MAGGIE Howard from Ballyvaughan and Teresa Daly from Ennis were among a group of Irish women who took part in a two-week study tour of Argentina last month. The trip to Argentina, followed by some time for relaxation in Brazil, was part of the successful Irish Women in Agriculture tours organised by Mary Carroll and Mary Flynn.
According to the two Clare women, the trip was really educational and also good fun.
“Argentina has many connections historically and agriculturally with Ireland and many Irish farmers have bought land there. On this trip, we had an opportunity to see the region for ourselves. Another great part of the trip was the chance to meet with the other Irish women in agriculture who also travelled with us,” they reported.
With a population of 40 million people, Argentinian agriculture is capable of feeding 300 million people. Farmers’ unions claim that they are being blocked by gruelling taxes, especially the current 35% export tax, along with income tax, local tax and a production-based land tax, all designed to keep cheap food available for the domestic market.
This was one of the issues the Irish women in agriculture group discussed during a meeting with the Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA), which is the Argentinian equivalent of the IFA. The visitors heard how the four largest farm lobbies in Argentina have come together to fight the government, seeking a reduction in export duties and more aid to farmers hit by extended droughts and falling commodity prices.
Given the size of the country and the differences in climate, a great variety of agricultural enterprises are found, from tea growing in the tropical north to sheep production in the cold south in Patagonia. Agriculturally, the most important areas in Argentina are the humid Pampas – the flat grasslands that extend inland for up to 500 miles.
Travelling out to the Pampas, the group was struck by the vastness of the farms and the flatness of the terrain. Passing towns with names like Murphy, Duggan and Kavanagh, really brought home the influence the Irish have had here. The Irish acquired large areas of land, much of which their descendants still control.
Visiting a grain and dairy farm, one of the group leaders, Maggie Howard said, “It is difficult to apply to our own systems as the scale is so much different as are regulations or lack of them in Argentina, but it is very interesting to see how their system operates”.
Maggie added, “The farms here are run much more as a business. This is something we need to do at home to make anything out of farming. We need to find the person best able to run it as a business and make it profitable rather than just hand it on in a traditional way.”
“Everywhere we went, great slabs of beef appeared on the table usually through the traditional ‘asado’ or barbecue. There is no doubt the Argentinians value their beef and the amount produced and consumed is sizeable. People here eat more beef than do people in any other country — about 65kg (143 lbs) a year per person – compared to average of 18kg per person in the EU,” Maggie notes.
With the vast amount of beef consumed, it is no surprise that the largest cattle market is found in Argentina. Liniers Cattle Market in Buenos Aires covers over 34 hectares or a little over 84 acres, and supplies the domestic beef needs for Buenos Aires. Some 10,000 to 15,000 head of cattle are sold there each day, four days a week.
A whole system of walkways has been built over the market, allowing anyone to hover over the cattle and never set foot on the ground.
Planning for succession of Argentinian farms takes place in a very different way to here. In Argentina, a farmer can only dispose of 20% of his assets/property to who he chooses – the remaining 80% must be divided equally between all his offspring. This system has been in place in Argentina for a long time and removes the resentment that can be felt if land is given to one offspring. As the larger property is subdivided through the generations, what usually happens is that the farm is formed into a company with the siblings acting as shareholders, with those more actively involved being paid a wage as managers of the farm. If one sibling wishes to sell, they can sell to another sibling or to an outside shareholder. In this way, the size and possible income earning from the farm is not affected.
It might as well have been a community hall in the midlands of Ireland but it was the Fahy Centre in central Buenos Aires, and the hosts with the midlands accents were Argentinian. The Irish women in agriculture group were being welcomed to Argentina by the Irish-Argentine Society and the Irish Ambassador, Philomena Murnaghan. Nearly two-thirds of the Irish migration to Argentina was from Westmeath so many still speak English with Westmeath accents and have interesting mixes of Spanish first names and Irish surnames, such as Patricio Wallace and Oswaldo O’Connell.
The pride the society feels in its connection to Ireland is immense and as word of the visit spread, there was another reception to greet the group as they travelled out to the Pampas area in the town of Venado Tuerto, where the Irish-Argentine society is lead by José Wallace.
The Irish migration to Argentina is unique in a number of ways. It is the only large Irish migration to a non-English speaking country, and the migration was mostly to rural areas. It is estimated that there are at least 300,000 people of Irish descent in Argentina.