Food must be produced locally

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Claudia Giaccone is an agronomist and a chief officer at the southern regional office of Sub-secretariat of Family Farming of the Santa Fe Province, one of Argentina´s most important farming areas. Since 1996, Argentina´s governments have promoted transgenic soy monoculture, but not all state sectors agree with this kind of farming.
In an interview with Latinamerica Press collaborator Juan Nicastro, Giaccone explains how she is looking for an alternative by working with small-scale farmers and the challenges facing her work.

What does your office do?

We started in April 2009. We want to recover family farming, debunking the myth that there are no farming families. We go from village to village where there are dozens of farmers who before provided to the towns and have been displaced by big supermarkets that sell food from far away.

We looking for people who had gardens and recuperating them so they can produce environmentally-friendly food, and we put them in alternative fairs. I know it´s very complicated. Everyone says the supermarket is going to swallow them up, but we try to convince people that they can have healthy food near their houses and leave the other products that come from far away and are full of preservatives by the wayside. We're promoting farmers' markets for producers with chickens, goats, pigs, etc.

What is grown in those gardens now?

They grow soy. It´s an extensive food production model, a well-oiled technological system. It´s easy and profitable for the farmer, which has meant a lot for the country in terms of exports, profits, balance sheets and income.

There hasn´t been so much debate about soy until the dispute over farm export taxes in March 2008 [during the farmers´ strike that halted most of the country]. I think it´s very healthy that after the crisis we´re starting discuss land use, whether land is a natural resource or a social asset, whether the resources are public and if so, how to manage them, and that we are all responsible for it, because private property is not an absolute, untouchable right, and there are public uses that are above it.

After that tension and strong discussion, the issue is getting clearer, and now we are thinking about how – because it´s not easy – we can turn around the problems of that model without affecting one of the country´s means of production. That´s why the current discussion about expanding agricultural lands, because this involves deforestation, or about the use of agricultural chemicals, because these hurt the population and animals. The crisis must help us discuss this more deeply with the whole community, not just those directly affected.

Are organic crops an alternative?

Yes. We´re close to drafting some new legislation for the province. One proposal is to overturn the entire agricultural model, though this is very difficult. We know that it must happen in stages and that it´s a process because the soy farming is now embedded in the producers, even at a cultural level.

It´s going to be very difficult but another law would help, by creating ecologically-friendly farming zones on the outskirts of urban centers. It would give a 500-meter-wide belt around cities for ecologically-friendly farming, mainly for food, because food sovereignty, diversity, quality and quantity are the objective. It can be done. We know that it would require more manpower and lower profits, but we have to work so people understand the profit-based models have bad consequences.

We have to take advantage of the evidence of the climate crisis, which not everyone knows about today. This gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves what we are doing to the planet. And those farming belts would help us recover the concept that food must be produced locally. That way you can have food within reach, near your home and you´re also creating new jobs, fulfilling the objective that every community should be the motor of its own development.

How will those changes be implemented?

You can´t implement them quickly or amid conflict. It will be little by little. There are already two communities in this province with ordinances like these: San Genaro and San Jorge, for a 500-meter belt for environmentally-friendly farming, which means that you can´t fumigate with agrochemicals. These are opportunities we can´t miss. We have to discuss them maturely and sincerely, revealing studies and figures that are not well known.

Going from village to village, we find that person who lives off of the soy fields and can´t even have a flower in his or her house, not even a plant on their lawn because it would die, let alone the family farmers with cows with diseases, children born with deformities. The damage they´re suffering is very clear.

The changes that we all must make are not against the soy producers. They are for them too, because they live with these toxins, and their children and neighbors suffer the consequences. We have to advance without losing that discourse on productivity, of the external market, of the industrialization of the products our land provides us, but while analyzing how we´re going to work, with what substance and how to make the most excluded in rural areas a priority: the thousands of landless farmers. If all the players are involved, we can be very optimistic.
—Latinamerica Press.
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