A Prescription For What's Ailing Chile

It used to be South America's shining star. But these days, things seem to be a bit rotten in the state of Chile, where corruption scandals are eroding public confidence.

A haze engulfs the sky over Santiago, Chile
A haze engulfs the sky over Santiago, Chile
Roberto Pizzaro


SANTIAGO Chile isn't doing well. The economy has lost steam, the main institutions are in crisis, businesspeople cheat, and politicians have lost credibility. And this isn't just one person's pessimistic opinion. It's what a large majority of Chileans see and feel, according to polls taken by local consultants CEP (Public Studies Center) and CERC-Mori.

Compare this country with the dynamic Chile after the transition to democracy, in the 1990s, when it was able to grow, generate jobs and reduce poverty, and when then President Ricardo Lagos was able to reassure the public, in one of his more difficult moments, to "let the institutions do their job." Today, those institutions are in crisis and unable to appease the people — except for those with power. We are starting to pay the price, it seems, for the country's acute inequalities, corruption and ultraliberal, every-man-for-himself approach.

The CEP results, released June 13, show an unusual drop in approval numbers for President Sebastián Piñera, a conservative. Half the population disapproves of the job he's doing and only 25% finds it acceptable. All his public policies receive negative ratings, compared to the 37% approval rating they earned in a CEP poll from December 2018.

Chile's productive model is largely exhausted.

While campaigning, Piñera and his allies generated great expectations that they could boost the employment and create more jobs. But now, 61% of the population feels the economy is stagnant and 15% believes it is in decline. And it's not just economics that Chileans are worried about. People are also complaining about crime, pensions and healthcare.

Structural problems

The government has spent much time blaming the center-left opposition and the preceding administration, led by Michelle Bachelet, for lagging growth. There has been a lot of emphasis on the tax system in particular, though little progress in changing it. And in this and other areas, government initiatives have not been productive as it has struggled to harmonize positions.

The reality, though, is that the reduced rhythm of economic activity is not temporary. It's a structural problem, rather: The productive frontier has narrowed, and that's not Piñera's fault. Economists and politicians on both the right and left have been reluctant to admit it, but Chile's productive model — based largely on the extraction and export of raw materials — is largely exhausted.

In other words, the development strategy, if one prefers the term, is not yielding the returns it used to. That's why Chile instead needs a diversified, knowledge-based economy, as Senator Guido Girardi, a leftist and one of the few politicians to spell it out publicly, has argued.

Pedestrians walking in busy Santiago, Chile — Mauro Mora

To spur growth and advance toward a higher developmental phase, Chile must inevitably push for a productive model that favors a greater aggregate value for our goods and services, and for that we need a substantial increase in investments in science, technology and innovation. At the same time, it's the state's job to provide the incentives that the private sector needs to commit itself to this effort. Only a diversified, knowledge-based economy can expand the productive frontier, boost growth, employment and wages, and make the country more competitive.

Trust issues

But the country's problems beyond the economy or the president's standing. We're also in trouble with regards to our politicians, the business class and the Republic's institutions.

The CERC-MORI's latest poll (May) revealed an abrupt drop in confidence in the country's key institutions, including the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and political parties. Only 6% of respondents expressed confidence in politicians in general. Political parties fared even worse (5%). Confidence in the country's business organizations is higher, but only somewhat (14%).

61% of the population feels the economy is stagnant and 15% believes it is in decline.

Never in the past three decades have our institutions and elected officials generated so little confidence, in part due to corruption. The government must be implacable, therefore, in cracking down on it, because in recent years we've seen widespread corruption among senior officers in the military and national police. We've witnessed systematic fraud against consumers, and bribes paid to legislators to impose profit-friendly laws.

Even the tax collection agency, which had enjoyed a reputation of probity, has been caught protecting politicians and crooked businessmen instead of taking them to court. Little wonder that 64% of citizens no longer identify with any political party.

The judiciary has also lost prestige for failing to help clean up the institutions. No politician associated with several high-profile corruption cases has been jailed, itself a stark sign of inequalities in Chile. Such cases show the privileges the rich and powerful enjoy compared to ordinary folks who barely make ends meet. and who do feel the weight of laws. Together the causes of this disaffection indicate an ailing country that must change.

Chile needs a new development model. It needs determination in fighting corruption, and equal justice for all. And it needs rigorous public oversight of politicians and businessmen to ensure that what they do is transparent. Otherwise, the country's general malaise is likely to continue.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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