Mercedes Ejarque is a researcher at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). She is also Professor of Rural Sociology in a Master Program at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Research and a PhD in Social Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires. Her research focuses on society – nature relations around agrarian activities, social constructivism of environmental problems and political ecology in Patagonia. She has also published about methodological issues in agrarian research, rural labour markets and rural-urban tendencies.
Environmental problems, productivism and alternatives in peasant husbandry in Argentina’s Central Patagonia
Different theories from environmental studies have stated that society interacts with nature in different ways, and that environmental problems have diverging interpretations. Comparing to agribusiness and extractivist models, some perspectives assert that peasant and indigenous communities produce in a more sustainable way due to its own cosmovision and ‘traditional’ livelihoods. It is even argued that they represent a form of resistance to the agrarian transformations and hegemonic modes of production. In contrast, other studies show that peasant’s production is not necessarily ‘ecological’: it could also be ‘conventional’. Avoiding this dichotomy, this article analyses how peasants value nature and how they affect and are affected by environmental problems in Chubut’s drylands, in Argentinean Patagonia. Patagonia is a region where wool production has been central in its history of population and economy. This activity has developed based on a concentrated land tenure, extensive ways of production but intensive use of nature. Nowadays, this production is affected by land degradation and other environmental problems (droughts, volcanic eruptions, and climate change). These problems are some of the main drivers of the production crisis. The research shows that among peasant communities in this area are diverging interpretations about the environment and its problems but prevails a dominant valuation language related to productivism. Peasants explain these problems focusing on how nature contributed or restrained livestock production and what needs to be done to regain productivity. This dominant valuation language is the result of a historical construction. Several material and symbolic conditionings took part in this process, such as the unequal land tenure distribution; the tendency to specialize in only one race and product (Merino sheep); and the underestimation from the scientific and politic stakeholders of ancestral and empirical knowledge. In consequence, some practices, which led to the actual state of land degradation in this area, are still on-going and promoted by the technical agencies and experts. Despite this dominance, in the last decade, other valuation languages regarding conservation or livelihoods are promoting practices that combine adaptive responses to the environmental problems and alternatives to the historical and exploitative modes of production.
Affiliation: National Institute of Agricultural Technology, Argentina