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United Soybean Republic - Argentina

Argentina's focus has long been on agricultural production and trade, which can be traced back to the sixteenth century when Europeans first settled there. In recent years, Argentina's agribusiness has exploded due to the huge global demand for manufactured food and the need for cheap cattle feed and biofuel. Large farms, gauchos, cattle and horses populate the vast fertile lowlands, but nowadays production is managed via phone and the internet. There is no need for people to be out in the fields. Everything - from renting new land to hiring the company that will sow the crops - is coordinated from offices in the haciendas or the city.

Jordi travelled around the Central and North East regions and, over the course of two trips, met landowners, labourers, activists, jobless farmers, and those affected by toxic pesticides which are widely used. Gradually the extent and complexities of land-related issues in this country became increasingly clear.

A relatively small number of people have long managed the cultivation of the land but in the last few decades this number has become even smaller. Several small and medium-sized holdings have been forced out of business due in part to technological shifts in the industry including the introduction of direct seeding and use of genetically modified seeds. The landowners and agribusiness workers who remain have considerable power in the country, and, as revenues increase each year, so the industry expands, setting up Argentina to be one of the biggest biofuel producers in the world and a major exporter of meat. Argentine beef is famous worldwide and served up in Argentine steakhouses the wold over.

The focus, however, is on short-term profit while the environmental, social and health implications are often overlooked. Large parts of the local population in rural and peri-urban areas are neglected, and there has been a drastic reduction in skilled manpower needed for agricultural tasks. Opportunities for the younger generations are becoming ever fewer. This economic shift has made an already difficult situation worse. In the rural areas of central and northeast Argentina, unemployment and poverty are rife, and internal migration has become widespread. Some towns, such as Avia Terai in the north, home to 6000 people, don't even have clean drinking water.

The situation for indigenous people is especially difficult. Caught in a cycle of lack of land ownership, migration, poverty and disease, they are dependent on social programs set up by the government. These programs encourage settlement in urban areas where there is free housing, but the result is the uprooting and disappearance of communities. During his time in Argentina, Jordi started to focus on the heart of the project on the inequalities that exist in the Argentinian countryside, inequalities made worse by the demands of the global market and neoliberal policies. An economy in a state of flux combined with the difficulties local people face in adjusting to changes and infrastructural problems within the country are forever altering the realities of these lands. Their implications will felt for years to come.
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