“Scientific” Methods and Indigenous Knowledge: Irrigation and Water Management Systems in the Semi-Arid Southern Pampas of Argentina, 1880–1940

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 2:30 PM
Forum Room (Omni Shoreham)
Yovanna Pineda, University of Central Florida
In this paper, I examine the Argentine government’s efforts to develop farming communities in the semi-arid region of the Pampas between 1880 and 1940.  I argue that the relative success of immigrant farm communities by the 1930s occurred because of the combined systems of agricultural science, immigrants’ adaptive skills, and local indigenous knowledge.  By the 1870s, the Republic of Argentina had strategically planned to settle the final frontier of the south. The success of ranching, wheat farming and a growing immigrant population in the northern and central Pampas motivated the government to plan a military campaign, the “Conquest of the Desert,” to eradicate the Indian population of the southern region in 1879-80. In turn-of-the-century Argentina, the Positivist influence prevalent among the intellectual elite and military engineers called for the application of scientific solutions to mold and “conquer” the land.  By 1898, the government established the Ministries of Agriculture and Public Works. In the southern Pampas, their missions were to use science to increase agricultural production regardless of the ecological costs.  Although the Ministries were willing to comply, the budget shortage and the lack of a professional staff and instruments limited how much scientific research could be applied in the Pampas. Also, agronomists and engineers had no historical memory about the land, climate, or seasonal water fluctuations. Hence, they came to rely on the oral histories of the indigenous population about the local environment. Although outwardly they ridiculed local knowledge as “barbaric”, they could not neglect it. This paper reveals that they incorporated degrees of this indigenous knowledge into the official discourse of their reports. These reports demonstrated an insider’s knowledge about the expectations and timing of the climate and seasonal river flooding. With this information, they reduced costs by knowing where to set up reservoirs, irrigation centers, and dams.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>