In Chile, the VIII Agricultural and Forestry Census, CAF, was carried out in 2021. A census of this nature had not been carried out in the country since 2007. During those 14 years between one census and another, Chilean agriculture has undergone very relevant changes, which are precisely revealed insofar as they are analyzed. and the data produced by each of these instruments for measuring and characterizing the agricultural and forestry situation are compared. But since a census is a technically complex matter, which requires a lot of work to process and order the information collected, the final results of the last one are not yet known, only preliminary results. However, these already allow some relevant comparisons to be made in relation to the 2007 census.
In the first place, the country’s forestry and agricultural area has been reduced, going from 31,648,802 hectares in 2007 to only 24,752,394 million in 2021. Therefore, a decrease of 21.8% is observed, which which is a sufficiently substantive percentage to merit the search for some explanation. Is it due to erosion, degradation and destruction of ecosystems? Or is it due, in addition, to the advance of the urban world on agricultural land? The final data of the VIII census, which is supposed to be published during this year, can shed light that helps explain the causes and characteristics of this phenomenon.
Within this area, that where natural or planted forests are located has decreased from 15,897,845 hectares, in 2007, to 12,163,078 in 2021, which implies a decrease of 23.8%. This goes against the general idea that in Chile, for better or for worse, there has been a substantial advance in terms of forest plantations. A possible explanation for this apparent contradiction could be that the destruction of the native forest has been faster than its replacement by new plantations. It is, in any case, a question that awaits the final data from the census to be able to elucidate.
The area with natural and improved grasslands has decreased, in turn, by 25.1% in the period between the two mentioned censuses, which is complemented by a decrease in the mass of cattle, which went from 3,789,697 units, in 2007, to 2,526,945 in 2021.
The only category of land use that has increased between the two censuses is that dedicated to crops and forage, which went from 2,139,127 hectares, in 2007, to 2,400,636, in 2021, which represents an increase of 12.2 %. Without prejudice to this, the area dedicated to cereals reached a total of 423,033 hectares in 2021 -12% less than in the previous census-; that of legumes and tubers reached 48,775 hectares, showing a decrease of 32%; industrial crops occupied 50,144 hectares in 2021, 28% less than in 2007. Vine plantations for wine and pisco reached 99,599 hectares in the last census, which represents 24% less than in the previous census. Fruit trees, including table grapes, have reached the figure of 381,691 hectares, which shows an increase of 23% compared to the figures for 2007.
One last fact: the land under irrigation decreased by 18.6%, going from 1,108,559 hectares in 2007 to 902,158 in 2021, which can find its explanation in the prolonged period of drought that has occurred in the country.
All these preliminary data seem to show that Chilean agriculture has not undergone minor quantitative changes, but rather is inserted in a process of deep and permanent structural transformations, which forces us to review the economic policies that are carried out with respect to this sector, especially in light of the need to protect the food security of Chileans.