World Rainforest Movement

Argentina: Soybean advances on Chaco forests

According to a recent official report, Argentina has lost 70 per cent of its native forests: out of 105 million hectares of forests, only 33 million are left today. Those most affected are the native forests in the northern and central regions of Argentina in the Provinces of Santiago del Estero, Salta, Chaco, Formosa, Misiones, Entre Rios and Santa Fe. It should be stressed that in a sector of the Province of Salta, the annual deforestation rate is three times higher than the world average.

A major part of this process of forest destruction is attributed to the advance of soybean production that started to be developed 30 years ago in the centre of the humid Pampa (to the north of the Province of Buenos Aires, south of Santa Fe and south east of Cordoba). Already in the nineties, over half the lands in this area were planted with soybean and the drop in international prices increased its expansion towards other areas of the Provinces involved and to other north-eastern Provinces (Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Formosa and Entre Rios), covering forest zones that underwent a very high rate of deforestation. Forest burning is the quickest way to clear the land, with bulldozers following on to remove the stumps.

The effects are there to be seen, and tragically so. According to a report by the Litoral University Technical Commission, deforestation and scant permeability of soils subject to intensive soybean production have greatly contributed to the Salado River which has its source in the Chaco, finally overflowing. The results were 24 deaths in the city of Santa Fe during the 2003 floods.

Thousands of hectares of the millenary old forest at El Impenetrable (Chaco) were logged for decades by logging companies and are now being logged by soybean companies. Public lands covered by Chaco forest are involved, very often the ancestral property of the indigenous peoples. Since last December a new law promoted by the Chaco government makes logging of the native forest even easier. Social and environmental organizations have warned that if things go on this way, in ten years time no forest will be left. For this reason they have submitted a petition to the local Courts of Justice against law 5285 that the Chaco government passed last December, modifying Forest Law 2386. They agree that the previous law was not a good one, but that the new legislation is even worse. According to complaints by Endepa, Funam and Incupo, among others, the law is unconstitutional because the indigenous peoples were never consulted as established in the National Constitution and ILO Convention 169. They also claim that it will facilitate destruction of the native forest.

The continuous sale of public land “is taking the Chaco forest away from the Wichi, Cuom and Mocovi indigenous peoples. Although the government might think that this is progress, in fact it is concealed genocide. The legislators and Provincial government must know that because of this law and the constant sale of public land to agricultural producers, the indigenous communities are loosing their territories for ever, and that with the disappearance of forests where they used to obtain their food and natural medicine, the number of sick people and deaths is increasing” stated Dr. Raul A. Montenegro, from Funam.

For their part, in May this year, the Social Pastoral Body of the Catholic Church in Santiago del Estero, the Land Board, the Santiago del Estero Peasant Movement (Mocase) the NGO Prodemur (Promotion of Rural Women), the Rural Reflection Group, the National University of Santiago del Estero and Greenpeace Argentina submitted a request for a moratorium on logging in the Province of Santiago del Estero.

A paper was submitted in this framework, prepared by technicians from the UNSE (Santiago del Estero National University) Faculty of Forestry Science, showing evidence of the extremely high rate of deforestation caused by the advance of the soybean frontier on the Santiago del Estero forest, an important part of which is still standing: the semi-arid Chaco quebrachal (Prosopis sp.). The Santiago del Estero quebrachal is found within the semi-arid Chaco and together with the Humid Chaco comprise the American Gran Chaco ecosystem, second largest after the Amazon.

The joint petition includes a request to regularize land tenure -a permanent source of conflict between peasants who have lived in the forest for several generations and some so-called land-owners who on various occasions have hired security forces to deal with the peasants as intruders and evict whole families. They are also demanding abolition of the Law authorizing logging, recently broadened by the Chamber of Deputies.

During a joint demonstration by hundreds of people, and facing an area of over 800 hectares that had been logged, an enormous placard was deployed with the slogan “not one hectare more.” Emiliano Ezcurra of Greenpeace Argentina, who was present at the demonstration, stated that “this site is only one case of many others. At this very moment, hundreds of lumberjacks are logging the last third of what is left of the native Argentine forest, mainly promoted by the advance of the soybean frontier.” For her part, Margarita Salto, a peasant leader, affirmed that “the forest is our source of work, it gives us our food, it ensures our future. The companies come and log everything and leave nothing. They want to take away our land to destroy it, burn it, and plant the soybean that gives them so much money and us so much misery.”

Article based on information from: “Santiago del Estero. Se acaba el monte: es tiempo de actuar”, ; “Agricultura Argentina: El desierto verde”, Marcela Valente, Terramérica, ; “Chaco: Destrucción de bosques y genocidio indígena”, Funam ; “Campesinos y Greenpeace ‘delimitan’ la expansión de la frontera sojera”,