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By Tim Ford
Currently in Uruguay there is a concern by various environmental organizations and public institutions about the foreignization of the land and the environmental impacts of monocultures carried out on these lands. In the last agricultural census of 2000, 17% of the national territory had been foreignized.
Uruguay has an area of 176,215 square km, including 1,199 square km of inland waters. Its economy is fundamentally agrarian, especially livestock, which is its main source of wealth. The climate is subtropical, temperate and with medium rainfall, and the vegetation clearly dominates the grasslands that occupy 76% of the country.
Currently in Uruguay there is a concern by various environmental organizations and public institutions about the foreignization of the land and the environmental impacts of monocultures carried out on these lands. They are the Guayubira group, the World Rainforest Movement, REDES (Friends of the Uruguay on Earth) and the Faculty of Sciences of the University of the Republic.
What they refer to by foreignization is speculative capital that is maintained in its country of origin and a productive or commercial investment is made. They do not consider foreignization of the land when they come from another country and buy land and settle to produce. In the last agricultural census of the year 2000, 17% of the national territory had been foreignized, leaving aside the public limited companies.
In 1998, a law was approved that allows corporations to buy land but it is not possible to access information on who the owners are and their nationalities. "So this 17% is the minimum, corporations are not included in this percentage." According to Marcel Ashkar
* Source, the Faculty of Sciences, The University of the Republic.
This acquisition process has accelerated significantly since then, primarily on the basis of four processes:
1) The expansion of soybean cultivation in Uruguay, a crop that in 2000 was almost non-existent, its massive production began in 2001. At this time around 10 thousand hectares were planted. The last harvest that is being raised now is 350 thousand hectares. Basically this is considered the expansion of Argentina's agricultural frontier. A proportion of Argentine farmers cross in Uruguay, buy land, plant and continue their activities in Argentina.
2) Brazilians linked to the cultivation of rice, remain as producers in Brazil while they cross, buy and plant in Uruguay. Now with the increase in interest at the international level in the production of biofuel this process has even more importance. "In the very near future, it is not known how many hectares will pass into the hands of companies related to foreign biofuels," said Elizabeth Díaz de Guayubira.
3) Afforestation, which in recent years has been perhaps the most explosive, there are large multinational companies that have significantly increased their territories, since then more than 100,000 hectares each, these companies are of Chilean, North American, Finnish origin and Spanish.
4) A process where the activity is marginal or is not carried out, where the land is bought, extensive livestock is maintained or not, but its objective is to have nothing more than an investment. It has no concern about profitability or productivity, according to the Faculty of Sciences.
* Source, Faculty of Sciences, La Universidad de la Republica According to the Faculty of Sciences, the current projected figure is at least 25% of the national territory, according to the data they have and what they know about the process. Limited companies are not included within this projected 25%.
The subject of corporations is quite recent and there is no record that can be accessed that is reliable. Therefore the science faculty prefers to leave them out of all its projections because the magnitude of the land they acquire is not really known. However, the teacher Marcel Ashkar (Graduate in Geography, Faculty of Sciences) regretted that "a figure of 30% is quite reliable." The next agricultural census is scheduled for 2010
"If we make a linear projection, according to the process that has been developed in the last 22 years since the end of the dictatorship and we transfer it to the year 2050, we are talking about 70% of the national territory, without taking into account the corporations. This is the linear projection if we do not make legal protection conditions to stop or slow down this process, "Ashkar added.
"Observing the emerging manifestations of climate change, what there was some consensus, is that these areas of the planet, that is, the temperate areas, would be the least affected, they could even be favored with an increase in primary productivity in this, or whether the vegetation increases its level of production, the South American pampas, a portion of Africa, Europe and North America. "
"So if you were an investor. Where would you invest?! In temperate zones! In which part of the temperate zones? In areas where the legislation does not put restrictions on you. So if we add a variable like this to this projection of 2050 What's left ??? Nothing "emphasized Marcel Ashkar.
* Source, Marcel Aschkar, Faculty of Sciences, The University of the Republic
Currently in Uruguay there is no law that protects the sale of the national territory. *
The faculty has had a discussion with the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, expressing its concern, the only initiative that has been generated in recent years is to implement a 5% tax on land transactions. According to the ministry, this tax is a mechanism to stop the process. "It doesn't work because if we compare the value of the land in Uruguay, plus the 5% tax, with the value of the land in Entre Ríos, Argentina, the border area or Rio Grande do Sur in Brazil, land is still cheaper in Uruguay "said Marcel Ashkar. *
The organizations and the faculty have proposed some mechanisms that exist in Argentina and Brazil, which protect the border area. In Brazil, for example, you cannot go to these countries and buy land within 200 kilometers of the border, and it is the same in Argentina with a similar distance. Uruguay has not even had these minimal protections, Ashkar added. *
"Today the whole country is for sale" said Marcel Ashkar. The issue of lifting the restriction again so that corporations cannot acquire land has been discussed but nothing has been resolved yet, today a corporation can buy land. *
* Source, Faculty of Sciences, The University of the Republic of Uruguay.
The issue of foreignization of the land has had several processes, in the sixties it did not reach 10%, it was a much lower figure, especially linked to the border with Brazil. There a fairly strong debate was generated at the parliamentary level about the possible mechanisms to stop the process. That was radically cut with the dictatorship. This period discouraged investment in land, due to the instability that the country had, it was not attractive to invest.
In the democratic opening from 1985 on, the issue was taken up again and the result was that the country had to place itself in the real world and had to attract capital. The issue was dragged through the parliament, but during the period of Luis Alberto Lacalle, from 1990 to 1995, a regulation could not be specified and then the issue was abandoned.
The role of the media
One of the most relevant issues in recent years is the installation of two pulp mills on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River that divides the two countries. Elizabeth Díaz from the Guayubira group said that "the press diverts the sensation of the issue as an interested way of the government, they divert all the sensation to the conflict with Argentina, if they are bad or good, the bridge cuts and focus attention.
We really should know why they are against the factories? What about monoculture tree plantations? And there has also been a warning from the government to the media that they are aligned and do not know of another version of the issue and that the organizations that are against have no input. "
His colleague Ana Filipini added that "they are the great allies, that is, the information is totally biased, there is a brutal handling of information to the extent that people, the only thing they get are certain headlines of some things and never a real version of the facts, because if people knew that the real problem of the pulp mills is the foreignization of the land, increase of the large estates in exchange for the use of the land, the impossibility of producing, many people would react against it. "
One of the central axes of the report made by the science faculty is the issue of contamination from pulp mills and consolidated forest models.
"This was taken by some non-mass media, the media with reduced circulation, let's say, and the large media took it to mean that the faculty and their report are giving reason to the Argentines, who are very sensationalists, they were not interested in discussing the content or communicating the content of the report. " Marcel Aschkar said.
He also added that "the media hardly discuss the issue, it is not an attractive subject to discuss, yes when the figures are presented, when the maps are presented, the public is shocked, asks and worries but it does not end up being a great issue. Concern, the public lacks knowledge, they are the affects of the years where a dominant discourse was structured that pretended and practically achieved that foreign investment is a positive element in itself, whatever. And that today it is even considered a dominant discourse with the left in government. Perhaps the worst affect beyond the crisis is ideological affect and the lack of criticism of the inflow of foreign capital. The issue remains hidden within this ideological discourse. "
Environmental impacts of afforestation
Analyzing what are the environmental impacts of afforestation, in the first place are the impacts on soils. Analyzing two similar basins, one that is maintained with the vegetation cover, a natural pastoralist in the region and a basin in a similar situation but forested, so what we find at the soil level is, modification of the pH, what generates is alteration of the content and type of organic material, loss of soil structure, decrease in available calcium in all soil profiles and an increase in free aluminum, which can become toxic to plants.
The effect on soils is more severe when eucalyptus monocultures are carried out than when pine monocultures are carried out. Pines are not as effective as eucalyptus for the paper industry *, according to Ashkar.
* Source, the Faculty of Sciences, The University of the Republic
The speed at which eucalyptus trees grow in this region of the world with these soils means that between eight and nine years, the trees are ready to process while in Finland for example they take between 30 and 40 years, this means a third of the time necessary. to harvest.
This same growth speed is what determines the functioning of the soil system because it makes a selective absorption of nutrients at a very accelerated rate of traction and the contributions in residue generate the volume of material that is removed at eight years is important, the Burning speed of these residues has to develop as one, according to the science faculty.
Eucalyptus, to produce one gram of wood uses two grams of water, so an average productivity of afforestation produces around 15 tons of wood per year per hectare, so it needs 30 tons of water. It is basically 80% of all the water that rains in this area per year. 80% of the water that falls is used to produce wood, so there is very little left for the aquifer, and also these companies are not paying anything, added Marcel Ashkar.
Eucalyptus trees have a nutrition strategy, when there is water present it uses the surface roots and when the water is scarcer it uses anchor roots that reach 20 meters deep, according to the science faculty.
Source, The Faculty of Sciences, The University of the Republic.
According to the Guayubira group, the issue of water provision is a direct violation of the new article of the constitution that specifically says that access to drinking water and access to sanitation constitute human rights.
Article 47 of the Constitution of the Republic (Reformed in 2004) says that "Surface waters, such as groundwater with the exception of rainwater integrated in the hydrological cycle, constitute a unitary resource, subordinate to the general interest, which is part of the domain state public as a public hydraulic domain. "
"It is a form of privatization. There are many national producers who now do not have water in their wells who have to defend themselves that a water tank comes for their national consumption, these places where there was never a lack of water but now the water is being used by forestry companies The water is for human consumption and these plantations carry a large part of the surface water and now people in the area have to bring water to them in trucks.
Furthermore, these companies do not have to pay a single peso for water, they do not do it in Chile, they do not do it in Brazil and they do not do it in Uruguay either. In this way, water is also a finite resource and must be used by the population, as Article 47 says, the use for certain companies will be privatized.
It is calculated that the water that Botnia will use is the same amount that a population of two million inhabitants would use. "Said Ana Filipini from Guayubira
Marcel Ashkar has a similar position, "We understand that afforestation has violated the constitution. Because one of the great environmental impacts is at the ground level and the other is the issue of water, we have evaluated the level of emissions under normal conditions for the comparison between grasslands and forest basins and their conditions.
A forested basin has a water yield half that of a pastured basin, in severe drought conditions this can reach 80%, therefore it is conditioning the ecological flow of water courses, therefore if we have a constitution that says which is of general interest, the preservation of the ecological cycle, this includes the circulation between the different testaments of nature that contains water, if we are carrying out a productive activity such as massive afforestation that conditions the ecological flow of the water course we are distressing this cycle significantly, therefore we are taking unconstitutional actions, "concluded Marcel Ashkar.
"At the level of evidence, there are female producers in various areas of the country who have occupied these lands for 30, 40 or 50 years and have never had water supply problems, at the moment when afforestation begins, they begin to have these problems." Ashkar added.
There is a case in Soriano, a small cattle producer located near a plantation, during the years of forestation cutting it has water again and when the forestation grows again it runs out of water again, and also the amount of rain has increased by recent years, according to the science faculty. *
The GUAYUBIRA group affirms that livestock, considered one of the worst productions in terms of job creation, generates more jobs than forestry.
The group has done research on the amount of employment generated by extensive cattle ranching and forestry and the results show that ranching generates much more work than forestry. Since livestock is taken as the worst, in comparison with agriculture and the rest ...
* Source, The Faculty of Sciences.
Marcel Ashkar, Graduate in Geography (Faculty of Sciences), Master in Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Sciences), PhD at the INPT-ENST Toulouse, France, Professor of the Laboratory of Sustainable Development and Environmental Management of the Territory. Member of the Sustainable Uruguay program.
Ana Filipini and Elizabeth Díaz, members of the Guayubira group and the World Movement for Tropical Forests.
Participatory Socio-environmental Diagnosis in Uruguay, publication of Networks, Sustainable Uruguay Program and the Green Tomato. Authors: Marcel Ashkar, Ana Domínguez and Fernando Pesce.
Forest plantations and impacts on the water cycle, publication of the Guayubira group. Author: Carlos Perez Arrarte.