Paraguay’s heritage of agriculture: A gift, or potential curse?

Paraguay’s heritage of agriculture: A gift, or potential curse?

Mehmet Öztürk

Uniquely situated in South America, receiving less rain and water in general and plagued with deforestation, landlocked Paraguay stands at a crossroads in history with an agricultural heritage threatened by the climate crisis

After the conquest of Istanbul, the Ottomans extended their control over all Eastern Europe and much of Western Asia. European empires were obliged to find alternate trade routes toward Asia. They invested in their navies in order to seek better trade, which eventually led them to discover new lands. So, the inflow of new resources toward Europe led to the colonial era and subsequently to the Industrial Revolution. Then the very same Industrial Revolution made its opponents richer in terms of soldiers, money and raw materials and eventually bankrupted the Ottoman Empire after 450 years of glory.

Paraguay has a long history of agricultural production. This cultural heritage will be very valuable in the near future because of the increasing demand and the shortage in agricultural products.

Increasing agricultural production and reducing metropolitan problems have been pressing issues in the last decades, in developed and developing countries. To this end, the governments try to support farmers in every way they can and also do their best to trigger a reverse migration of the urban population back to rural areas.

Paraguay already has fertile land, suitable for people and a well-established agricultural industry; in other words, it has the necessary population of farmers, reserved areas for farming and a very functional agricultural goods industry.

A local Paraguayan transports sugarcane by ox cart. (Shutterstock Photo)
A local Paraguayan transports sugarcane by ox cart. (Shutterstock Photo)

But is it really an advantage to have a functioning agricultural industry and a very large portion of the population working on farms?

Most of the country’s export revenues come from meat and soy, very demanding products in terms of water. A soy plant needs 3,800 millimeters to 6,300 millimeters (149 inches to 248 inches) of water in its life cycle, whereas the country gets an average of 1,300 millimeters rain annually. A cow on the other hand consumes almost 7 tons of fresh water in a lifetime.

Is 7 tons of water worth less than the average revenue gained from a cow? The answer might be “yes” now but it will turn into a “no” for sure in less than a decade in a world that is about to face a severe water crisis.

At the dawn of a future bringing food and water shortage, Paraguay has lost almost 60% of its fresh water reserves during the last 60 years. Deforestation is also a big looming threat, with the forested percentage of the country’s lands decreasing to 41% from 64% in the last 50 years. According to the numbers received from Global Forest Watch, 6 million hectares of forests were lost in the last 20 years in order to produce more meat, soy and corn. All those environment threatening activities caused a 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in the climate during the last 50 years, which will lead them into a future with less water and less efficiency in food production and a higher increase in temperature, creating a vicious cycle.

Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world on the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. (Shutterstock Photo)
Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world on the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. (Shutterstock Photo)

Potential unnatural threats

Paraguay shares more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of border with Brazil, a military superpower in the region with 360,000 active and 2 million reserve armed forces personnel, whereas Paraguay has only 13,000 active and 193,000 reserve.

From an economic point of view, Brazil is one of the 20 biggest economies of the world with $2 trillion nominal gross domestic product (GDP) per year, whereas Paraguay has only $40 billion GDP.

If we try to simulate the world of 2030, embroiled in a severe fresh water and food crisis, Brazil might be the biggest unnatural potential threat that Paraguay will face. Similar situations may be applied for Argentina, the United States or other regional powers.

A similar case was experienced during World War II, from 1939 and 1945, between Finland and the USSR. The two countries share a border longer than 1,300 kilometers. In 1939 the Soviet army was 50 times bigger than Finland’s army and according to the time’s conjuncture, the Finns were not to expect any help from their neighbors. They accordingly received none.

Finland endured two epic battles against the Soviet armies with the help of their national pride, sacrifices and geographical knowledge, until the point when they discovered that resisting is not a permanent solution. They then showed the flexibility to convince Stalin that they were not a threat. The diplomatic leaders of Finland formed a fruitful relationship with Soviets after the World War II in order to neutralize potential threats.

If we assess the potential situation between Brazil and Paraguay, the geography and climate of the border regions between the two countries are quite different than that of the Finland and Soviet border. Also, despite the small population of Finland back then – 3.5 million – the country’s 120,000 armed forces resisted against 500,000.

Palacio de Lopez, a palace that serves as the headquarters of the president of Paraguay, can be seen in the capital Asuncion, Paraguay, July, 15, 2018. (Shutterstock Photo)
Palacio de Lopez, a palace that serves as the headquarters of the president of Paraguay, can be seen in the capital Asuncion, Paraguay, July, 15, 2018. (Shutterstock Photo)

What can be done?

The first move must be acknowledging that there is currently a crisis affecting the country’s forests, freshwater sources, climate and therefore its economy. The aspects and the gravity of the crisis can be understood by running possible future simulations or just by assessing current statistics.

While this crisis may be the result of ongoing government policies or an act of God, the responsibility should be accepted by the authorities.

There are measurable and immeasurable ways to deal with a crisis. Right after the first Soviet threat against Finland arose, the whole country acknowledged the threat and united in order to take a stand. This conscious effort continued after World War II, with some families donating their wedding rings to the government to help pay debts the country had to the Soviet Republic.

Along with the governing authorities, the people of Paraguay should also acknowledge that there is a current crisis that is going to threaten their lands, food sources and the near future of their children.

A farmer drives a tractor over a winding wooden bridge, in Colonia Independencia, Paraguay, June 20, 2018. (Shutterstock Photo)

Against the threats of nature

Almost all countries throughout history acted when a crisis emerged, not before. In an economy dependent on agricultural products and a country with the suitable cultural heritage, land and demography for agriculture, the practical move would be investing in modern agriculture techniques to reduce the deterioration of natural resources and increase the efficiency in both financial and natural sources.

The country’s current situation should be examined and the best model for its geographic, economic, demographic and cultural features should be applied.

Against unnatural threats

The Finnish way to neutralize the Soviet threat was to act resilient first and flexible later as a nation, and to make peace with the Soviets after the war. The leaders built good relations with the Soviet management and tried to convince them that they were not a threat but a friendly ally.

Paraguay, in contrast with its own history, now has good relations with its neighbors. More than 50% of Paraguay’s export revenues depend on them. The country is located in the middle of the continent where its connection to the outside world is enabled by Brazil and Argentina.

Paraguay’s situation is unique, as it is dependent to its neighbors both economically and logistically, having the smallest armed forces and being one of the smallest economies in the region, so they may have to eliminate potential future threats that may emerge because of its neighbors.

Courtesy: Dailysabah

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