Food… for the car?

Food… for the car?

By Walter A. Pengue and Jorge H. Morello

The installation in the world and regional food and energy scene, with surgical precision, strong economic power and a huge media lobby, of biofuels or agro-energy, produces a break in the destiny of millions of tons of food that were used to maintain the unsustainable energy voracity of hyperdeveloped countries, enhancing an existing inequity in a large part of humanity.

The economically successful model of industrial agriculture that is expanding in Argentina today is marking profound social, economic, environmental and logistics changes, with serious restrictions on the sustainability of the entire urban, rural, peri-urban, environmental and logistics system. The transformation and substitution of traditional productive activities, the arrival of new technologies, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized farmers and their new productive reallocation, not only have an impact on the social sustainability of the rural sector itself, but also involve the urban ejidos of the towns and cities scattered in the Chacopampean plain. Also by the way, other ecoregions are affected such as the Yungas jungle in the NOA or the missionary jungle.

The growing problems of pollution and degradation of natural and semi-natural and domesticated ecosystems (that is, planted), derived from the intensification and homogenization of this agriculture, increase not only in the countryside but preferentially over urban settlements.

In the Santa Fé, Coronda and Cañada de Gomez floods, the recent exceptional rainfall had a lot to do with it, but the environment of ironed, that is, waterproofed soils, which no longer absorbed the excess water, also influenced.

The need for the Deliberative Council of San Francisco, Córdoba, to prohibit spraying with agrochemicals in areas surrounding urbanization, accounts for a new input-intensive rural system, which grows daily based on the use of petroleum derivatives.

What is being done now in Santiago, Tucumán, Salta, Chaco, Formosa and Misiones is to occupy a territory and not colonize it planned.

The Argentina of the XXI century is needing to organize its regional spaces for an urban, peri-urban and rural structuring that considers the aspirations of all social sectors and not the exclusive interests of multinationals and large landowners.

But today, to all this panorama, which we have already faced since the beginning of the nineties and which, despite its impacts, is imposed as the dogmatic path to follow, a new and even more powerful discussion that has at its center is added. the new destination that is being considered for a good part of food production.

The installation in the world and regional food and energy scene, with surgical precision, strong economic power and a huge media lobby, of biofuels or agro-energy, produces a break in the destiny of millions of tons of food that were used to maintain the unsustainable energy voracity of hyperdeveloped countries, enhancing an existing inequity in a large part of humanity.

For years, ecologists and economists of great capacity, prestige and ethical commitment such as HTOdum, D. Pimentel, N. Georgescu Roegen or S. Ulgiati, have demonstrated with solid arguments, the increasing risks and the real costs of a model of this nature. .

Deciding whether to inject our food into the fuel tanks of 800 million cars or make it more accessible to the starving stomachs of nearly 2 billion human beings is no small matter. It is not an economic question. Neither is it technological. It is simply an ethical question, which both global society, and especially governments, are not analyzing with the calm, seriousness and equanimity that the case requires.

The apparent improvement in the reduction of the effects of greenhouse gases, by reducing the injection of CO2 into the atmosphere when going from fossil fuel to biofuel, does not analyze with the same emphasis, the transformation effects of the oil industry for the production of new agrochemicals, fertilizers and other inputs. There are alternative models that are dogmatically denied or that institutional support is withdrawn and whose expansion would not have these effects on society and the environment.

Nor is it taken into account the fact that in specific cases such as Argentina, or in a good part of the territories of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, there is a sustained demand for new lands and advances are made directly on the forest mass, contributing with the intense deforestation, extraction and burning of plant material, a huge mass of gases, precisely the greenhouse effect. Only in the Chaco area, around 3,000,000 new hectares (with corn, soybeans, sunflower, rapeseed, castor bean, jatropha) are being estimated to be incorporated in the medium term. A family vehicle, one of the least polluting in Buenos Aires, emits around 146 grams of CO2 per kilometer, reaching 343 g CO2 / km, depending on the model. On the other hand, a temperate climate forest captures 14 tons of carbon per hectare per year.

A good exercise in determining what clearing means to do high-input agriculture arises when we know that the province of Salta authorized the clearing of 160,000 hectares from December to the end of March 2007. What does this mean? That between 90 and 120 days, both Salta and the country that contains it, have eliminated a biological CO2 fixation machine that retains the equivalent of 2,240,000 tons / year, an estimate more than conservative because the base data refers to a forest It has a temperate climate and what is eliminated to cultivate, is actually tropical forest from the semi-arid like the Chaco Seco to the super-humid Yungas and Selva Misionera.

Agricultural land is becoming scarcer every year. The available is overexploited under unsustainable production models. The new land added is of lower quality every day, rapidly exhausted and with increasing erosive processes. It is what the Pampean farmer calls marginal lands that demand increasing chemical inputs in the form of fertilizers and correctors.

The net primary appropriation of biomass (HANPP) is the amount of energy that plants make available to the rest of living species. Humanity, according to Vitousek's calculations, seized 40 percent of this net primary production from terrestrial ecosystems. The higher this appropriation, the lower the biomass for wild species. The growth in demand for biofuels and food increases this pressure on natural resources even more.

Another issue has to do with the price of food. If the prices of raw materials to manufacture biofuels continue to rise (corn, soybeans, and many others), strong competition for these will occur and is already taking place (between the food and agro-energy agro-industries themselves), which will result in inaccessibility to the food of a good part of the population.

On the other hand, the models of intensive agricultural production cornered those with a family agricultural base, which were those who produced diverse materials and of rapid local consumption. We must remember that practically 50 percent or more of the food in Latin America comes from this type of family production.

Of course, alternative energies (solar, wind, hydro, hydrogen, biomass) can be an alternative way to the energy crisis, which is nothing more than a crisis of a model hyper-focused on the overconsumption of goods. But this would suggest an alternative to the strong energy model now controlled by the oil and food corporations. The ethanol path, for its part, maintains the entire current system of power and also serves as a counterweight to the price of crude oil.

The consequence for the population is a loss of food sovereignty and an increase in food costs, especially for the most disadvantaged population.

In Latin America, two thirds of the population, some 400 million human beings, do not normally have access to food. A President of the region recently promised three plates of food a day for his entire population, without even knowing that under that precept, they would not reach the food available at that time in his extensive territory. If that country is aligned in favoring the production of biofuels, that promise will not be fulfilled. The land is scarce and the destiny assigned to it will have much to do with the destiny of our nations. If in Brazil, the model can be expanded even more, with environmental costs of course, in other countries of the region the same does not happen anymore.

The dilemma between biofuels and food is a fact in Argentina. The land is limited and increases in crop productivity have not yet absorbed or neutralized this process.

There is a serious incompatibility between one destination and the other and this must be reviewed under a comprehensive scheme and not only partially.

The energy equations of industrial agriculture show its increasing energy demand. Producing energy to consume more energy does not seem to be a logical or sustainable path. The input-product coefficients of industrial agriculture are always lower than those of sustainable agriculture.

H.T. Odum made it clear. The world cannot continue to grow by consuming energy and depending on this model. And Georgescu Roegen sentenced, making us understand the importance of energy in the food system: "There is nothing like that, that food is free ...". It will be in our informed societies, to decide whether we give our lunch to cars or we definitely resolve the food crisis of the nearly one billion human beings who eat less than one meal per day.

* Walter A. Pengue (1) and Jorge H. Morello (2)
(1) Director of the Postgraduate Program in Ecological Economics, FADU, UBA and GEPAMA, FADU, UBA
(2) Director of GEPAMA, FADU, UBA and CONICET

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