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Argentina: Onion crisis threatens thousands of jobs
The onion is frosty / closed and poor: / frost of your days / and of my nights. Hunger and onion: / black ice and frost / large and round ". Miguel Hernandez wrote that poem 80 years ago, in his anguish at the prison he was confined to by Franco. It inspired him to read his wife's letter who warned him that there was only bread and onion in his house to feed his little son.
Today poverty has struck in the fields of southern Buenos Aires. The onion, a resource that in the last 15 years gave massive employment to more than six thousand people directly and about 18 thousand indirectly in the southern part of the Villarino sector and the north of the Patagonian, rots in piles or, even worse, it dies underground, without even being harvested, due to a lack of a market and profitability.
These are bad times for horticulturalists in the region. "About 230 thousand tons were exported to Brazil about four years ago, it was the historical maximum, this year they hardly took 22 thousand," says Ademar Ibarra, a Bolivian farmer who has lived in Pedro Luro for more than 25 years. He rents fields with his brothers to develop their small family enterprises.
He knows about failures and misfortunes. He lived through the sugar cane harvest crisis with his father in Jujuy 40 years ago, frosts frustrated two consecutive harvests in Mendoza vineyards in the 80s, and he also saw the production of garlic run out about 15 years ago when he was already living with his own in the vicinity of the Colorado River and suffered with potato productions that suddenly got pests.
"But every time the rope gets thinner and we do not know what to do, having all the goods in the field and not being able to sell them leaves us with no way out. I'm looking for another job to not end in misery and in the meantime I do whatever it takes, "he says.
His 20 year old daughter studies Business Administration at the Universidad del Sur in Bahia Blanca, and two other adolescents, aged 16 and 14, are in secondary school in Luro. "They also despair when they see that there is scarcely enough to throw in the pot," he says.
It is the second consecutive year that production is not for sale or is sold in small percentages. Tenacity is not lost and therefore Ademar will try again. "Even if it is one hectare we are going to plant," he says while evaluating what to do with the remaining eight that he rents along with two of his four brothers.
He says that last year in order to plant had to sell a used vehicle and were only left with a 22 year old F 100 pickup truck to share among the three families who tilled the land together.
"Each hectare takes us about 50 thousand pesos of investment," he explains. He has no idea how he will recover them. He aspires that sales will rebound and that the State will aid. But the outlook is dark and so he warns that together with their small-scale group of peasants organize a protest, that they expect to be crowded, for the first few weeks of next month. "We will be thousands of producers from Ascasubi, Buratovich, Villalonga, Pedro Luro and Pradere. We will distribute leaflets and we will settle in the route so that our claim is heard, "he announced.
Brazil does not buy and Argentina imports
Carlos Bevilacqua, intendant of the party of Villarino, seeks explanations for the crisis affecting the sector.
It gives rise to the ups and downs of onion production, one of the main livelihoods of the two largest parties in the Province of Buenos Aires, to market problems, to the economic policy that enabled imports and the exchange rate.
"Brazil is self-sufficient and imports from Holland at much lower prices," he says. Ademar himself, as a producer, recalls that in a recent conversation a buyer told him that freight from Luro to Sao Paulo meant between 5 and 6 dollars per bag of 20 kilos and from Holland or Spain only 0.90 US $.
Both the national government and the provincial government, given the gravity of the situation, are encouraging diversification. Minister Ricardo Buryaile explicitly proposed this replacement. "We are doing a professional technical work on behalf of the producers, which is not only diagnostic but also about production alternatives, because having irrigation it cannot be circumscribed to the onion," says the Medanos native commune chief.
"We were offered to grow lentils, peas, now they also proposed we grow potatoes or carrots, but we have been in this for many years and we are not in a position to reconvert," says Ibarra.
Bevilacqua is optimistic. "We understand that through the report that we will present, we will be able to make decisions regarding the amount of sowing and variants that can be made in the Corfo area," he said.
He acknowledges that a social matters' assessment is also being made along with Patagones because "it is necessary for it to be cushioned at the Municipal State and also from the National levels".
Meanwhile, Fabio Betinelli, municipal delegate in Villalonga said that locality "has about six thousand inhabitants, but in the onion season two or three thousand people from outside come during the harvest."
The official said on National Radio Viedma that "we have not gone beyond normal (in terms of measures to alleviate the crisis), we are asked for a little more assistance, but not much." Nevertheless he clarified that "it was a very bad year for the onion, but we do not have social problems in Villalonga".
Publication date: 10/4/2017
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