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Deforestation upsets daily life in Argentine forest

STORY: Northern Argentina’s vast Chaco forests are under pressure.

Trees are being cleared to make way for large-scale soy and cattle farms that can meet global demand.

The changes are taking place as a global trade deal hangs in the balance.

Some local residents say it could bring new jobs to the remote corner of South America.

But local Indigenous people warn their very way of life is at stake.

Noole lives in the Gran Chaco near the sleepy city of Las Lomitas.

Her family is Indigenous Pilaga.

The local leader says trees set a natural rhythm of life here - providing food, water, shade as well as supporting the ecosystem.

Land clearing disrupts that.

''We, the Pilaga, are very affected by land clearing because clearing leads to drought, to tornados. The trees themselves play an important role in the environment.”

The Gran Chaco, a carbon sink often overshadowed by the Amazon rainforest to the north, is the continent’s second largest woodland.

It’s twice the size of California.

But government data shows an area almost 90 times the size of New York City has been demolished in Argentina’s native forest between 1998 and 2021.

That’s happened almost entirely in the Gran Chaco.

An impending trade deal between South America’s Mercosur bloc and the European Union could ramp up exports and land clearing…

… although the EU is likely to tack on tough rules to limit deforestation.

Some locals say the deal could help create jobs in a region where half the population lives in poverty.

Argentina enacted a forest law in 2007 and many countries have import rules aimed at deterring illegal deforestation.

Still, local officials say enforcement is another matter.

"Most of the time, there are no fines high enough to serve as a discouragement," says the environment ministry’s forests director, Martin Monaco. "The business is lucrative and it wrongfully goes on."

Local farmers say they’re already seeing environmental changes on their doorstep...

Higher temperatures...

And gusty wind that blows in from the north...

As for Noole... she says for people like her, trade deals and distant regulations mean very little.

“The truth is, as an Indigenous person, we listen to international treaties, agreements but those agreements are for the economic and business world, for the world in which the Argentine economy operates. For us as an Indigenous community, the reality is that we are not part of these agreements. Those countries (that make up Mercosur) and the European Union don't know the Indigenous peoples because we were never in the negotiations. They never took us into account."