MONTAÑA Elma Carmen
congresos y reuniones científicas
"Contrasting Oases and Deserts. Scenarios and Productive Alternatives for Mendoza, Argentina"
Sde Boquer, Israel
Congreso; Internacional Conference "Deserts & Desertification: Challenges and Opportunities"; 2006
Institución organizadora:
Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben Gurion University and the UN-CCD
A great extent of Argentinean, Chilean, Bolivian and Peruvian drylands -among others- shares a com­mon ter­ritorial configuration pattern: oases that appear as green islands in a vast desert space. As an example of this, Mendoza -in central-western Argentina- develops in two opposed landscapes: On the one hand, green oases with neat rows of grapevines, tree-bordered roads and streets, and irrigations chan­nels and drains. These are the powerful oases where human work celebrates having conquered a hostile na­ture. On the other hand, non-irrigated lands (“desert”) are a "no-man´s land" and subor­dinate spaces per­ceived as being empty and void of interest. While the oases concentrate the dyna­mism of a viticultural economy, the scattered population of rain-fed lands barely survives on out-of-market economic activities. This scene developed in the context of a “modern” society-nature relationship paradigm. In vogue at the end of XIX century, it nurtured public policies oriented to “order” first and then to “progress”. In these drylands, progress was closely related to nature control. On this inspiration, Mendoza’s govern­ment implemented water poli­cies aimed at “mastering the water” and “conquering the desert”, mean­ing combating the desert. Therefore, while urban development and for-export vineyard agriculture made the oases grow on the Andes foothills in Mendoza, the lower parts of the basins were deprived of their natural resources: native forests were cut down and the river flow regime diminished by the water use upstream, to the point of inhibiting any local development opportunity that could have arisen. The oases de­velopment process -to the detriment of un-irrigated lands downstream- continued all along the XX century sustained by “developist” policies, under the illusion of overcoming underdevelopment. Today, with rising population and activities depending on a fixed amount of water, this paradigm turns out to be unsustainable. As un-irrigated lands come into sight devastated by poverty and deserti­fication processes, alternatives are being sought for within the sustainable development paradigm.What are the options? What would be the benefits and costs of deepening the path of water-intensive development of large-scale agricultural projects and sprawling cities in the oasis? On the other hand, could an underdeveloped region as Mendoza restrict its economic forces? In what terms could the re­gion continue trying to find a place in the globalized economy and cope with urban and rural poverty and marginality while reducing water consumption? How to handle conflicts over water among users on a shortening-water scenario? If water consumption intensity is hard to trim down, could non-irri­gated lands be adapted to the water deprivation situation inflicted by the water-intensive development model of the oasis? To what extent are desert inhabitants willing to change their lifestyles to adjust to these settings? Could they be asked to surrender to a water deprivation that affects their livelihood and withers their traditional lifestyles and cultures? Is traditional knowledge good for dealing with water scarcity? Is it good enough? What new technologies are compatible with these tra­ditions? Is there an alternative path for sustainable development? The work presents different qualitative scenarios for the case of Mendoza in Argentina, proposing mental pictures of the ways in which events might unfold. From a sustainability and desertification combat viewpoint, the analysis of these scenarios reveals implications of the current trajectories -forcing reassessment of beliefs and assumptions-, provides insights into drivers of change and enlightens options for action in this peripheral dryland of an underdeveloped country. Intending to bring to earth the results of the scenario analysis, the work speculates on different productive alternatives for a desert-compatible development in Mendoza, for irrigated and rain-fed lands and for both as a whole. In order to increase the livelihood of traditional desert communities, for example, to what extent is it convenient to integrate them into a market-driven economy? De­pending on the type of activity, it could be an opportunity for improving life quality while taking care of ecosystem conservation. On the other hand, the demanding requirements of the open-market economy could impose conditions that take them out of their traditional culture and lifestyle to the point of losing attachment to their own habitat. This could be a calculated risk to take, but –especially in underdeveloped countries and regions- what if the economic project does not work out? This kind of issues are examined for different economic activities for the oases and for the desert (pastoral, artisan agro-industrial, tourism, handicrafts, etc.) considering diverse levels of subsidy granting, and then examined in relation to experiences having taken place in Mendoza. The scenario analysis and the reflections upon the productive and sustainable economic alternatives aim at putting the subject of challenges and opportunities in terms of the links between “direct” and “indirect” drivers of desertification.