By Darío Aranda
Eduardo Cerdá is vice president of the Graduate Center of the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of La Plata, a field advisor and a benchmark in agroecological production, with emblematic cases (La Aurora farm in Benito Juárez, Buenos Aires). He is also a member of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (Socla) and an activist for another agricultural model. The need to implement agroecology, concrete examples, the consequences of agribusiness, the role of the university and the potential of the sector.
-What is agroecology?
-It is to reconcile concepts of ecology with agricultural production.
-In a new practice?
-In agronomy there are many branches, as in medicine. Agroecology is a branch, a specialization, a profound way of understanding agricultural production. It is fairly new to agronomists who are trained with very little ecological foundation. Unfortunately, agronomy and veterinary medicine were always more focused on production, always in search of performance and that made us have a very input-based look. The agronomist ends up worried about this or that product, in the doses. Everything that has to do with ecology, the relationship of plants, soils, and animals was lost from sight. This look is very necessary and we see that there is a lack of professionals to design, develop, accompany the producer in this production, trying to alter the environment as little as possible.
- Does it have to do with the use of agrochemicals?
-Many times people say they do not want to be fumigated, the diseases are very notorious in the fumigated areas. And usually the institutions say that without agrochemicals it cannot be produced. That is lack of information. Maybe they don't know how to produce. But there are strategies to do it.
- Any concrete example?
-In fifteen years in the southeast of Buenos Aires we obtained an average of more than 3300 kilos of wheat, more than 5000 kilos now (2014-15), and we compare it with the neighbors and we are very similar. With the difference that to the extent that it favors the soils, the plants, we use chemical fertilizers or herbicides. We maintain a cost of 150 dollars per hectare and the neighbors went up, they are almost 420-350 (2014/15 and 2015/16 campaign) dollars of costs. We maintained the level of costs and increased the yields.
-What do the neighboring producers tell you?
-They are interested, but it is not widely known that there are alternatives. It is a process of doing with the producers. Show that the technology (transgenic) that was proposed promised an excess of optimism, they believed that with a herbicide they would control everything, but nature does not work that way. The plants became resistant, the herbicide costs that previously cost eight dollars are now 30, before they used two liters per hectare, now they must use more than ten liters. Where does this end? The producer is seeing that these lines of thought are leading him to a very high use of agrochemicals, with high risk, both for the pocket and for health. It is dead end street.
-There is another way to do it. Agroecology is a tool to think and be in favor of life. Instead of controlling insects and plants with poisons, do it another way, which works well. It is time to think about other ways. Agroecology provides elements of ecology, which are universal principles to manage agricultural establishments with a systemic perspective, so that they work in balance and use very few external inputs.
-What does it take to promote this model?
- It is necessary to have a different look for the field, to protect it, and at the same time that favors the producer. Be clear that pesticides are not necessary to produce food. It is about thinking about another type of agriculture and that does not imply going back 60 years, as some say. Also clarify that they are not recipes, it is not about copying, each area has its particularity and you have to try and adapt.
-What is the role of the university?
-Very important. Not all professionals want to produce for the current model and there are producers who want another type of agriculture. Citizens do not want fumigations near their homes, in those areas yes or yes another agronomy will have to be done. And this is an opportunity for professionals to leave a model of chemical agronomy that harms health.
-In many places, chemical-free regions, agro-ecological belts are requested.
–Citizens have the right not to be fumigated. Agronomists and veterinarians take it as an offense, they believe that it cannot be produced. Instead of offense for professionals it has to be an opportunity. The university, the INTA, the colleges of agronomic engineers must delve into agroecology. It is essential to produce without deteriorating resources.
-What is your balance of the agribusiness model, with GMOs and chemicals?
-There are several aspects. One is society and health, where diseases, cancer, malformations, physical imbalances are perceived. It is an agriculture with many inputs and costs, it has to do with pharmacology, most of the people use more drugs and the same happens in agriculture. It is a process that requires more and more inputs.
In the 1990s it cost 100 dollars to make a hectare of wheat, at ten years it was already 200 dollars and today it is more than 300 dollars. Inputs were increased and doses increased. If you go to the doctor and he prescribes a remedy. And then you come back and it gives you double: it is clear that it is not improving your health. The same thing happened in the field of agribusiness. And another factor is that this model expels people. In short, it has consequences for health, soils, plants, animals and society. Agroecology is an alternative to avoid these consequences.
Darío Aranda is a journalist specialized in extractivism (oil, mining, agribusiness and forestry). He works for the newspaper Página / 12, the La Vaca communication cooperative and the radio stations FM Kalewche (Esquel), the Cooperativa La Brújula (Rosario) and Los Ludditas (FM La Tribu). He writes about indigenous peoples, peasant organizations and socio-environmental assemblies. He is also the author of "Original Argentina: genocides, looting and resistance" and "Tierra Rarasada. Oil, soybeans, pulp mills and mega-mining. " As part of the Agroecology campaign, he wrote a series of articles related to the theme of organic farming. Every Thursday we will publish a note on our blog telling different aspects and testimonies on this topic. Don't miss this special on the future of food in Argentina.