An Open Letter from the Earth

Jul 7, 2008

We are terrified, for example, about the deforestation of the Amazonian rain forest partly because of the widespread belief that life on Earth depends on such wooded ecosystems. Humankind would be at a very serious risk if the deforestation of the Amazonian region continued, as encouraged by the presumably socially oriented nature of the Brazilian government. Equally, the idea of farmland as an ecosystem in rapid degradation should generate on us exactly the same kind of distress. Read more...

Grupo de Reflexión Rural, GRR June 2008 The GRR, concerned by the current situation 100 days after the beginning of the so-called Agricultural Crisis, and with the aim of putting an end to the dangerous succession of suicidal confrontations, is now addressing citizens who find themselves hostages of a conflict that is overwhelming them, forced as they are to choose between finding a ‘guilty party’ and creating an organisation. We would like to share with you some thoughts that may help us not only to understand the present situation, but also to be aware of its implications for the near future. Technical evidence collected over the past few decades shows that if current trends in land use for agriculture continue WE WILL RUN OUT OF ARABLE LAND, IN LESS THAN A GENERATION. In other words, our lands will not be able to produce enough high quality food to feed our population. Figures from both agribusinesses and the Argentinian Government suggest that this is a historic opportunity; however, what they are not saying is that this crisis is hiding a restructuring of the Argentinian agricultural land model to suit the needs of global markets, and that this economic growth is being strongly paid for with the proceeds of the fertile Argentinian farmland. One of the most difficult problems for citizens is to see farmland as an ecosystem. When we talk about ‘ecosystems’ we immediately think of a forest. In Patagonia, for example, people seek nature in National Parks and in forests around lakes, as if the steppe with its desert needle grass (Stipa speciosa) and neneos (Mulinum spinosum shrub) were unimportant. Sometimes it is difficult to convince people that grazing land is also an ecosystem, just because most Argentinians are so familiar with this kind of landscape. However, forests are deemed by ordinary people as an ecosystem. It is very important to emphasize this, because threats to our forests will immediately be identified as threats to our common heritage. In view of the expanding agricultural frontier, a large share of citizens ‘feel’ that ‘their’ indigenous forests are being devastated, and ‘their’ ecosystems destroyed. By recognizing forests as ecosystems ‘we are hurt’ by the clearing of lands, or by the felling of a quebracho or a carob tree. Ordinary people perceive forests as part of their ‘own heritage’, not as their ‘own property’; they see them as a social and common good: human-induced deforestation is then viewed as a criminal and unethical action. The fact is that farming lands (or agricultural soils) like forests are an ecosystem too, with biotic and abiotic elements, with matter and energy flows, with thousands of small producer and consumer living organisms, with strata, biodiversity and richness. We may even say that agricultural soils are a special instance of forests. It is easy to observe the effects of fumigation, of a tractor shovel or a chainsaw on the forest; but noticing and appreciating the damage made to land by agriculture is not so easy, simply because we cannot see it at first sight. It is, then, relatively simple to be aware of the consequences of land clearing, but it is not so easy to understand the implications of the loss of biodiversity for agricultural lands. We see deforestation as a loss of habitat for wild animal species, and we see it as a tragedy when giant armadillos (Priodontes maximus) and jaguars (Panthera onca) become extinct. Since they are mammals –somehow close to the human family– and look nice and tender we feel sorry for them. But understanding the importance of terrestrial or aquatic microorganisms and insects for our lives is virtually impossible for us. Sometimes, we even find them unpleasant because we do not know about the benefits they provide. Following the analogy between land and forest, we can claim that it is the agro-industry that is actually generating a ‘loss of habitat’ for farmland organisms, which are, in turn, the ones who manufacture the agricultural soil itself. If those living organisms which contribute to the regeneration of farmland simply disappear, land will inevitably become poorer. By destroying the organisms that generate this ecosystem we will be losing the ecosystem itself. If we understand that land is a living system, we will be more likely to view the loss of worms, for example, as a crime. We march the streets under the slogan ‘save the whales’, but we should first of all chant the slogan ‘save the worms’ or ‘save the soil microorganisms’, as these demands are even more pressing and urgent for us. If we see the felling of quebracho trees as a ‘mining’ extraction activity, then we should also understand that the devastating extraction of phosphorus and nutrients as well as the quiet and relentless degradation of life in soil resulting from current large-scale agricultural practices is equally damaging to the land: as harmful as are the mines on Alumbrera, in Catamarca province (Argentina), and the mining projects which threaten the rest of the Norwest area and the Andean mountain range. If we understand the contribution of forests as providers of certain ‘environmental services’ –including oxygen production, climate and flood peak mitigation, biodiversity conservation, carbon storage, and as producers of food, fibres and other goods, etc.,– we should also recognize the environmental services that land offers along the same way. We are terrified, for example, about the deforestation of the Amazonian rain forest partly because of the widespread belief that life on Earth depends on such wooded ecosystems. Humankind would be at a very serious risk if the deforestation of the Amazonian region continued, as encouraged by the presumably socially oriented nature of the Brazilian government. Equally, the idea of farmland as an ecosystem in rapid degradation should generate on us exactly the same kind of distress. The human race will be at serious risk if the main characteristics of our soil ecosystem disappear. Chemical fertilizers can never replace the destroyed ecosystem, just as reforestation with pine trees and eucalyptus cannot replace our lost rain forests. Destroying the SOIL ECOSYSTEM is as harmful to humanity as destroying the AMAZONIAN RAIN FOREST ECOSYSTEM. This new approach we propose spares us the need to agree with the basic philosophy of the current Market System, and allows us to divert from the usual economic justifications surrounding it. Economic arguments alone are not enough for us to be aware of the serious danger for the people of Argentina: they are incomplete, as neither the statistics nor the stock-exchange successes reflect the consequences they may have. Neither do they offer alternative routes, since they are interested in profits exclusively. This system has, therefore, no future. The timescales of nature and the cycles of the farmland ecosystem have nothing in common with the timescales required by agribusinesses: shortened production, purchase, utilization and disposal times; intensive activity at the expense of the agricultural ecosystem; and, equally, excessive and irrational energy use. Nor do the timescales of ecosystems suit the political timescales, which are constantly under the pressure of the upcoming political election, unable to create national projects, blinded by mythical prospects of unlimited growth… Perhaps the metaphor of what is happening to the flowerpot in our balcony, whose earth is rendered inevitably barren due to insufficient or inadequate care, is the key to understanding what the future may bring. If we pursue the objectives of market growth exclusively we will continue to fall into the whirl the of old rhetorical discussions. The political discourse calling for both a ‘new right’ and a ‘new left’ has to be once and for all abandoned, as much as any other political ideology that may attempt to maintain the status quo, even if it is disguised in a ‘green’ dress. We must be ready to confront a future with ZERO ECONOMIC GROWTH, and with a human development suited to the conditions and capacities of our ecosystems. It is just imperative that we start to think in terms of a ‘local scale economy’; we have to recover the National power and our food sovereignty, starting from the municipalities. We must be ready to face a future with no oil; and we must encourage a new type of agriculture which rejects the use of chemicals, one that is ruled exclusively by the LAWS AND TIMESCALES OF NATURE. We know that this is possible and that it also is the best choice we have to secure a decent life for future generations. In this respect, we have to advocate the idea that ECONOMIC DECLINE IS the future, a new lifestyle, running contrary to the current trends of continuous growth that are leading us nowhere. Let us recover the values of the use of the land ecosystem, and of the goods we obtain from it. Let us abandon the values of change as established by the globalization of financial capitals, which only measures the profits obtained from the tons of food intended for anonymous and voracious markets. Let us provide a new philosophical meaning to the term ‘value’. It will be at least the ‘value of the land ecosystem we are part of’, not just a simple extension of the ‘value of life’ in an ontological sense, but also in the sense of the ‘value of survival’ for our human race, in an inevitable ecological interdependence with the land. That is priceless. Or maybe that is the price we have to pay for our future. LET US REMEMBER THAT THE SOIL IS NOT JUST A RESOURCE INTENDED TO BE EXPLOITED TO OBTAIN AND CONCENTRATE PROFITS, BUT RATHER, THE SOIL IS OUR HERITAGE AND THE HERITAGE OF THOSE WHO ARE YET TO BE BORN. Translated by Iolanda Mato (Translators without Borders TsF, Vigo. Contact: