Environmental impact of soy agriculture in South America. Graphic: WWF

By Ruxandra Guidi
19 February 2016

(mongabay.com) – Agriculture in Argentina has expanded at an accelerated rate in the past twenty years due to technological advances, the use of genetically modified crops, and, in particular, to the cultivation of soybean.

The South American country is the first global exporter of soy, and the biggest provider of flour and biodiesel made from its derivates; the crop is an important source of income. However, according to the coordinator of Greenpeace’s forest campaign in Argentina, Hernán Giardini, “the advance of genetically-modified soy production since the mid-nineties until now, and the intensive cattle raising in the north” are the main causes for forest loss in the country.

According to a rating created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Argentina is among the top ten countries that destroy their forests the most, and the FAO calculates the loss has amounted to more than 7.5 million hectares since 1990.

Satellite data from 2004 analyzed by Argentina’s Secretary of Agriculture, Cattle, Fishing and Food confirm this: they have found a clear link between areas planted with soybean and the deforestation of native Argentinean forests. Between 1998 and 2006, the deforested surface of Argentina was of almost 3,000 hectares –the equivalent of 250,000 hectares a year or one hectare every two minutes. Almost 80% of forest loss has taken place in the northeastern part of the country, in Salta, Santiago Del Estero, Chaco and Formosa provinces.

Given this extremely high rate of deforestation, congressman Miguel Bonasso presented in June 2006 a proposal for a proposal for the Environmental Protection of Native Forests Law. Organizations such as Greenpeace, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, and Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina supported the initiative that ended up being approved in March of 2007, despite opposition by some lawmakers in the north, where most of the deforestation takes place.

But despite the forest law, Giardini mourns the fact that destruction is still ongoing.

“The corporate sector destroys forests illegally because if they get punished for it, it’s a small fine that is really minimal compared to the profits of growing soybeans,” said Giardini in an interview with Radio Zonica in Buenos Aires. “And there are local governments that have allowed deforestation where the law clearly doesn’t allow it, through decrees that are much more flexible than the federal law.” […]

“We are facing a serious forest emergency,” Giardini said recently. “This has to end. To destroy forests is a crime, and it should be punished as such.” [more]

Seven million hectares of forests have been lost in Argentina over the past 20 years

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