The labor regime in Peruvian agro-industry and its impact on the soil

By Patricio Velarde, Dalia Benavente and Carmen Rodríguez.

On November 30, 2020, hundreds of Peruvian farmers began a series of protests in the city of Ica and other Peruvian regions, in which they denounced that they were victims of labor abuse and that they worked in precarious conditions.

Thus, as a result of these manifestations, Law N° 31087 was enacted, repealing the controversial Law for the Promotion of the Agrarian Sector, Law N ° 27360 or Chlimper Law, as well as the Emergency Decree N ° 043-2019-2019. Regarding our current situation, an analysis of the implications of the derogation of the Climper Law on the agro–industrial labor situation and the impact of agro-industrial activity on the environment is proposed, with the purpose of contributing to a new Law for the Promotion of Agriculture that ensures working conditions in harmony with the environment and the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this context, it should be noted that the repealed law was promulgated in 2000, during the government of Alberto Fujimori; and it benefited agro–export companies with a 15% income tax payment, when for the private sector, in general, the payment is 29%, as well as with a lower contribution to the social security of employees. This law was in effect until 2021, but was extended last year by then–President Martin Vizcarra until December 31 of 2031, through an Emergency Decree. It included a special labor regime and a promotional framework with tax and social security scopes, applicable not only to the agrarian sector, but also to the aquaculture sector, farming or breeding activities, forestry and wildlife activities.

During the last 20 years agro–industry has been a highly profitable economic activity; however, it does not provide benefits in proportion to the economic growth perceived to all the workers subordinated to it. There are cases where many of them did not receive labor benefits because agro–industrial companies outsourced the hiring of labor.

Therefore, the strikes carried out at the end of 2020— which had a greater media presence as they followed the national protests over the impeachment of Vizcarra —sought to repeal Law No. 27360, increase the daily payment and the signing of formal contracts that guarantee essential rights such as paid vacations, social security and recognition of overtime. Nevertheless, according to specialists such as Dr. Jorge Castillo Guzman, the previous premise constitutes a wrong position since he considers that the problem of agricultural workers is not found in the repealed law but in common and structural conditions such as misinformation , illegal action of agro–industrial businessmen, taking advantage of the workers' state of need, among others, which were further aggravated by little control to no sanctions by the Peruvian Government (Castillo, 2020).

However, on December 29th, after 5 modifications to the text, a new agrarian law was approved. This new text included as highlights: granting a 30% bonus on the minimum wage of agro–industrial workers (without remunerative character) and gradually increasing the shares in profits and the contribution to EsSalud up to 9%. While these conditions are less unfair than the previous ones, they do not manage to satisfy all the aspirations of the workers in this sector who have been fighting for their rights for several years.

On the other hand, agro-industrial activity is also regulated by the Environmental Management Regulations of the Agricultural Sector. This regulation aims to promote and regulate environmental management when developing activities of the agricultural sector, as well as the conservation and sustainable use of renewable natural resources that are under the administration of the agricultural sector, such as water, soil, flora and fauna. Likewise, it regulates environmental management instruments, measures, procedures and other aspects related to the environment and the agro–industrial activity.

To estimate the impact that agro–industrial companies have on the environment, it must be taken into account that they usually operate in flat areas or areas with gentle slopes. This explains why most of the Peruvian agro–industrial activity takes place in coastal areas. These activities use plenty of agrochemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. An overdose of agrochemicals may impact the development of soil organisms; whose biological processes are responsible for the biogeochemical supply that sustains production. In addition, the physical degradation of productive soils can also be caused by the deterioration of the soil structure, and the erosion or loss of soil, generated by industrial activity (IDEAM, n.d.).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, soil degradation is a set of processes that reduce the current and potential capacity to produce goods and services in quantity and quality. The most visible effect of degradation is the decrease in plant biomass, hindering water retention, rooting of plants and the availability of nutrients. For this reason, the fertilizers used in agricultural activity have less and less effectiveness, which is compensated with greater amounts of fertilizer. Likewise, there are three different types of degradation: physical, chemical and biological. Each of these types of degradation is produced by different processes of soil degradation. Following, we will indicate those degradation processes directly caused by agro–industrial activity.

Physical degradation occurs when one or more soil physical properties are deteriorated or eliminated due to soil compaction, or as a consequence of physical or hydric erosion. Compaction can occur due to the transit of heavy machinery or the continuous steps of heavy farm animals; while erosion consists of the detachment of the soil or its transportation to be deposited elsewhere. On the other hand, chemical degradation occurs given the alterations to the chemical balance due to factors such as the unusual increase in concentration or the inclusion of exogenous compounds to the edaphic environment. This degradation is due to acidification processes and soil contamination, where both processes are the result of a misuse of agrochemicals. Finally, biological degradation is the disturbance caused to the community of organisms that live in the soil, the alteration of biological processes and the significant reduction of the organic matter content. The processes that generate biological degradation that are linked to agro–industries are the loss of structural and functional biodiversity, and the alteration of cycles of matter. Given that monocultures impede biodiversity and intensive agriculture inhibits natural cycles of organic degradation (Ciemat, 2007).

Just as the framework that regulates agro–industrial activity in the Peruvian territory must ensure quality of life and adequate working conditions for the people who dedicate themselves to said activity, it must also be aligned with the SDGs by promoting agricultural practices that allow soils to be cultivated by future generations. Otherwise, agro–business will not be sustainable, leading to job losses and endangering food security of the population.

In this regard, the efforts of the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation (MINAGRI, in Spanish) are appreciated, as during the month of December 2020 has been promoting the development of the virtual event "Open House", which seeks to bring together various sectors and entities, local and regional government officials and those who make up the productive chain of the agriculture and irrigation sector in environmental management processes. Similarly, MINAGRI pursues the objective of introducing the new Environmental Management Regulation for Agrarian Development and Irrigation (DGAAA in Spanish), which is innovative due to the incorporation of environmental sustainability mechanisms and digital tools to process and digitize information.


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