The debate over soy has riveted the country, and has proven to be a major crisis for the first woman elected president of
Crippling Farmers’ Strike
The government implemented a tax on soy exports at a rate of 45%, up from 35% in early March. Farmers became angry and went on strike. For more than 20 days the nation-wide farmers’ strike paralyzed food deliveries. The strikers, demanding that the government roll back the tax hike, threw the country into turmoil for much of March. Supermarket shelves were scarce and meat coolers in butcher shops were completely empty for nearly two weeks. The strike had almost entirely blocked food supplies from being delivered to
Global soy prices have soared in recent years, making the agro sector the nation’s most profitable. Cristina Kirchner’s soy export tax is a policy carried over from her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, who upped the tax to 35% as an emergency measure to revive the economy after the 2001 crisis. According to political economist Atilio Boron, the tax hike hit small farmers while large land owners could afford to move production to more lucrative nations like
In response to the farmers’ strike, president Kirchner has vowed not to back down on the tax hike. This is the biggest conflict so far in president Kirchner’s first 100 days in office, especially after upper-middle class citizens poured into the streets of
The farmers were enraged at Kirchner’s attacks against soy producers. "Most people blockading the highways were people who make their living with a lot of effort, hard work and sacrifice, it is unfair to tax the little guy," explains Boron. How much money has the soy tax made? In 2006 with the 35% tax, the government collected $11 billion in soy taxes.
On the farmers’ side, small and mid-sized agro producers organized the blockades in what they said was a reaction to a tax that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The tax hike is hammering small farmers, who have had increased costs in fertilizers and fuel. In an unusual pact, the large land owners allied with small farmers during the farmers’ strike. These two sectors have historically despised each other.
Along the nation’s highways, soy farmers stopped trucks transporting food goods from arriving to market. However, large land owners which own more than 500 hectares of land were not the leading protagonists in the barricades. Small farmers who control only 20% of
Hector Bitonte is one of those farmers who blocked a major highway leading from the nation’s grain harvesting cradle to
Soy, Rising Inflation and Food Prices
Economists worry that mono-crop production like soy for plant-based fuels and feed will cause food prices to soar in
Cristina Kirchner thought it would be easy to target large soy producers who historically have been characterized as detested oligarchs. Unlike other parts of
Could the farmers’ conflict be a warning sign that
Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Buenos Aires. She can be reached at email@example.com. All photos by Trigona.