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Argentina is transforming itself from “the granary of the planet” to a producer of food products

Sustainability / -

Carlos Horacio Casamiquela

Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture illustrates his country’s statistics, its future prospects and its revolutionary scientific innovations. Including the first transgenic cow in the world.

In the margins of the International Agricultural Forum held at Expo Milano 2015, Carlos Horacio Casamiquela, Argentina’s Minister for Agriculture, described his government’s commitment to support small-scale farmers, “they are spread across the entire nation, and they produce 20 percent of its agricultural produce.” It's a political strategy which aims to produce a change of step in the country’s progress.
 
Argentina is a huge country, blessed with an abundance of nature, of earth and of space. Can you give us some data which describes the country’s vastness? Its size and its output?
Argentina has 40 million inhabitants and produces enough food for 400 million people. We produce more cereals pro capita in the world than any other country: every Argentinian citizen produces 3 tons a year. We have a strategic plan which will make it possible for us to produce enough food for 600 million people by 2020.
 
Our main problem is to increase the participation of Argentinian society by spreading greater social equity and justice, and spreading it through all sectors. Argentina’s small-scale farmers have always been ignored by government planning, but we have decided to reinforce it, since 66 percent of the country’s farmers run their own family farms. For years we were known as “the granary of the planet”, as well as a great producer of meat and protein, both animal and vegetable. For the last ten years our governments have been working to change this image, transforming the perception of Argentina from a cereal producer to a food product producer.
 
What is your biggest battle? As a message to the world...
Argentina still needs to become more active in the field of international cooperation, because it has extraordinary technologies and expertise to offer. Our scientific system has recovered a lot of the ground it lost historically through scientists emigrating. Fortunately, 1,300 of them have recently returned to work here again, mostly young scientists. Just recently – and I say this without any provocative intention, simply to cite a research success – we created the world’s first transgenic cow, which produces artificial milk. This animal is fed normally, but produces artificial milk containing two proteins present in human mother’s milk. One is connected with newborn babies’ immune systems, and the other with their ability to absorb iron.
 
In a year crowded with key international conferences on climate change, how much are you concerned about global warming?
We’re very worried, not just about temperature but also about rain. But I’d like to offer a political reflection: it’s not countries like Argentina that generate the gases which create the greenhouse effect. But we still need to be an important force in the creation of a production cycle that becomes less and less damaging for the environment. We have to find a way to adapt our agricultural practices by all means possible. And not necessarily by mitigating our pollution, because Argentina is responsible for just 0.3 percent of the world’s pollution.
 
At Expo Milano 2015, among the Feeding Knowledge prizewinning projects displayed in Pavilion Zero there was one on high quality agricultural development regarding the production of amaranth in Argentina. Can you tell us more about this plant?
It is grown in the north-western part of Argentina, and its consumption keeps rising. Our intention is to recover the seeds used by the original native population, like quinoa too, which were practically eliminated from the market. We are deeply committed to re-evaluating the knowledge of the indigenous peoples, who survived with difficulty have but who have certainly got specific knowledge which can contribute to science and technology today.
 

Slovakia. A breath of fresh air while strolling through charming little medieval towns

Culture / -

national day slovacchia cover
© Jon Hicks, Corbis

There’s something for everyone in this buzzing eastern European country. There are plenty of protected parks for those who want to fill up on nature, ultra-modern ski resorts perched amid the mountains which are ideal for winter sports fans and evocative medieval castles, ideal for a relaxing cultural weekend trip.

Slovakia is a young country which is full of life and resources and is becoming increasingly aware of the wealth of offers it has for tourists, whatever their interests and their budget. For nature lovers, there are nine National Parks, fourteen Protected Landscapes, nature reserves, national natural monuments of outstanding value, a number of thermal baths, cutting-edge ski resorts such as Ruzomberok - Malino Brdo and the enchanting old wooden churches in the Carpathian Mountains, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2008, together with Spiš Castle, the largest fortified complex in Central Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages.
 
Not to be missed, in addition to the fascinating Bratislava and Košice, European Capital of Culture in 2013, are the evocative old towns and settlements scattered around the country such as the village of Vlkolínec, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Renaissance town of Zvolen.
 
Delicious and incredibly tempting cuisine on offer in Slovakia
 
Milk, potatoes and cabbage. While some think these three products which are typically found all the year round, are its sole ingredients, Slovakian cooking turns out a whole host of delicious dishes, made from fresh, nutritious and locally produced goods. The country’s national dish, apart from its ever-popular and inimitable soups, is bryndzové halušky, made of very tasty gnocchi-like potato dumplings served with little squares of fried bacon in a sauce of really special ewes’ milk salted cottage cheese called bryndza, now included in Slow Food’s Arca della Terra list of traditional world products worth preserving.
 
Delicious as snacks are lángoš, a sort of fried miniature pizzas of Hungarian origin, spiced up with garlic and cheese. There are countless types of bread and famous cheeses in different areas of the country, and Slovakian pastries are also worthy of note; the most outstanding are the bábovka, a sort of ring-shaped soft and fragrant panettone, and Skalický trdelník, a sweet pastry made by wrapping pastry round a cylinder, then topping it with icing sugar and chopped walnuts and almonds, which has been awarded the coveted European PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
 
Recharging your batteries in the Slovak Pavilion, with a world of nature and art in your pocket
 
The world in your pocket. This is the Theme chosen by Slovakia, which is taking part in the Milan Universal Exhibition with an unmissable Pavilion, located between Japan and Russia, in the eastern part of the Decumano. The external area was designed as a relaxing area where visitors can recharge themselves and their smartphones, before going inside the structure and discovering all the treasures that Slovakia reveals in terms of innovation, sport, nutrition and art. Here you can admire Artist’s Grimaces by the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, a work which expresses a Classic approach in the choice to represent male physicality. The Pavilion, designed by Slovakian architect Karol Kállay, and developing the concept "Slovakia. Recharge yourself!”, aims to show the most genuine spirit of this country, which is rich in natural energy resources, in vitality, culture, traditions and opportunities.
 

Global demand for agricultural products is increasing. But land is not

Sustainability / -

Importazioni grano
© Arif Abdullah/National Geographic Creative/Corbis

The increase in imports of grain and agricultural products is not "healthy" for the countries that depend on it. A study by the Worldwatch Institute warns of possible risks associated with a drop in local production.

Imports of grain around the world have seen a five-fold increase over the last fifty years (1960-2013) due to a lack of local resources. It’s a phenomenon that has also increased the dependence of governments on the global market. This is according to Gary Gardner, director of publications at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, an expert on sustainability, food trade and self-sufficiency research.

Why imports are increasing
In 2013, over a third of the world’s countries (77) imported at least a quarter of their grain. In 1960, the first year on which the analysis was based, this number was 49. In contrast, only six countries between 1961 and 2013, have joined the club of exporters.

The main causes for this increased level of importing are a reduction in soil fertility and in the availability of fresh water. 62 percent of the countries considered do not have sufficient land to produce the crops necessary to meet domestic demand, while in 22 countries consumption of all agricultural products, not only grain, requires much more water than any single government is able to make available.

Why land used for agriculture is decreasing
Despite the importance of agriculture and an increasing demand for food, degradation and land use continue to rise. More and more hectares are being converted for residential, industrial or other urban uses. In the US, between 1982 and 2007, 9.3 million hectares of agricultural land were converted, which is an area greater than the state of Indiana.

Another phenomenon that helps to reduce the area of farmland available to local communities is land grabbing. That is land sold or leased for monoculture farming for export. Since 2000, international agreements have been made for over 40 million hectares of land, especially in Africa and Asia, that are now being exploited by foreign countries and multinationals.

The consequences
The study by Gardner highlights two major problems caused by the exponential growth in the import of food and seeds, and the reduction in available agricultural land. The first is that not all countries are able to import the amount of grain they would need because at some point, global demand will exceed the supply capacity of exporting countries. The second is political, because the countries that import are subject to retaliation or forms of "natural" disruption, such as drought, flooding or other disasters.

Global trends, the balance between resources and the economy and many other topics can be explored at Expo Milano 2015, a place of dialogue between countries and ideas from around the world.
 

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