Agricultural Development in La Pampa
Argentina’s agrarian expansion fueled the country’s economic growth at the beginning of the twentieth century and was part of a broader economic process spanning several rural areas in Latin America that developed forms of commercial agriculture. The incorporation ofwhat was then referred to as the National Territory of La Pampa and as a productive area in the Pampas region was the result of a military campaign to annex new territories to Argentina at the end of the ninetheenth century. This was the last period of military conquest and land occupation in Argentina’s history, during which the government sought to expand the country’s internal frontier west of the province of Buenos Aires. The changes in production during these decades were the result of a general growth in economic activities related to farming and cattle ranching in Argentina. However, in La Pampa territory these changes did not take place synchronically with those occurring throughout the Argentinean pampas. The first stage, associated with the initial productive process in the area at the end of nineteenth century, was dependent on the westward expansion of the frontier from the province of Buenos Aires. During the first years of the twentieth century, the major activity was extensive cattle ranching, involving railway transportation of live cattle, wool, and other by-products. From the 1910s onwards, there was a shift to an agricultural economy, with an emphasis on wheat production. The agrarian expansion occurred mainly between the 1910s and 1920s. This last process was closely linked to factors such as the arrival of migrants, the availability of more and better means of transport, increased division of land, and the introduction of many new farming techniques that diversified farm production. The growth in production was possible thanks to a system of land ownership that combined landowners and tenants, although the latter was predominant in the Pampas. In the National Territory of La Pampa, the 1914 national census determined that 62.4 % of producers were tenants.
Agricultural expansion was also related to the construction of Argentina’s financial system. In Argentina, the conservative politics of banks and the large proportion of tenant farmers shaped a system where commercial credit played a central role in farming. Since the late nineteenth century, and afterwards, many called for a reform of the banking system and better and cheaper rural credit. The discussion centered on the creation of a specific law and institution to provide agrarian credit. The general feeling concerning the marketing and financing of cereal production was reflected in contemporary opinions published outside the country, such as that of William Pickering Rutter, who argued:
The Argentine small farmer —or “ranchero” —suffers many disadvantages in the selling of his wheat. Frequently, he falls into the clutches of the “almacenero” or general store man. This person is ready to provide all necessary provisions, implements, and so on, on terms profitable to himself, including the financing of the crop when harvested. His store is usually at the railway station.
According to Jospeh Tulchin, an exponent of the classic historiographical position, by 1910, there were two credit systems in Argentina. One was the formal, institutional system represented by the nation’s banks. The other was informal, consisting of private commercial companies that used the facilities of the banking system but were independent of it. Only the wealthiest landowners had direct access to bank credit. The overwhelming majority of rural producers—who were responsible for producing the largest proportion of the nation’s agricultural output—had to turn to local merchants for credit, who also acted as acopiadores (grain brokers). Despite these general observations, there was a notable absence of any well-rounded or sustained historical research of the merchant sector until a few years ago.
In sum, during the peak of Argentina’s economic expansion farmers faced a bottleneck, namely, a lack of appropriate financing mechanisms. Institutionally, Argentina provided an official rural credit system only until the 1930s. Thus, at the time when the country’s primary sector was experiencing its greatest growth, lending practices were grounded on several commercial mechanisms, with rural merchants playing a dominant role as financial intermediaries in the Pampas.
A & C Black, 1911):15.