Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Family Farmers Feed the Poor in Argentina

The Union of Earth Workers (UTT) in Argentina is an association of about 10,000 family farmers from all over the country who work farms of one or two hectares, generally leased. They set up a vegetable market in the heart of Buenos Aires, to show that food can reach the public at affordable prices.

Hilal Elver, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food an a Turkish lawyer, pointed to the paradox that the government claims that this country produces enough food to supply 450 million people worldwide, while almost four million of its own citizens face serious food insecurity. Argentina, the eighth country in the world in size with only 44 million inhabitants, has the Pampas, temperate grasslands considered one of the parts of the planet most suitable for agricultural production.

inflation – originally projected by the government to reach 15 percent this year – has soared. In the first eight months of the year it grew almost 25 percent and, in its latest update, the Finance Ministry estimated a rate of 42 percent by year-end. But food prices rose even faster, by 88 percent in the January-June period, according to a study. 
The price of a bag of flour went from 300 pesos to 1,000 pesos in just a few months.
“The problem is that wheat is considered in Argentina a commodity, whose price rises when the dollar rises, while here people don’t earn in dollars,” Teté Piñero, of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH), told IPS.So today the poor are going hungry and the middle class is in serious problems,” she added.
 U.N. special rapporteur Elver appeared to make a similar assessment, when she said that “the Argentine government should take more account of the direct and indirect impact of its austerity measures on access to food for the poorest.” Elver said that during her visit she saw that there were “a growing number of people who go to soup kitchens or skip a meal.” She criticised “the government’s decision to take advantage of the current economic crisis to dismantle support for family farming,” firing nearly 500 workers from the Ministry of Agroindustry, which was claimed to be because of a need to reduce public spending. Elver  questioned the government’s policies that “seem destined to further promote the export-oriented industrial agriculture model, mainly based on soybeans and maize.” The U.N. official also questioned “the adverse effect on environmental resources and biological diversity” of the Argentine agricultural model. She mentioned deforestation, with rates close to 27 million hectares per year, and the strong increase in the use of agro-chemicals.
Elver described as “miraculous” the counter-current experience represented by the small farmers enrolled in the UTT who on the outskirts of the city of La Plata “grow healthy vegetables free of pesticides. These production methods should have much more weight in the design of Argentina’s agricultural policy,” she added.
Javier Scheibengraf, technical coordinator of the UTT, explained to IPS that “we have about 100 hectares, where we work with herbicides and fertilisers that we make ourselves with manure, ash, soil and other natural products, without chemicals.” Sheibengraf said small farmers see the advantage “of not contaminating themselves and their families with agrochemicals, because practically everyone lives in the same place where they plant their food.” “It is also the only way to lower costs because the technological package sold to us by the companies is in dollars and is becoming unaffordable, especially today, due to the devaluation of the Argentine currency and the government’s decision to suspend practically all programmes to support family farming,” he added.

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