Córdoba, witness case of the soybean advance on the forests

Córdoba, witness case of the soybean advance on the forests

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By Darío Aranda

"Law 9814" is the official name of the brand new legislation of Córdoba that regulates the use and care of the native forest. Scientists and farmers warn about the consequences of the approved law: land clearing, evictions and greater droughts and floods.

The Cotbn is the official space designated by the Ministry of the Environment to agree on a bill to protect native forests, where three universities (from Córdoba, Río Cuarto and Villa María), National Parks, environmental NGOs and the Campesino Movement of Córdoba participated. . After two years of work, on August 4, the project had to be approved by the Cordoba Legislature.

"A text that is very different from the one agreed upon was approved, which contains controversial articles, which enable activities that are harmful to the environment even in areas where all productive activity should be prohibited," explained the president of the Cotbn, professor of Agricultural Ecology at the National University of Córdoba. (UNC) Alicia Barchuk. Fernando Barri is a biologist, professor at the UNC, researcher at Conicet and member of the Cotbn: “They dropped a rich participatory process, with a productive, scientific and social basis, for the economic interest of a few, Sociedad Rural and Cartez-CRA . It is a law that enables clearing ”.

The lobby of the Mesa de Enlace was led by the Confederation of Rural Associations of the Third Zone (Cartez), a pillar of the Argentine Rural Confederations (CRA). The Argentine Rural Society (SRA) and the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA) were also present.

Based on national law (see separate), provincial laws had to carry out a mapping that determines conservation categories according to colors: red (areas to be protected), yellow (sustainable use is allowed) and green (can be dismantled). The Cotbn proposal identified four million hectares in red. "The approved law reduces it to 1.9 million and, above all, makes all the criteria of the red and yellow areas more flexible, so between six and eight million hectares are at risk," explained Mario Barcena, from the Campesino Movement ( MCC).

Of the 58 articles of the law, number 14 is the one that unleashed the scandal. "In those properties (red or yellow category) where infrastructure for production under irrigation exists or is generated, they will be considered included in Conservation Category III (green)." Fernando Barri translated into practice: “It covertly enables clearing in protected areas. It makes it possible to plant crops without prejudice in addition to drying up the aquifer and condemning that land to a future nitrate ”.

The Cotbn explained that the approved law also leaves open the possibility of "harvesting" in red areas, with the use of machinery and planting exotic species, despite the fact that the national regulation makes it clear that there can only be conservation of the native ecosystem .

Another criticism is that the obligation to protect areas with slopes greater than five percent was eliminated, which, according to the Cotbn, will degrade the mountain basins and reduce the water supply.

The president of the Cotbn, Barchuk, explained that if the native forest is not protected "extreme environmental phenomena will continue", from droughts to floods. "If there is no forest to retain the liquid, the water runs down to the lowlands and there will be floods," he explained.

The forest law divided the Agrarian Federation. One sector (a subsidiary of Río Cuarto and the federated youth of Villa María) actively participated in the Cotbn and accompanied the measure. He even issued a letter of public rejection of the approved law. Another sector, directly linked to the president of the provincial FAA, Agustín Pizzichini, favored the alliance of the Mesa de Enlace, returned to play for Cartez-CRA and even threatened to cut routes if the Cotbn project was approved.

The vice president of Cartez, José Manubens Calvet, thanked the Agrarian Federation for its support and defined as “boys without a mandate” the federated who participated in the Cotbn. "Soy passed all limits, it is true, it cannot be denied," he said in a hearty tone. He also recognized that livestock needs new places and, according to his understanding, in the northern province "there is space and need, now we can go and give work."

"I closely followed the entire process of the forest law, and the truth is that the Cotbn project was extreme, little more than it did not even allow to cut a flower in the provincial northwest arc," he explained. He asked twice if he was really talking to Página / 12, and both times he made a silence that seemed to announce the end of the communication. “You have to come to Córdoba and I personally take you to see what the Cordovan countryside is like. Cartez is the countryside, my friend does not doubt it, and Cartez knows what is good for the province ”, he said. The president of Cartez is Néstor Roulet, who until last year was vice president of the CRA and one of the main leaders of the Mesa de Enlace during the conflict over Resolution 125.

Manubens Calvet affirmed that they left the Cotbn because "there were people without representation, who do not know anything about the field," he naturally reported that - due to the forest law issue - they had meetings with the Minister of Agriculture (Carlos Gutiérrez) and with "many legislators ”. He questioned that the original project "sought to legislate on private land and recognize illegal occupants (peasants with twenty-year-old possession)." He asked that environmentalists and journalism deal with "the city's sewers, which emanate an unbearable smell", and evaluated the sanctioned law: "It is not ideal, but it helps the countryside."

The president of the Rural Society of Córdoba, José Ignacio Romero Díaz, celebrated the law. “It is a mature response to immature proposals (for the Cotbn project). Why do I say that? Because that Commission is made up of desk fundamentalists who understand a forest from a grove to a yuyito ”, he attacked. He defined himself as "environmentalist, but not extreme", and evaluated that rural entities played "the chips maturely, talking with the Minister of Agriculture, what he does understand about the field, and with our legislators."

The three universities that participated in the Cotbn (Córdoba, Río Cuarto and Villa María) are in the process of technical and legal evaluation to request the unconstitutionality of the law, due to the apparent contradiction with national law. In addition, the national law is the floor that all provincial regulations must respect and, according to the Cotbn, the Cordovan law is softer, so it must be vetoed in its entirety.

The entire ruling party (which responds to Governor Juan Schiaretti) voted in favor of the questioned law. From the Press area of ​​the Ministry of Agriculture they explained that the minister was traveling through the interior of the province and could not answer questions. The Secretary of the Environment, Raúl Costa, referred the interview to the Director of Environmental Inspection and Control, Alejandro Girón. “It is not the law that we would have wanted, it is not the best law, we must admit it. The Cotbn proposal modified by the Ecological Affairs Commission was stricter, especially in the red areas, but hey, the countryside has its weight, there are many legislators who come from purely agricultural areas, it is logical, ”Girón said and He did not hide the pressures: "The law was changed because the rural sector demanded specific questions, such as being able to carry out activities in the red zones."

–Has Agriculture prevailed over Environment? –Asked this newspaper.

–Each one defends his own. Agriculture bets on production and has an important pressure capacity. If this were Germany and the environmentalists had their green deputies the result would have been different.

Set the limit

The national forest law (formally Law 26,331 of Minimum Budgets for Environmental Protection of Native Forests) was sanctioned on November 28, 2007, it establishes that the provinces cannot issue new permits for clearing until they carry out a territorial ordering - by law - in its wooded areas. It granted one year, until November 28, 2008, to carry out a cadastre that determines categories of forests according to colors: red (of high conservation value and that should not be touched), yellow (of limited use) and green (that could be cut down ). The national norm, which establishes the minimum forest protection floor, highlights that mapping must have the essential participation of social organizations (environmental, peasant and indigenous).

In Córdoba the law was very delayed. Just one year after the national regulation, the Ministry of the Environment called for the creation of the space in charge of proposing, debating and agreeing on the province law: the Commission for Territorial Planning of Native Forests (Cotbn), made up of universities, NGOs, Parks National, a sector of the Agrarian Federation and the Peasant Movement of Córdoba (MCC).

The Confederation of Rural Associations of the Third Zone (Cartez-CRA), a strong actor of the Mesa de Enlace in Córdoba, left the Cotbn shortly after, when it confirmed that it could not impose its productivist perspective, and began to develop a project together with the Ministry of Agriculture and legislators related to agribusiness.

The Cotbn carried out seven participatory workshops in different regions of the province, presented the bill in public hearing (as required by national legislation) and submitted it to the Ministry of the Environment, which took four months to send it to the provincial legislature. "At the Environment I arbitrarily waited so long for Cartez to present its project, and bring both projects up to the Ecological Affairs Commission," explained Fernando Barri, a biologist member of the Cotbn.

The Commission for Ecological Affairs convened rounds of consultations, where farmers and researchers participated, where the technical, social and legal arguments of both projects were emphasized. They left aside the project of the rural sector (the reason was not explained, but they let it transpire that it was contrary to national law) and took the project of the official commission as a basis. After eight months of debate in the Legislature, and almost three years after the national law was passed, the legislators presented the project in the provincial chamber. One day before the legislative process, on August 3, the ruling party announced that it would present a project that had never passed through the Cotbn or the Ecological Affairs Commission. He was voted in the early morning of August 5 by the ruling party (Peronism under the umbrella of Unión por Córdoba) and UCR. The blocks that did not vote on the law were Plural Concertación, Frente para la Victoria, ARI, Izquierda Unida. The Civic Front, led by Luis Juez, voted both positions divided. They were 57 votes against eleven.

Mario Barcena, a member of the Peasant Movement of Córdoba (MCC), summarized: “A large part of the political class and the provincial government were permeable to the Liaison Table, soybean farmers and ranchers, large landowners. It was prevented from having a law that defends the forest and the environment of the province ”.

That same day, Law 9814 was baptized "law of clearing."

New law, evictions at the door

Córdoba is one of the pillar provinces of the soy model. The monoculture grew geometrically and advanced on territories that were destined to livestock. Consequence: the ranchers began to look for new plots. The forgotten northern region of the province, an area of ​​droughts and ancestral peasant population, began to be appreciated by businessmen. This newspaper was recognized by all the actors involved, from the Ministry of the Environment to ruralistas. The weakest link, the peasant family that lived and worked for generations on the same land, began to experience evictions, which were increasingly frequent and violent.

The Campesino Movement of Córdoba (MCC), a benchmark in denouncing the social and environmental effects of the agribusiness model, draws attention. “With this forest law, conflicts will multiply. The agrarian corporations Cartez-CRA and the Agrarian Federation, together with their friends from transnational agribusiness, will redouble the pressure on the last forests and on the ancestral peasant communities ”, stated Mario Barcena of the MCC.

The Olivera family, in the northern part of La Penca, have lived in the same land for a hundred years. In 2004 they were surprised by bulldozers that were destroying the family farm. The two women of the family, Lucía and Verónica, stopped the machine. Then the men joined in, who expelled soybean entrepreneurs who were claiming their ancestral territory. The history of the peasant forest was repeated: families with twenty-year-old possession, protected by law, against private parties who say they buy land with people inside.

The case went to court. And the Criminal Chamber of Deán Funes (made up of judges Juan Carlos Serafini, Juan Abraham Elías and Horacio Enrique Ruiz) blamed the Olivera family for usurping the field in which they lived for a hundred years. Last June, the Superior Court of Justice confirmed the ruling. The eviction is imminent. The Northern Peasant Union (UCAN-MCC) promises to resist.

Marcelo Cabido and Marcelo Zak are researchers at the National University of Córdoba and Conicet. They studied the advance of soybean cultivation over the northern province and confirmed the concentration of land. The survey on four departments in the northern province (Ischilín, Sobremonte, Totoral and Tulumba) shows that, between 1988 and 1999, the farms of less than 200 hectares decreased by 32 percent. In the same period, ranches of more than 2,500 hectares increased by 30 percent. Small plots, like that of the Olivera peasant family, were absorbed by large landowners.

"A dramatic example"

Marcelo Cabido and Marcelo Zak are principal investigators of the Multidisciplinary Institute of Plant Biology (Imbiv) of the National University of Córdoba and Conicet. They analyzed the relationship between deforestation, agriculture, and biodiversity. They warn that the deforestation rate in Argentina is 0.8 percent per year according to data from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), double that in the Amazon (0.38 percent).

They point out that Córdoba registers a deforestation rate of 2.93 percent, almost four times the national average and thirteen times higher than the world average (0.23 percent). "The deforestation rates suffered year after year by the Cordovan forests are unparalleled worldwide, even surpassing those corresponding to tropical forests in other poor countries", denounce Cabido and Zak, and they highlight the direct relationship with the advance of the border agricultural.

“Unfortunately, Córdoba is the most dramatic example of land clearing. For example, the expansion processes of agriculture in the departments of northern Córdoba, between 1970 and 2000, caused the loss of more than one million hectares of forests due to conversion to annual crops, mainly soybeans, ”Cabido and Zak denounce.

The work of Cabido and Zak specifies the magnitude of the problem in figures. At the beginning of the 20th century, the province had twelve million hectares of forests in a good state of conservation. At present 640,000 hectares remain, only five percent of the native forest of Córdoba.

Dario Aranda - Page 12, Argentina.