Land in Argentina for whom and for what, the ongoing debate

“Historical Essay on Access to Land in Argentina” is the title of the investigation by the Latin American Interdisciplinary Viewpoint on Agrarian Policies (Milpa). A work that approaches from the colonial era to the present day. It emphasizes the different roles of the state. Here is an excerpt with axis in the bills in the National Congress.

Over the past two years, a series of bills have been presented to the National Congress that aim to democratize access to land and food production for the population: initiatives that come from different sectors of agriculture, small and medium producers, tenants and landlords, peasant and indigenous communities and the landless urban poor. The projects are drawn up by social organizations which represent one or another of these actors, but what is perhaps curious is that the political forces which animate them cover a good part of the political arc and known ideology, between right and left, between progressivism and conservatism, between the ruling party and the opposition.

This is because despite these differences, they share a concern: the growing concentration of land ownership and management and the irresistible expulsion of families from the rural world. The diagnosis is discouraging. According to data compiled by the National Agricultural Census, while in 2002 there were just over 333,000 farms, in 2018 there were 25% fewer, or nearly 251,000. The vast majority of these lost units were less than 200 hectares. Correlatively, in the case of the Pampean zone, the number of farms of over a thousand hectares has increased.

access to land, territories, agriculture, peasants, field, production, ruralitySource: Tricontinental


Access to land in Argentina the National Congress

In recent years, the discontent and protest of the so-called small peri-urban producers has become visible. But in addition to organizing action measures, the social movements that represent them have proposals for the sector. The Movement of Excluded Rural Workers (MTE-Rural) and the Union of Land Workers (UTT), to name but two among many others, offer, for example, financial aid to guarantee access to land and rootedness in the quality of landowners in rural areas or “peri-urban territories”, which in other times it was more common to hear as common land. Meanwhile, some urban political forces are proposing a “return to the countryside” as a solution for the working poor in the city, in a perspective of “mobilizing the population” of the state, without offering land ownership.

On the other hand, the small and medium producers that make up the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA), some of which express themselves in right-wing political forces, propose plans for colonization and the creation of landlords as in the past. This is the case of a bill presented to the National Senate by Senator PRO and agricultural producer Alfredo de Angelis, which proposes to “distribute public lands” so that “new producers can consolidate their vocation and increase the number of families dedicated to agricultural activity”. This project explains that “land reform measures can be an appropriate instrument to reduce the concentration of land in large estates, prevent the eviction of farmers from the land and their consequent migration to urban centers”.

At the same time, other sectors of the political right, at the same time, offer aid packages and credits to family farming and regional economies, seeking, in their own words, to eliminate the “providential” or “paternalistic” perspective. from the State, giving way to private funding, such as the project which obtained a half-sanction in 2019, presented by Senator Humberto Schiavoni, also from the PRO.

access to land, territories, agriculture, peasants, field, production, ruralitySource: Tricontinental

These presentations accompany in time a conflict that crosses the urban and rural worlds. One of the events that attracted the most attention, in this sense, occurred in Entre Ríos in 2020. Political organizations that express the interest of the urban and rural poor sectors have supported the land claim of a heiress of an important cattle ranch, belonging to the family of Luis Miguel Etchevehere, former Minister of Agriculture in the national government of Cambiemos (2015-2019). In doing so, they promoted the “Artigas Project”, which proposed to create a social and agro-ecological productive pole on the disputed property.

access to land, territories, agriculture, peasants, field, production, ruralitySource: Tricontinental

Indigenous and peasant communities and their access to land in Argentina

On the other hand, indigenous and peasant communities continue to suffer evictions from their lands and demand the respect and extension of the laws that must defend them. Many of these demands were echoed in the National Agrarian Forum, held in May 2019, a space created by different social and political organizations to debate and develop a Sovereign and Popular Agrarian Agenda. Meanwhile, in the Santa Fe Legislature, PRO Congresswoman Amalia Granata presented a draft resolution to denounce the “usurpations” of land and “violations of property”, for which she demanded a police solution.

At the center of these contradictions is Law No. 27,118, on the historic repair of family, peasant and indigenous agriculture, approved at the end of 2014 and effectively promulgated in January 2015, but whose regulations have not yet been executed. With it, as defined in the law, the “construction of a new rurality in Argentina” continues, whose protagonists are small producers, smallholders, peasants, farmers, settlers, sharecroppers, fishermen artisanal, family producers, peasants and landless producers, peri-urban producers and indigenous communities. This law provides in favor of these subjects policies of access to land considered as a “social good”. The law is promoted by the National Secretariat for Family, Peasant and Indigenous Agriculture (SAFCI), led in the current administration (2019-2023) by a reference from the National Indigenous Peasant Movement – Evita Agrarian Front (MNCI).

access to land, territories, agriculture, peasants, field, production, ruralitySource: Tricontinental

The global horizon: sovereignty and food security

A global horizon emerges in each of the projects presented. With different perspectives, the MTE-Rural initiative and that of De Angelis call for the respect of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by promoting “sustainable production” and “food security”. The UTT proposes to follow the recommendations of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, known worldwide as the FAO, to increase the consumption of fresh foods, in the interests of “food and nutritional security”. “. It also refers to the social protection floor, on the social conditions of production, defined by the UN, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

These horizons are present in the law of historical reparation of family, peasant and indigenous agriculture. Among its foundations, it is precisely highlighted that FAO has declared 2014 the “International Year of Family Farming”, emphasizing its role in the fight against hunger and poverty, for food security and nutrition, the protection of environment and sustainable development.

Concepts of food security and food sovereignty

The concepts of food security and food sovereignty are the most important that are articulated in these projects, but their uses do not always coincide. And it has to do with the origins of rural social movements, which were forged in the heat of struggles against neoliberal globalization.

access to land, territories, agriculture, peasants, field, production, ruralitySource: Tricontinental

In 1992, the international organization Vía Campesina was created, then, in 1994, the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC). In 1996, the FAO defined the concept of food security as “physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food”. The organizations grouped in Vía Campesina responded with the proposal of food sovereignty, that is “the right of peoples to nutritious and culturally appropriate food, accessible, produced in a sustainable and ecological way, and their right to decide their own food and productive system”.

Reflecting this process, in the second half of the 1990s and at the beginning of the new century, the experiences of struggle of rural actors in Argentina matured, creating in 2003 the Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena (MNCI). The historic reparations law of 2014 is, in part, an outcome of this process. Thus, the concept of Food Sovereignty is taken up, defined as citizen participation in socio-productive development and in the management of the territory and food production, taking into account the “quality and safety” effect of technological packages on the environment. This, simultaneously, without failing to observe the implications of food security.

Some land projects in Argentina

In some projects, such as the MTE-Rural, the two concepts are combined to claim the right of each city, community and country to define their own agricultural, pastoral, labor, fishing, food and agrarian policies, so that they are ecological, socially, economically and culturally adapted to their situation. In the case of the UTT, the beneficiary of the law has the condition of “attempting to reduce the use of agrochemicals and their toxicity” and taking the referent of the FAO and food security, he proposes the “field own” as a condition for approaching a situation of Food Sovereignty.

Now, in the project presented by De Angelis, it is proposed to pursue “sustainable production”, with criteria of “food safety”, “bioeconomy” and “circular economy”, considering an “efficient management” of agrochemicals and of their waste. Food sovereignty does not mark the horizon of this project. Schiavoni’s project, for its part, proposed to give a practical tool to the law on family farming, with the aim of improving “the levels of efficiency and competitiveness necessary for their survival and their prosperity”, in Within the framework of the general objective of eradicating hunger and poverty, food and nutritional security and the protection of the environment and sustainable development, the problem of Food Sovereignty does not arise either.

By Alejandro Jasinski, Julieta Caggiano, Irana Sommer, Matías Oberlin* for TriContinental

*Members of the Latin American Interdisciplinary Perspective on Agrarian Policies (Milpa).


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