by Angel Palermo
Saturday, June 7, 1997
The littoral provinces show agricultural and climatic conditions which are favorable for forestry. In the Argentine Mesopotamian region, the investments related to this activity largely exceeded one billion dollars.
BELLA VISTA, Corrientes. Loyalty is generally the basic feature of a solid and lasting marriage.
This type of loyalty does not bear any resemblance to the one found in the markets of a capitalist system. Precisely, the goal of good businessmen is to make a product or provide a service in the place where production is cheaper for a certain period and then sell it where he can obtain the best price.
The choice of a geographical region of the world for sentimental reasons is not usual either in a capitalist system. That is why, when certain private estimates reveal that in the last five years the forested surface of the province of Corrientes grew five-fold and, besides, that in the whole Mesopotamia there were investments related to the forestry business largely exceeding one billion dollars, it is interesting to look into the causes. The improvement of the living standards in some parts of the world like, for instance, the Asian South-East, exerts a pressure on the demand for better housing, furniture and other by-products of lumber.
In the same way, there is a strong trend towards the consumption of wood containers, cardboard packaging and biodegradable paper. Apart from these signals coming from the market itself, there is the sustained tension of First World ecological organizations which restrict the exploitation of native forests.
In short, all these reasons contribute to a solid overseas demand for by-products of wood.
Among the three littoral provinces, Corrientes is the one which has witnessed the biggest changes in the consolidation of the forestry business. Consequently, the 4,500 hectares (11,120 acres) planted in 1992 can easily become 35,000 (86,487 acres), the estimated figure for 1997. There are reasons which account for this phenomenon. First, a favorable weather (an average temperature of 20º C/86º F and 1,300 mm-rainfalls per year); second, the availability of considerable fields æeither virgin or assigned to grazingæ which are suitable for forestry, enabling big investors to obtain "a high volume critical mass of wood" and, finally, the relatively low land prices. It is estimated that a hectare (2.471 acres) in the most suitable areas can cost about 300-400 dollars, except for the boundary with Misiones where the values are a little higher.
"Most forestry-industrial development areas which are self-supported are represented by a few big companies which lead the processing and marketing activity with a range of by-products, such as rough wood, lumber, particle board, wood pulp and paper", explained Juan Adolfo López Jr., a technician from the Agricultural Technology National Institute in Bella Vista, Corrientes.
"They are by no means the owners of all the raw material, they just own a 50 per cent, the rest is in the hands of medium and small producers", he added.
"The surface in the province of Corrientes forested with eucalyptus and pine trees took up about 188,000 hectares (464,558 acres) in 1996 (pine tree: 117,000 hectares/289,113 acres, and eucalyptus: 71,000 hectares/175,444 acres); there were about 100 sawmills and 5 wood-treatment plants", pointed out López. "The largest surface", he added, "is concentrated in the North-East, departments of Ituzaingó and Santo Tomé; in the South-East, Paso de los Libres and Monte Caseros; in the center area, Bella Vista, Saladas, Concepción and San Miguel; and in the South-West, departments of San Roque, Lavalle, Goya and Esquina."
Apart from these investments, there are also the corresponding wood processing factories, such as Protisa in Santo Tomé, Albano in Guarruchos, Fletcher-Challenger in Virasoro and Millar Western Pulp, which is about to start operating in Paso de los Libres. This last factory will demand an investment of about 300 million dollars coming from Canadian and Argentine investors. It is a plant for the production of mechanic chemical whitened high quality pulp which is used for making newsprint and cardboard.
The necessary raw material is the Eucalyptus grandis, coming from plantations located in the North-West of Entre Ríos and South-East of Corrientes.
The new industry will require a power supply of 80 megawatts and "the availability of water power at a reasonable cost justifies the choice of Paso de los Libres as the zone for setting up the plant", explain representatives of NLK Consultant Inc., one of the associates in this venture. "Chlorine will not be employed and all the water will be treated and recycled thanks to the zero-effluent system and consequently there will be no pollution", added the specialists.
Forestry in Corrientes and in the rest of the country is a state-subsidized activity. This is one of the few exceptions in a country which aspires to grow in an environment where private competition prevails and there is a healthy economy with no paternalistic influence.
That is why in Corrientes producers receive about 340 dollars per hectare 18 months after a tree crop has been planted (with a maximum of 700 hectares/1,730 acres per company). Besides, there other refunds 6-8 months after pruning (40 dollars per hectare) and thinning (50 dollars). Planting cost per hectare are estimated as follows: Pinus taeda, 478 dollars and Eucalyptus grandis, 628 dollars. On the other hand, in Bella Vista about 7 dollars per hectare are being paid per ton and 11 in the case of pine tree with a diameter exceeding the 18 cm. Net income estimated for the tenth year is 216 dollars, for the 16th year 940 dollars and for the 25th year 3,475 dollars.
These investments confirm that forestry and related industry stopped being the "Cinderella" of agricultural production. Today, thanks to the strength of an ever-growing market and to the development of intensive agricultural techniques, it is becoming a flourishing activity which very much interests important foreign and domestic business conglomerates.
Modern forest man-made plantations have very little to do with those extensive productions, abandoned to is own fate, which used to be seen a few years ago. Nowadays, they are production ventures with many features typical of the intensive agriculture implemented in the humid plains. Let us see some examples.
Intensive genetics. Seeds and seedlings are very well controlled and have incorporated the best available genetics.
Herbicides and fertilizers. Selection techniques and cloning (a technique consisting in the identical reproduction of the best vegetable samples) are basically managed by the State, but it is private companies that are interested in the development of improved species, especially with reference to characteristics such as stem, small size of nodes and fast growth rate, among others.
The selection of the best trees starts with definition of the idiotype, which is determined by fiber production, high-quality wood, power and other applications. Modern genetic improvement is aimed at a high yield homogeneous intensive forestry, which is suitable for specific uses.
Planting techniques tend to be automated and concentrated only in the plantation line (remember that in Corrientes there is no need to eliminate the native vegetation, as the lands are virgin or assigned to grazing). Intensive action herbicides, as well as initial fertilization and slow spreading products are practices which are quickly gaining ground. The Agricultural Technology National Institute in Bella Vista, Corrientes, has already proved that tree growth is faster when weed is controlled with herbicides instead of using the traditional raking methods, surely because in this latter way, the tree rootlets are cut off. After 24 months, the volumetric production of fertilized chemically controlled trees outgrew the control group by 75 per cent.
Automation. The policy of applied technology and automation includes self-propelled cutting machines which embrace the tree, cut it down near the ground level and practically eliminate the chain saw as a felling tool. Operated by only one worker, these tree-felling machines have a circular blade at its end which cuts down the tree fast and safely. The cut-off tree can be carried to the trucks by means of a derrick boom also operated by only one man.