Paraguay’s agricultural heritage: gift or potential curse?

After conquering Istanbul, the Ottomans extended their control over all of Eastern Europe and much of Western Asia. European empires were forced to find alternative trade routes to Asia. They invested in their navies in order to seek better trade, which eventually led them to discover new lands. Thus, the influx of new resources to Europe led to the colonial era and subsequently to the industrial revolution. Then the same industrial revolution enriched its opponents in terms of soldiers, money and raw materials and finally 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 due to the increasing demand and shortage of agricultural products.

Increasing agricultural production and reducing metropolitan problems have been pressing issues in recent decades, in both developed and developing countries. To this end, governments are trying to support farmers in every possible way and also doing their best to trigger a reverse migration of urban population to rural areas.

Paraguay already has fertile land suitable for the inhabitants and a well-established agricultural industry; in other words, it has the necessary agricultural population, areas reserved for agriculture and a very functional agro-food industry.

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

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

The bulk of the country’s export revenue comes from meat and soybeans, which are very water-intensive products. A soybean plant needs 3,800 millimeters to 6,300 millimeters (149 inches to 248 inches) of water during its life cycle, while the country receives an average of 1,300 millimeters of rain per year. A cow, on the other hand, consumes almost 7 tons of fresh water during its lifetime.

Is 7 tons of water worth less than the average income from a cow? The answer may be ‘yes’ now, but it will certainly turn to ‘no’ in less than a decade in a world that is on the verge of a severe water crisis.

At the dawn of a future of food and water scarcity, Paraguay has lost nearly 60% of its freshwater reserves over the past 60 years. Deforestation is also a big looming threat, with the forested percentage of the country’s land declining to 41% from 64% over the past 50 years. According to figures received from Global Forest Watch, 6 million hectares of forest have been lost over the past 20 years in order to produce more meat, soy and corn. All of these environmentally threatening activities have caused the climate to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, leading them into a future with less water and less efficiency. in food production and a higher temperature increase, creating a vicious circle.

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

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

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 armed forces reservists, while Paraguay has only 13,000 active and 193,000 reserve.

From an economic perspective, Brazil is one of the 20 largest economies in the world with a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of $2 trillion per year, while Paraguay has only $40 billion. dollars of GDP.

If we try to simulate the world of 2030, in the throes of a severe freshwater and food crisis, Brazil could be the biggest potential unnatural threat that Paraguay will face. Similar situations may apply to Argentina, the United States or other regional powers.

A similar case was experienced during the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, between Finland and the USSR. The two countries share a border of more than 1,300 kilometers. In 1939, the Soviet army was 50 times larger than the Finnish army and according to the situation at the time, the Finns should not expect any help from their neighbors. They therefore received none.

Finland endured two epic battles against the Soviet armies using their national pride, sacrifice and geographical knowledge, until they discovered that resistance is not a permanent solution. They then flexed their muscles to convince Stalin that they were no threat. Finland’s diplomatic leaders established a successful relationship with the Soviets after World War II to neutralize potential threats.

Assessing the potential situation between Brazil and Paraguay, the geography and climate of the border regions between the two countries are quite different from those of the Finnish-Soviet border. Moreover, despite Finland’s small population at the time – 3.5 million people – the 120,000 men of the country’s armed forces held out against 500,000.

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

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

What can be done?

The first step must be to recognize that there is currently a crisis affecting the country’s forests, freshwater sources, climate and therefore its economy. The aspects and severity of the crisis can be understood by running possible future simulations or simply by evaluating current statistics.

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

There are measurable and immeasurable ways to deal with a crisis. Immediately after the first Soviet threat to Finland, the whole country recognized the threat and united in taking a stand. This conscious effort continued after World War II, with some families donating their wedding rings to the government to help pay off debts the country owed to the Soviet Republic.

Along with government authorities, the people of Paraguay should also recognize that there is a current crisis that will threaten their lands, their 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. (Photo Shutterstock)

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

Against the threats of nature

Almost every country in history has acted when a crisis hit, not before. In an economy dependent on agricultural products and a country endowed with cultural heritage, land and demography suitable for agriculture, the practical decision would be to invest in modern agricultural techniques to reduce the deterioration of natural resources and increase the effectiveness of financial and natural sources.

The current situation of the country should be examined and the best model for its geographical, economic, demographic and cultural characteristics should be applied.

Against unnatural threats

The Finnish way to neutralize the Soviet threat was to act first with resilience and then with flexibility as a nation, and to make peace with the Soviets after the war. The leaders established good relations with the Soviet leadership and tried to convince them that they were not a threat but a friendly ally.

Paraguay, contrary to its own history, now enjoys good relations with its neighbors. More than 50% of Paraguay’s export earnings depend on it. The country is located in the middle of the continent where its connection to the outside world is made possible by Brazil and Argentina.

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

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