Forest Conversion for Commercial Agriculture and Associated Exports
In Argentina as in Brazil, commercial soy and beef farming are the primary drivers of deforestation, as acknowledged by the Argentine government (Secretaria de Ambiente y Desarollo Sustenable de la Nación (SAyDS) 2010). Grieg-Gran et al. (2007) concluded that about 50 percent of the 2.2 Mha of forest lost between 1996 and 2005 can be attributed to soy and 50 percent to cattle grazing. Data collected from Landsat images shows that Argentina’s Chaco forest now has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world (Earth Observatory 2016).
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Almost all of the soy produced in Argentina is exported, and the European Union is the largest destination for exports. Argentina typically exports between 10 and 20 percent of beef production, though in 2006 only 6 percent was exported due to trade restrictions stemming from an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The EU was the largest destination for Argentine beef exports in 2012, followed by Chile, China, and Israel (Lawson 2014).
Illegalities in Conversion
The Argentine government has accepted that forest law enforcement mechanisms in the country have “been totally inadequate” (SAyDS 2010). In an attempt to gain better control of the situation, a new National Forest Law was passed at the end of 2007, which placed a moratorium on all new deforestation until each province had implemented a participatory forest land use plan. The law gave each province a maximum of one year in which to produce its plan; as of March 2014, only 14 of 23 provinces had done so (SAyDS 2013). This means that all deforestation that took place in the remaining provinces during the five years from 2008 to 2012 was illegal.
One of the provinces most badly affected by soy-driven deforestation in the last ten years is Salta in Argentina’s Chaco region. While the Forest Law was being prepared, the then-governor of Salta rushed through approvals for hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest conversion. A new governor elected at the end of 2007 described the situation up to that point has having been a “festival” of illegal forest clearance authorizations. In late 2008, Argentina’s National Supreme Court ruled that the province had breached national legislation by continuing to allow deforestation during the moratorium and demanded a halt to forest clearance in four of the province’s departments (Seghezzo et al. 2011). Clearance continued, however; NGO investigations later found that more than 50,000 ha of forest were cleared in violation of the Court order. Though the provincial government finally passed the required forest zoning map into law in July 2009, official data show that in the two subsequent years, one-third of all the deforestation in the province occurred in areas of forest zoned in the map as protected. A Greenpeace investigation in 2013 (Greenpeace 2013) uncovered a number of other systematic breaches of regulation and a total failure to monitor compliance with the law. Little appears to have changed since, while the same pattern is seen in other states: the most recent analysis by Greenpeace of forest clearance in five provinces of the Argentine Chaco found that more than 60,000 hectares had been cleared during January-August of 2016, of which at least 35% was illegal, since it occurred in protected forests. Greenpeace claim that in many cases, there is clear complicity of officials in the violation of the rules (Greenpeace 2016).
It is estimated that 9 per cent of Argentina’s beef exports and 5 per cent of its soy exports are linked to illegal deforestation (Lawson 2014).
Secretaria de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nacion. 2010. Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP), June 14.
Grieg-Gran, Maryanne, Myrthe Haase, Jan Joost Kessler, Sonja Vermeulen, and Erik Wakker. 2007. “ Contribution to Worldwide Deforestation and Forest Degradation.” Aidenvironment, Amsterdam, and International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London.
Earth Observatory. 2016. Argentina’s Changing Chaco Forest. 27th February 2016.
Lawson, S. 2014. Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations. Forest Trends, September 2014.
Secretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nación (SAyDS). 2013. REDD Readiness Project Fact Sheet, March.
Seghezzo, Lucas, José N. Volante, José M. Paruelo, Daniel J. Somma, E. Catalina Buliubasich, Héctor E. Rodriguez, Sandra Gagnon, and Marc Huffy. 2011. “Native Forests and Agriculture in Salta (Argentina): Conflicting Visions of Development.” The Journal of Environment Development 20 (3): 251-277.doi: 10.1177/1070496511416915
Greenpeace. 2013. “Salta: El festival de desmontes no se detiene.” Greenpeace Argentina, Buenos Aires.
Greenpeace. 2016. INFORME: Deforestación en el norte de Argentina (enero – agosto 2016). Greenpeace Argentina, September 2016.
This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see news on Argentina here.