to 242,000 tons. The production of rye, consumed mostly in bread, fell from 120,000 to 54,000 tons and the forecast for 2008 is less than 40,000 tons.

The production of tomato has fallen 15% in ten years. Lettuce has lost half its cultivated area and citrus fruits only 2% of its production in this period. The advance of soya not only puts Argentina’s food security at risk but the rising prices first hit those with the least resources.

Source: Página/12

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