Despite a political backlash, illegal deforestation, driven by growing soy and beef production for international markets, has continued to gather pace in northern Argentina
Soy farming in northern Argentina is driving deforestation, according to Greenpeace.
According to a recent report by
Greenpeace Argentina, between 2016 and 2018, 80 per cent of deforestation in the
country took place in the four northern provinces of Chaco, Santiago del
Estero, Salta and Formosa.
The report points to the
advance of the agricultural frontier driven by soy and beef production for
international markets as the main cause behind this deforestation.
Earthsight’s research shows that
one fifth of all Argentina’s soy exports are destined for the EU, and that EU
consumption of Argentinian soy increased by 40 per cent in the five years to
The four provinces sit within the
Gran Chaco, a diverse biome of humid and semi-arid ecosystems that include
riverine forests, wetlands and savannas. The Gran Chaco is home to several
endangered species, including ant-eaters, giant armadillos, crowned eagles,
jaguars and cougars, as well as indigenous peoples, such as the Wichi and the
Within the three-year period, Chaco
was the Argentine province with the highest rates of deforestation, more than
half of which was illegal. Just under 104,000 hectares (ha) of native vegetation
were cleared in the province, of which over 54,000ha were in protected areas
where deforestation is banned by national law.
Greenpeace sees “clear collusion between the provincial government and agribusinesses” as the reason behind much of the illegal deforestation. During this period, Chaco’s government illegally authorised land-use change in 67 farms that cover more than 50,000ha.
Under the 2007 National Forest Act, these permits should not
have been issued as they illegally changed the protection status of areas
classified as free from deforestation.
Noemí Cruz, Greenpeace
Argentina’s Forest Campaign Coordinator, said that
the “underhanded strategy” of authorising deforestation at the request of
agribusinesses puts at risk around three million hectares of impenetrable Chaco
“Allowing deforestation in this
area flagrantly violates national law and ignores societal demands,” she added.
“This deforestation will have a significant environmental impact and will
seriously affect several peasant and indigenous communities.”
Despite the negative findings, conservationists have claimed victory over recent decisions by the Salta provincial government to fine businessmen connected to illegal deforestation.
In early December, Salta’s Environment and Sustainable Development
Department fined Pedro
Cignetti and Bruno Varela Marín – owners of the Los Pozos (540ha) and La
Peregrina farms (200ha) respectively – $78,500 for illegal deforestation.
“While [the province] took a long
time to levy the fines, the important thing is that there will be no pardon for
deforesters and they must reforest what they have destroyed,” Cruz said.
A few days before this decision,
Salta province fined Alejandro
Jaime Braun Peña $65,500 and ordered him to reforest illegally cleared
vegetation at his Cuchuy farm (550ha).
In 2018 Greenpeace collected over
half a million signatures to demand Salta governor Juan Manuel Urtubey to put a
stop to Braun Peña’s illegal activities.
Earlier last year Earthsight reported on the
illegal issuance of licenses by the Salta government authorising the
deforestation of over 150,000ha in the province, in contravention of the
country’s National Forest Act. Argentina’s Environment Ministry responded by
ordering the provincial government to revoke the licenses granted to Braun Peña.
Braun Peña is a cousin of the Chief of Staff to President Mauricio Macri and a director in several businesses belonging to the family of the Argentine president.
This has led Greenpeace
to accuse the
government of Salta and Braun Peña of political collusion to illegally deforest
protected areas in the province. In May, Greenpeace presented a complaint to
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging threats made by Braun
Peña against the organisation.
As in Chaco, Salta’s authorities have also faced criticism for illegally authorising land-use change in protected areas. In April 2018 the National Audit Office (AGN) – the government agency in charge of assisting Congress with overseeing the public budget – made public a 2017 report where it stated that Salta had put in place a legal framework to circumvent national legislation on the protection of native forests.
The report also claimed that between 2010 and
2014 Salta’s government illegally authorised deforestation in 32 farms covering
According to AGN this
deforestation was illegal as provincial legislation cannot undermine
environmental standards set by national law. AGN further stated that Salta
should cancel the permits for deforestation not yet carried out and reforest
already deforested areas, which totalled over
Greenpeace has called on
authorities to stop issuing illegal permits for land-use change, cancel permits
already issued, reforest, and typify illegal deforestation as a criminal