Oscar Bumade owns a small but successful ranch with about
60 head of cattle. He has little need for Gauchos, but he
is a lover of the silver daggers and decorations which were
symbols of Gaucho honor. Oscar's wealth enables him to pay
a price for a collection no Gaucho could ever have afforded.
Juan Jose Draghi:
Today, traditional Gaucho ornaments are still made by silversmiths
like Juan Jose Draghi. Juan Jose's workshop is legendary in
Argentina for the precision and beauty of its work. His sons
have all studied with master craftsmen in Italy. The pieces
they create fetch exorbitant prices. The dagger Oscar Bumade
is buying will cost him twenty-five hundred dollars. This
is an extravagance fewer and fewer can afford.
Economic realities have forced the gracious old estates to
become efficient enterprises. Hector Torroba has been a rancher
for over fifty years. Over time he has witnessed enormous
change. Natural cycles are now hurried along by science and Gauchos no longer ride the range. They are more likely
to be found injecting cattle with hormones. This insures that
all the cows calve at the same time. Though the cattle industry
continues to grow, the recent economic crisis makes it hard
for ranchers to resist making even higher profits from intensive
Until a few years ago Argentina was the world's eighth richest country. The capital, Buenos Aires is a sophisticated slice of the old world. It vies in elegance with Paris, Madrid, and London. But recently, for its 12 million residents, a robust way of life turned violent.
Riots in Buenos Aires
Rioters protested as Argentina's banking system suddenly collapsed.
Life savings vanished over night, and a seemingly prosperous economy
was replaced by poverty and anger. But as Argentina continues to
suffer from economic uncertainty, there is one industry that still
gives the appearance of prosperity.
Ranching in Argentina is not just big business, it's the heart and soul of the nation.
Only a few miles from the center of Buenos Aires is one of the largest livestock markets in the world. Almost 15,000 head of cattle are bought and sold in a day well over 2 million every year. Ranching in Argentina is not just big business, it's the heart and soul of the nation.
Much of Argentina is a vast prairie of fertile soil an ocean of grass extending from the Atlantic coast to the snow capped Andes. Here, in the shadow of fourteen thousand-foot peaks, is the Argentine State of Patagonia. Shaped by the never-ending winds that roll off the eastern slope of the Andes, this is a place famed for its desolation and rugged beauty.
Most of Patagonia was once a region of nomadic Indians. They are
almost all gone now, driven from the land or massacred during the
early days of colonization. All that remain are a few ancient cave
paintings very little to remind Argentina of its indigenous
Patagonia's extreme isolation attracted a colorful crew of outsiders. Near this remote railroad station Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up for a few years. The American outlaws bought a 12,000-acre ranch. Four years later they returned to crime. Driven out, they say, by the harsh Patagonian climate.
But most of Patagonia's immigrants were honest, hard working sheep farmers. They came here because the terrain was perfect for raising sheep. Several times a year the herdsmen on the El Manantial ranch round-up their livestock. The herding takes several weeks because in Patagonia thousands of acres of grazing land are needed to support even a modest-sized flock.
An astonishing eighty percent of Patagonia is in danger of turning into a desert.
After the sheep are driven into corrals, they are separated. Some are designated for market, others for shearing. The average sheep will yield about ten pounds of wool. Once this was a thriving industry, but today it's a business that's struggling. Falling prices, a weak economy and competition from synthetic fibers are problems, but environmental degradation is the most serious and it's slowly destroying the wool industry.
Seventy years ago, Patagonia's prairie supported twenty million sheep. Today it can barely support eight million animals. Overgrazing has stripped the land of grass, leaving the topsoil vulnerable to wind erosion. An astonishing eighty percent of Patagonia is in danger of turning into a desert.
But the most fertile part of the pampas is in central and eastern Argentina. The weather here is constant mild and moist not nearly as harsh as in Patagonia… perfect for raising cattle.
Crop production is the greatest threat to the pampas. Farmers are digging up an ecosystem that evolved over tens of thousands of years. Once converted to cropland, the pampas will never come back.
The pampas of Argentina have a long and romantic history. Much of it revolves around an almost mythical character the Gaucho. His freedom and bravado, celebrated in many poems and songs, once represented the spirit of Argentina's open range. In the 18th and 19th centuries the grasslands of Argentina were dominated by vast estates. The owners of those ranches saw themselves as South America's rural aristocracy country squires with a lavish lifestyle. The Gauchos were the cowhands of those estates. Independent and proud, they rode the open range herding cattle. With his wandering lifestyle and fierce code of honor the Gaucho was also the symbol of an earthy nobility. Today this is a way of life that's almost completely disappeared.
Crop production is the greatest threat to the pampas. Lured by rich
fertile soils and rising prices for produce, farmers now control
thirty percent of the grasslands. They are digging up an ecosystem
that evolved over tens of thousands of years. Once converted to
cropland, the pampas will never come back. But farming also brings
Without the grasslands to absorb the water during the rainy season the Pampas has become vulnerable to flooding. Even worse, the water is tainted by agricultural chemicals fertilizers and pesticides.
Suddenly rivers and aquifers are at risk. Though much of the Pampas still remains intact, for those that are still deeply attached to the land, for those that still earn a living riding the open plains of Argentina, any further loss of the grasslands could be devastating.