Argentina's main farming organisations staged a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, suspending the sale of grain and cattle and taking to the streets to demand changes in the economic policy of President Alberto Fernandez's government.
Grouped together by the Mesa de Enlace industry group, rural producers protested in demand of tax relief and a normalised supply of fuel, after suffering from diesel shortages in recent weeks at the height of the harvest.
Agricultural leaders have been threatening a stoppage of commercial sales for weeks and finally settling on a 24-hour halt to the sale of grain and livestock.
Hundreds of people mobilised on roads across the country on Wednesday, some driving their cars along roads with Argentine flags hanging out the window, others marching on horses, others driving tractors. There were no roadblocks, as the Mesa de Enlace’s leaders had requested beforehand.
The main rally, in which leaders criticised the "tax burden" the sector faces, took place at the symbolically chosen city of Gualeguaychú in Entre Ríos Province – a location associated with 2008 agro-industry resistance to an attempt to impose a greater tax burden on grain exporters. That bid was led by then-president and current vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
'Cry of desperation'
"It is a cry of desperation. The campo can’t give more, not only because of tax pressure, but also because of the pressure felt by the lack of policies. There is uncertainty and distrust," said Jorge Chemes, president of Confederaciones Rurales Argentina on the eve of the strike.
Argentina, one of the world's leading food producers and the world's top exporter of soybean oil and meal, has benefited from the surge in grain and oilseed prices as a result of the war in Ukraine.
But the conflict also made imports of fertilisers and fuels, essential inputs for farmers more expensive. Argentina imports 60 percent of the fertilisers it consumes, and 15 percent came from Russia.
Industry leaders cited a list of complaints, including the shortage and overpricing of diesel and fertilisers, the exchange rate gap, the tax burden and policies "that are harmful to agriculture, as well as others that go beyond the sector.
Carlos Achetoni, the president of Federación Agraria, said the pressures on farmers were "deepening with the crisis we are experiencing in the country."
‘Leads to nowhere’
Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur questioned the 24-hour strike, describing it as a measure that "leads to nowhere." President Alberto Fernández's government “has always favoured dialogue,” he added.
"With great respect and humility, we do not agree with this strike. It leads to nowhere. We had serious difficulties with the supply of diesel, there is a very complex situation for energy matters worldwide, and fortunately this has been resolved," said the official, adding that “supply is gradually returning to normal."
Agricultural producers are demonstrating just two weeks after Silvina Batakis took office as economy minister following the resignation of her predecessor, Martín Guzmán, amid exchange rate turbulence and severe inflation. Prices are already projected to rise 76 percent this calendar year.
Agro-industrial exports are expected to reach a record US$41 billion in 2022, some US$3 billion more than in 2021.