On Wednesday 21 April, the second National Congress of the Argentinean Society of Territorial Planning (SAPLAT) opened with the first debate on ‘Productive models: social inclusion, economy and environment’. Speakers were invited to address the pressing issue of how new models for growth can be truly sustainable. I was fortunate enough to be joined by the National Director of Regional Development, National Ministry of Productive Development, Mercedes La Gioiosa. The debate was moderated by Oscar Madoery, expert in local economic development policies from Rosario; and Mauro Cesetti, regional representative of SAPLAT Northern Patagonia. More than 300 people followed the debate live and contributed to the discussion through the online chat.
One of the greatest challenges facing Argentina today is how to realise growth and increased productivity without compromising the environment, society, or future economic growth. The importance of the issue explains why, at this year’s SAPLAT National Congress, it was debated in the opening session which included an overview of Argentina’s progressive productive (and technological) policy. This must be considered in a context of Argentina’s distinct economy, environment and society which shape the country’s productivity.
The key factors can broadly be divided into those related to markets and resources – from Argentina’s strong concentration of the production structure, to the high availability of natural resources and external market restrictions; to those related to social structures including the presence of an informed and organised civil society, high levels of social exclusion, and marginality; and then those relating to the environment, specifically degradation and environmental injustice.
Productive policy to environmental policy
Any action towards realising sustainable productivity requires understanding of the interplay between these areas then urgent action in three ways. First, there must be radical change in the design and implementation of productive policy so that it is in conjunction with social and environmental policy. The idea that “first we solve economic development and then we look at the environment” is not viable, most importantly, because society rejects it but also because global markets do not accept either.
Secondly, there must be consideration of what technological and organisational alternatives exist when designing and negotiating a productive policy. For example, in agriculture reviewing what can be grown with or without pesticides; in mining exploring cyanide-free alternatives. Decision-making on policy must follow multi-criteria approaches that consider productivity and economic benefits alongside other dimensions for development.
The third urgent action is to develop more innovative ways of involving civil society in decisions about the extraction and use of natural resources and productive activities. The absence of spaces for civil participation can mean that citizens’ demands are often channelled into conflict. Instead, if adequate institutions were in place to encourage citizen engagement and empower participation, conflicts could be reduced, and progress made towards greater environmental, social and economic justice.
In response to this call for action, the National Director of Regional Development, Argentinean Ministry of Productive Development, Mercedes La Gioiosa, discussed sustainable productive development plans and gave as an example work with industrial parks. Oscar Madoery made the point that it is critical to integrate the needs and priorities of communities in discussions on development, particularly where it relates to the exploitation of natural resources.
There is a need for a fundamental shift in focus of development beyond intellectualising productivism to translate its ideas into practices then from practices to policies. In this way, the debate can contribute to realising sustainable change through new productive models.