Environmental Problems in Latin America

Environmental Problems in Latin America

Latin America has been struggling with some serious environmental concerns over the last two decades. Air and water pollution, Pesticide abuse, Soil degradation, deforestation are some of the pressing issues in this part of the world. Let us discuss the case of Argentina and see how the country, which has been struggling through an economic crisis, has seen the bitter end of an environmental catastrophe, and its efforts at redeeming the situation. The drastic effects of GM crops cultivation (in particular GM Soya) and deforestation, the two most important environmental issues, would be assessed in this essay.

GM Soya (a boon or Bane

The initial economic benefits as well as the later environmental impact of GM cropping, is now a well-known story of Argentina.. GM food experiment is already turning out to be a sour experience for Argentina, one of the fore runners of GM cropping. The United States and Argentina are two nations that ventured into GM farming in the later half of the nineties. Almost a decade into GM farming, the environmental impact of the same began to be studied with all seriousness. Recent studies conducted in these nations have revealed severe environmental consequences. For Argentina, a nation swirling under a deep economic crisis, GM cropping offered a new ray of hope. In the late nineties, almost half of the nations arable land (11.6 million hectares) was used for the cultivation of GM Soya (Roundup Ready Soya from Montana). The farmers stood to benefit from the initial promise of high productivity (which reached 173%) and lowered use of pesticides. The fact that the GM Soya was designed to be resistant to glyphosate (reportedly a least toxic pesticide) was an encouraging factor and even contributed to a great reduction in the use of other pesticides. [Branford, Sue]

However, the initial boost was not sustainable and new problems started to crop up. There was an unmoderated use of glyphosate as revealed by the increase in consumption from 13.9 million liters in 1997 to over 150 million liters in 2003. This more than confirms the Green peace report that indicated an increase in consumption of pesticides from 11.45% up to 30%. [United Nations Human Development Report 2001] the herbicide resistant GM Soya (from Montana) started to swap genes with weeds resulting in the formation of super weeds, which were resistant to herbicides creating grave consequences for the farmers. Glyphosate tolerant weeds started to grow uncontrollably requiring the use of greater quantities of pesticides than was necessary conventionally. So, GM crops cannot be a safe and sustainable solution to the food crisis that our world is facing because of many safety and environmental concerns. Other countries in the world have started to have double thoughts about GM Soya. The recent ban of GM Soya in Romania, the largest GM Soya producer in Europe, is another attestation to the negative effects of GM crops. As Green peace coordinator Gabriel Paun states,” This victory (on ban on GM soy planting) represents a great challenge for us,” Paun said. “We plan to broaden the action to other EU countries such as Austria, Greece and Poland.” [Vesna Peric Zimonjic]


Another important environmental problem in Argentina is rapid deforestation. In Argentina, deforestation had gone unchecked over the last few decades and recently GM farming have been implicated as one of the main contributing factors. As per the national census conducted in 1914, Argentina had around 105 million ha of forestlands. Today, however, there is only between 28 to 45 million ha of forests left in the country as per the recent data. In the two decades between 1980 and 2000, around 16,288,000 ha of forest area has been destroyed. [WWF] the nationally promoted and highly favoured GM Soya farming has, as experts suggest, contributed to the worsening of situation in the last decade. In a special report titled ‘Argentina’s GM wows’ Dr. Lilian Joensen has stated that, GM “crops have exacerbated poverty and hunger, increased herbicides use, brought new health hazards, destroyed agricultural land and livelihoods, and resulted in deforestation.” [Dr. Lilian Joensen]

With an economy that was so focused upon Soya exports, GM Soya farming using the “no tillage” method became so popular and the common choice for farmers. The profitability of GM Soya had led farmers and other officials turning a blind eye to the environmental impact. The rapid proliferation and monetary success of GM Soya farming lead to increasing land requirements. As Mr. Javier Corcuera, wildlife foundation (Fundaci n Vida Silvestre) director said, “We have already lost more than 130,000ha of forest. If we carry on like this we can expect more flooding and less natural resources for the population.” [Dr. Lilian Joensen] the Yungas forest region, which is one of the global ecoregions extending over 130,000 sq. miles, has been the most affected. Similarly ‘Cattle Breeding’ and ‘Beef production’ industries have started to move into the forest regions resulting in more and more clearing away of precious forest lands and a severe threat to the biodiversity of the land. [WWF]

Solutions to Environmental Problems

Efforts to redress the environmental situation are under full swing in Argentina, mainly due to the collaborative actions of WWF and the FVSA. Since 1987 the FVSA has been actively involved in forestation programs throughout the nation with the organisation having established more than 12 wildlife refugee centres covering a span of 55,000 ha of forest lands. However, the area covered by these refugee centres is still only a little part of the entire forest region of the country. The WWF is also participating with other Governmental and NGO’s to plan and implement sustainable alternatives to deforestation for agricultural land expansion. One such initiative was the promotion of sustainable palmito harvesting instead of Soya. Studies have proved that Palmito harvesting can be sustainable, profitable as well as be environmentally friendly. The results were really encouraging that FVSA and WWF have been widely promoting sustainable Palmito farming as a real alternative to Soya farming. [WWF]

Other than this, the WWF has also started the ‘Roundtable of Responsible Soy’ (RTRS), an international conference with the aim of promoting “economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable production, processing and trading of soy” [RTRS] the collaboration between FLR (Forest land Restoration), WWF and FVSA in the ‘The Misiones Green Corridor project’ is one fine example of preventing forest clearance for agricultural process by participating with landholders and the government in devising plans for sustainable cultivation practices without destroying forests. [FLR] it is noticeable that the FLR has worked with the other national governments for forest rehabilitation projects. The CIFOR project in Vietnam, the Minshan Landscape Initiative in China, and the Madagascar Forest Programme (Malagasy forest ecoregion) are other successful implementations by the FLR in coordination with WWF and other governmental agencies.

The FSC, developed after the Rio Digenero summit in 1992, focused on the increased global requirement and the depletion of natural resources. FSC is a non-profit organization that offers environmentally sound solutions for managing forests around the world. Asides playing an active supporting role in developing the national and regional forest management standards, the FSC also works with local certifiers to ensure FSC compliance standards are met. In Argentina, the FSC is playing an active monitoring role, and thus the rapid deforestation activities from the paper and other industries, which were thus far unchecked, would now be carefully monitored and assessed for their environmental impact. The Success of the FSC initiative can be attested by the fact that six plantation companies in the country namely Santa Barbara SRL, Faplac, Fiplasto, Forestal Las Mar’as, Lipsia, Tabepicua, and the Union Bank of Switzerland have become FSC certified bringing a total forest area of around 131,000 hectares under the FSC certification process. [WWF] Though FSC certification is a voluntary process, the fact that more than 57 countries are involved in the project is ample proof for the growing environmental concern and commitment. FSC encourages businesses in Argentina using forest resources to promote a sustainable business policy and discourages businesses that neglect environmental and habitat concerns. Thus the FSC in effect is a global collaborative effort to minimize environmental damage and promote environmentally sustainable business practices and by doing so, protect our world from threats of global warming, acid rain, drastic climatic shifts and other serious consequences of environmental destruction and pollution. [FSC]


Argentina is one of the worst affected, economically as well as environmentally, among the Latin American countries. GM crops, in particular GM Soya, led an economic revolution, which unfortunately proved to be the environmental bane for the nation. GM cropping and Deforestation coupled to create a severe environmental debacle that has threatened to develop into catastrophic proportions. Thanks to the timely interventions from environmental groups like WWF, FVSA, FLR and other governmental agencies and NGO’s, the situation has been checked under control and the rehabilitation projects are underway. It is hoped that the situation for Argentina will improve with the efforts of these environmental agencies.


WWF, “Environmental Problems in Argentina: More than 16 Million ha of Forest Cover Lost Between 1980 and 2000,” Accessed May 15th 2007, available at http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/latin_america_and_caribbean/country/argentina/environmental_problems_argentina/index.cfm

WWF, “Argentina: Our Solutions,” Accessed May 15th 2007,

Available at, http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/latin_america_and_caribbean/country/argentina/wwf_argentina_conservation/index.cfm

RTRS, “Round Table on Responsible Soy,” Accessed May 15th 2007, available at http://www.responsiblesoy.org/eng/index.htm


Accessed May 15th 2007, available at http://assets.panda.org/downloads/flrnewsletter6oct2003.pdf

WWF, “Native forest operation in Argentina is FSC certified,”

Accessed May 15th 2007, available at http://www.panda.org/how_you_can_help/successes/index.cfm?uNewsID=11280

Vesna Peric Zimonjic, ” Environment – Romania: GM Soy to be Banned,”

Accessed May 15th 2007, available at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35903

7) Branford, Sue, “Argentina’s Bitter Harvest,” New Scientist, 4/17/2004,

Vol 182 Issue

United Nations Human Development Report 2001: Making New Technologies

Work for Human Development, New York Oxford University Press 2001

Dr. Lilian Joensen & Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, ” Argentina’s GM Wows,”

Accessed May 15th 2007, Available at, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/AGMW.php

10) FSC, “The History of FSC -U.S.’, available at http://www.fscus.org/about_us / Accessed Dec 12th 2007

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