High grains prices, low penalties prompt deforestation in Argentina

Over half of the deforestation is illegal
calendar icon 16 May 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

Argentina's native woodlands are under threat from the expansion of soy and cattle ranching, with farmers often willing to accept low fines for clearing land to take advantage of high global grains prices, Reuters reported, citing a forestry official.

The South American country has lost some 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of native woodland since 1998, despite a 2007 law to regulate clearances. Over half of the deforestation is illegal, said Martin Monaco, director of forests at the environment ministry.

While stricter rules have slowed logging, patchy enforcement and often low fines have meant farmers in the world's top exporter of processed soy often risk punishment as a business cost, Monaco said in an interview. Global soy prices have been high since 2021.

"Many times fines aren't enough to discourage people," Monaco told Reuters, adding nearly 90% of clearances were in the huge Gran Chaco forests in the north. Farmers weighed the low land and operation costs against the high sales prices, he said.

"The business is very strong and many times the fines are internalized as one more cost," he said.

Enforcement of regulations is down to regional governments in a federal system, with local authorities often balancing environmental concerns with the desire for economic growth, he said.

"There are many political pressures. There is negotiation with a sector that has a productive model that does not want to change. That is the reality," Monaco said. "There are breaches of the law."

Under the 2007 legislation there are 10 million hectares of "red" forests that are illegal to clear; 30 million hectares of "yellow" that can be used for producing without the need for clearing; and 10 million of "green" clearable forest land.

Since 2020, there has also been an early warning system with satellite images every 15 days mapping changes in forests and alerting local authorities to illegal clearing.

"Many times it's legal, but many more times it's illegal," said Monaco. "We hope the justice system will move forward in these cases because administrative tools are often not enough."

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