|IDNDR - Informs - Number 12, 1998 (IDNDR)|
By Marcela Valente Courtesy of InterPress
Many "natural" disasters are the result of unsolved development problems. Development patterns that ignore sustainable water management are exposing communities to greater risks of floods and drought BUENOS AIRES, 6 jun (IPS). Thousands of small and medium-sized Argentinian farmers, who have lost over 1.5 billion dollars due to a persistent drought, today urged the government to declare an immediate moratorium on bank payments, as well as fresh credits, in order not to be forced to migrate to urban areas.
A 10 km.-long line of tractors, trucks and agricultural machinery converged in protest near Canada de Gomez, in the heartland province of Santa Fe, bringing traffic to a halt on the main highway between Buenos Aires and Cordoba.
The drought-striken provinces include Cordoba, Santa Fe, Entre Rios and Buenos Aires, the richest grain and cattle producing areas in the country, where at least 25,000 farmers are facing a crisis, according to Rene Boneto, head of the Argentinian Farmers' Federation and the leader of the protest.
"We want an end to the intimidation tactics and the threats of foreclosure, a rescheduling of tax and bank payments, and new credits so we can get back to work and not have to migrate to the city, where we know there are serious problems with unemployment," said Boneto.
The situation faced by small and medium-sized farmers, unable to weather the crisis due to capital losses and mounting debts over the past five years, ironically coincides with official celebrations to mark the record crop expected this year (1997).
The Department of Agriculture forecasts a grain crop of 53 million tons this year, in spite of a 1.5 billion dollar loss caused by the drought. In 1996, the crop reached 49 million tons.
Booming demand in Asia and Brazil, crop losses in the northern hemisphere and a drop in European subsidies have all led to increases in international prices of up to 50 per cent, allowing large producers in Argentina to invest in technology and increase their yield per acre.
Since the start of the 1990s, landholdings in the Argentinian countryside have increasingly fallen into the hands of large corporations, which have boosted their earnings through reduced costs and economies of scale. This has cushioned them from the effects of the drought, which has all but ruined small and medium-sized farmers.
Bank credits remain costly for agricultural production. The most affordable, provided by the State-owned Bank of the Argentinian Nation, come with a 12 per cent price tag in annual interest, even though inflation is under one per cent.
The high financial costs, which were already pushing farmers to the brink of desperation, were compounded by the drought. A state of agricultural emergency was officially declared in the provinces of Cordoba, Buenos Aires and Entre Rios, signalling that in spite of heavy losses some of the crops may yet be saved with an injection of extra cash.
Santa Fe, the main stage of the protest, was declared a "disaster area" by the Department of Agriculture, underscoring the fact that losses there are irreversible.
Members of the Farmers' Federation asked the government for social and economic aid. They are demanding a moratorium on interest payments and well as an extra 500 million dollars to cope with the needs of their families and get ready for the next planting season.
Send us your contributions on a debate topic, a successful disaster mitigation or prevention story, new legislation or policies in line with the IDNDR strategy.
Your contributions should be in English or Spanish and no longer than 700 words. Please send them by
Email to <email@example.com> or on a floppy disk to: IDNDR, P.O. Box 3745-1000, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Illustration or photos are most welcome, but we cannot promise to