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DEVELOPMENT-ARGENTINA: The Forgotten North

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 2 2006 (IPS) - Poverty and unemployment rates are on the wane in Argentina, and infant mortality is also in retreat. But these ills are holding out in the neglected north, which has been bypassed by development.

“After the 2001 crisis, recovery didn’t take place evenly across the country. The north of Argentina is still burdened with longstanding difficulties, and a major political effort is needed for a long time to come,” Liliana de Riz, director of the team that drew up the Human Development Report for 2005, told IPS.

The study, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is entitled “Argentina after the Crisis: A Time of Opportunity”. One of its two chapters refers to the nine most disadvantaged provinces, which are located in the north.

Seven and a half million people in Argentina – 20.8 percent of the population – live in Jujuy, Salta, Catamarca, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Misiones, Formosa and Corrientes, the area described by the report as Argentina’s “critical region”. In 2004, more than 60 percent of the population of these nine provinces was living below the poverty line, compared with 44 percent in the country as a whole.

Living conditions have improved since the peak of Argentina’s severe social and economic crisis, in 2002, when the poverty rate in several provinces – such as Formosa, which borders on Paraguay – climbed as high as 80 percent. “But much more is needed,” said de Riz.

“Federalism in Argentina isn’t cooperative,” in the sense that there are no federal policies to foment development in depressed regions, she pointed out.


Thus, the national infant mortality rate is 16 per thousand live births, while in the nine northern provinces it stands at 22 per thousand, soaring to over 27 per thousand in places like Chaco – twice the rate for the southern Patagonia region.

The report emphasises that 26.5 percent of Argentine children under five live in the north, “with the lowest human development indices and the greatest relative disadvantages.” This is a heavy mortgage on their future.

Illiteracy in the “critical region”, which has the lowest urban population, is twice the national rate, and access to health, education and decent housing is markedly lower than in the rest of the country.

Why has this subregion failed to benefit from the economic recovery that began in 2003 and has been reflected in nine percent annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth? There are several different reasons, many of them structural. For instance, the crisis accentuated the area’s pre-existing isolation.

“At present, the productivity of this region is insufficient for its development,” the report states. The north contributes only 10 percent of the country’s GDP, and if productivity per person is measured, the north produces only half the national average..

Investment in the subregion is just 10 percent of what is invested countrywide, and the area accounts for only eight percent of the country’s foreign trade. One third of exports from the north, which are concentrated in the hands of only a few businesses, are minerals from the province of Catamarca.

“There are very few employment opportunities outside the public sector,” the report states. In the north there are 1.2 employees in the private sector for every one in the public sector, whereas the nationwide ratio is three to one.

In Argentina, a large proportion of unemployed heads of households have survived thanks to subsidies from the national government. When the economy began to revive, many of these people returned to the labour market. But once again this process did not apply in the “critical region”. In the rest of Argentina, most of the recipients of these subsidies are now women, whereas in the north the majority are young men.

Since productive enterprises and structures in the north are on a small-scale, progress in development will depend on their expansion by linking together businesses that are currently isolated, to integrate providers of technology, logistical services and transport, the UNDP report recommends.

With respect to the national government, the study indicates that every ministry shares the responsibility for regional development. However, the instruments applied are “dispersed,” disjointed, and there is “great discontinuity” due to changes of government and of policy.

“What is needed are concerted public policies that are sustained over a long period of time,” advises the report, which points out possible ways to develop alternative products in the agrifood, tourism, mining and forestry sectors. This will require investment, and education and training of personnel, it underlines.

De Riz believes that the best way for the north to overcome its stagnation is to imitate the model of “industry clustering” implemented in the United States, India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, Tanzania and Brazil. This involves a concentration of services and providers, which bring the benefits of synergy to businesses and their employees.

“‘Industry clustering means that groups of communities and industries work collaboratively, bringing together their complementary knowledge, experience and motivation, in order to bolster their competitive advantages,'” the report quotes.

Areas with potential for development along these lines exist, especially in agriculture and livestock production, but so far they are in isolation. Catamarca, for example, could diversify into producing walnuts, red peppers and organic produce, while Corrientes could farm “pacú” fish and ornamental fish species.

Jujuy, on the border with Bolivia, is advised to develop rural and historical tourism, and to cultivate mangoes, avocadoes, figs and honey on a larger scale. Another suggestion is to give a boost to llama herding and cheese making, as an alternative to the cows’ milk products from central Argentina.

Most of these production options have been tried out locally, and many have already grown to the point where they could be expanded into networks, with technological improvements, innovation and higher quality, the report emphasises.

According to de Riz, “more effort on a continuous basis is needed from the national government, the provinces, and the private sector, if we are to lay the foundations of a country that is truly integrated.”

 
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