The Islamic Post Blog

Praying for Rain in Argentina by ipinfo2
March 24, 2009, 10:53 am
Filed under: Latino/Caribe, March Volume 2009 | Tags: ,

By Safiya A. Khafidh
Islamic Post Staff Writer

Argentina, South America’s second largest country, and one of the world’s biggest producers of beef, soya and grains is in the grip of the worst drought in 50 years. The entire lush fertile pampas grasslands, the best farming and ranching areas, are being transformed into a dust bowl, littered with cattle corpses. To date some 300,000 head of cattle have perished in the province of Santa Fe.
According to Lillian Nunez of the National Weather Service, Argentina has not experienced such insignificant amounts of rain since 1971. The National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA) reports that “in many parts of the pampas region, rains have been at their lowest levels in 100 yrs.
The farming sector is facing losses to the tune of $5 billion, while the government of President Cristina Fernandez is liable for an average of $20 billions in debt payments this year.
What are the devastating effects of this severe drought? An estimated 1.5 million head of prized range fed cattle, for which Argentina claims fame, are expected to die in the fields. Within one year, Argentina has gone from being the world’s 5th largest wheat exporter to harvesting the smallest wheat crop since 1989, according to the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange. An INTA report states, “The drought has caused a seven to eight million ton drop in wheat production, from 16 million tons in the last harvest to around 8 million this crop. The wheat yield was the lowest in 30 yrs.” Argentina is the world’s leader in exporting soy meal and oil, holding third place in the world in exports of corn and soybeans. Yet farmers did not even plant late season crops, as two-thirds of the existing crop is in bad shape, with an expected fall of between 41 million and 42 million tons; down 11% this year. The situation with corn is even more severe. Only 15.5 million tons of corn is expected this year; a 24% drop from last year. The governor of Entre Rios province, Sergio Urribarri said, “It’s an unprecedented disaster”, lamenting the fact that ninety percent of the corn in his province had died. The economy stands to be adversely affected, with a recession looming. The country’s economic growth is slowing in the face of the wider international financial crisis.
Now the farmers are looking to the government for help. In response, in a move that Cabinet Chief Sergio Massa considers as “extending its hand to these farmers”, President Fernandez is offering a deferment of some tax payments for up to a year, temporarily suspending the minimum weight for slaughtering livestock, reversing charges for transport permits and making available a subsidy of about $4,500 for each qualifying farmer. Many are concerned this would not even cover the costs of tractor fuel.
The farmers, however, are disappointed and dissatisfied. “This is a drop in the ocean”, said Eduardo Buzzi, president of the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA), “If this is all the official help we get, then it’s a joke.” Furthermore he said, “We can see the abyss and it’s just around the corner. Many producers are disappearing. The graveness of the situation is not being considered by the government.” Mario Llambias, leader of Argentina’s Rural Confederation (CRA) agrees; “The situation is critical and we are not going to emerge from it with these measures. The government’s reaction is inadequate to the circumstances.”
The government, on the other hand, in regards to the relief measures that it is initiating, believes that many farmers have been waiting for this for a long time. When asked, ”What is the government’s plan for financing the next planting?” Agriculture Secretary Carlos Cheppi answered, “We’re working on it by redistributing money to assist in the emergency.”
At this point, the FAA, CRA and other farm groups are considering staging protests by suspending grain and oilseed sales for short daily periods, and marching along with tractors in towns and cities. Last year, for four months, farmers held strikes protesting high taxes on grain and oilseed exports. But “this time we will not be involved in pickets or blocking traffic. That was last year. Now we are struggling over a completely different situation with the government refusing to talk or even listen to us,” said Buzzi
One rancher brings home the somber reality of the Argentine crisis in his statement, “The situation is terminal. We are in God’s hands. Our water reserves are gone.”


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