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Agricultural Credit in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1890–1914*

  • Jeremy Adelman (a1)

In 1879, for the first time, Argentina exported more wheat than it imported. A generation later the Republic figured among the top five exporters of wheat in the world and wheat had become its premier earner of foreign exchange. The expansion was by any account remarkable.1

With the expulsion of the Indians from the Pampa Húmeda in the late 1870s, hundreds of thousands of hectares of arable and highly fertile land were suddenly made available to agriculturalists. Railways, built largely with British capital, provided the means to ship new agricultural produce out of the region to the newly constructed ports. Immigrants flocked from Europe to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the vacant land, either as new property owners, as tenants or as wage-earners. The surge in the supply of land, labour and capital initiated a period of growth in Argentina, a growth which was shared by other regions of recent settlement which responded to similar opportunities.2

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1 For a general overview of the process of expansion see Conde, Roberto Cortés, El progreso argtntino. 1880–1914 (Buenos Aires, 1979); Alejandro, Carlos F. Díaz, Ensayos sobre la bistoria económica argentina (Buenos Aires, 1975), pp. 1774.

2 For an interesting comparison of two regions of recent settlement, see Solberg, Carl E., The Prairies and the Pampas: Agrarian Policy in Canada and Argentina, 1880–1930 (Stanford, 1987).

3 Tulchin, Joseph, ‘El crédito agrario en la Argentina, 1910–1926’, Desarrollo Económico vol. 18, no. 71 (1012, 1978).

4 Guy, Donna, ‘Dependency, the Credit Market, and Argentine Industrialization, 1860–1940’, Business History Review, vol. 58, no. 4 (Winter, 1984).

5 Sabato, Jorge, ‘Notas sobre la formatión de la clase dominante en la Argentina moderna (1880–1915)’, unpublished manuscript, CISEA, 05 1979.

6 Letter to Dardo Rocha, 1 March 1884, Archivo Dardo Rocha, Archivo General de la Nación (herein AGN), Legajo 196.

7 BPBA, Memoria de 1886.

8 BPBA, Memoria de 1887.

9 For a recent treatment of the crisis see Conde, Roberto Cortés, ‘Nuevos aspectos en la crisis de 1890’, Serie Documentos de Trabajo 145, Instituto Torcuato Di Telia (Buenos Aires, 1987).

10 The slips, ‘cédulas’, are located in the AGN, Segundo Censo Nacional, II, Económico-Social, Legajos 35, 56, 80.

11 Nacional, Congreso, Investigatión Parlamentaria sobre Agricuttura, Ganadería, Industrias Derivadas y Colonizatión, Anexo B, Informe del Comisario D. Francisco Segui (Buenos Aires, 1898), p. 295.

12 Boletín Mensual de la Directión General de Estadística de la Provincia de Buenos Aires VII: 66 (01 1906).

13 Banco Hipotecario de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Memoria Correspondiente al período junto 1906–mayo 1907; BPBA, Memoria y Balance General (12 1908).

14 Doman, Roberto Ramm, Manual de la Bolsa de Comertio de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, 1912), p. 87.

15 BPBA, Memoria y Balance General (12 1920).

16 Nacional, Congreso, Investigatión Parlamentaria, p. 371.

17 La Agricultura, VIII: 397, 23 08 1900. There were, however, exceptions, such as the Banco Popular of Bragado. But the latter's pro-agricultural lending was not contagious.

18 Conde, Cortés, El Progreso, pp. 107–17.

19 Anales de la Sociedad Rural Argentina, vol. XXVI, 1892. William Walker, an estanciero in General Villegas, leased plots on a similar basis. For a sample, see Archivo Walker, Copiador de Correspondencia III, 1 June 1902.

20 La Agricultura, vol. IX, no. 457, 31 10 1901.

21 La Agricultura, vol. 10, no. 515, 11 12 1902.

22 Solberg, , The Prairies and the Pampas, pp. 6073.

23 Conde, Cortés, El progreso argentino, p. 166.

24 Girola, Carlos, ‘Investigatión Agrícola en la República Argentina’, Anales del Ministerio de Agricultura (1904), p. 275. The urban bias in mortgage lending could well have been a legacy of the Baring crisis which struck rural financing harder than it did urban finance.

25 La Production Nacional, vol. I, no. 7, 1 08 1895.

26 Nacional, Congreso, Investigación Parlamentaria, pp. 394404.

27 Directión General de Estadística de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Boletín Mensual, vol. 16, no. 175 (02 1915).

28 This was clear even before the 1890 crash. See Quesada, Hector C., El crédito territorial en la República Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1888), p. 111.

29 Lahitte, Emilio, ‘Cosecha 1901–1902’, Boletín de Agricultura y Ganadería, vol. 2, no. 41 (15 09 1902).

30 The experience was not unlike that described by Bogue and Bogue in the United States: Allan, and Bogue, Margaret, ‘Profits and the Frontier Land Speculator’, Journal of Economic History, vol. 17, no. 1 (03 1957). In this sense, speculation may accelerate the flow of resources. Financial capital, by being more mobile than other resources, responds more easily to changing expectations. The inflow of financial concerns acts as a magnet for less elastic resources, productive capital and labour. If there is a perverse effect, it is that concentrated financial speculation distorts the allocation of land. This was much less the case in the United States, where financing, while speculative, was more accessible to small operators.

31 Archivo del BPBA, Créditos Hipotecarios, 015–3–1, Documento 10.

32 Lahitte, Emilio, ‘Cosecha 1901–1902’, p. 977. It is worth noting that Lahitte's views of credit changed considerably. By 1912 he upheld the existing system and had become a fierce critic of tenant farmers for being more like lottery players than genuine rational producers: see ‘Crédito Agnrícola (1912)’, Informes y Estudios de la Dirección de Economía Rural y Estadística, vol. II (Buenos Aires, 1916).

33 Boletín de la Liga Agraria de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, vol. II, no. 5 (01 1899); Vivares, Jose, Crédito agrícola (Buenos Aires, 1907), p. 104.

34 Coni, Emilio, Proyecto de Ley Creando la Caja Nacional de Colonizatión (Buenos Aires, 1923), p. 286; Vivares, , Crédito Agrícola, p. 10.

35 The transaction is recorded in the volume ‘Cartas’, vol. II, 1907–1909.

36 La Producción Nacional, vol. I, no. 10 (16 09 1895).

37 La Tierra, vol. II: 59 (2 12 1913).

38 Anales de la Sociedad Rural, vol. XL1V, no. 5 (0910 1905).

39 Nacional, Congreso, Investigatión Parlamentaria, p. 381.

40 Boletín dt Agricultura y Ganadería, vol. VI, no. 99 (03, 1906).

41 Lahitte, . ‘Crédito Agrícola’, pp. 150–3. Close readers of this piece, and of the explanation of the rural unrest of 1912 on the part of Government officials, will note the similarity. Lahitte, it would seem, wrote speeches for the Minister.

42 Tulchin, ‘El crédito agrario’.

* I am grateful to Roberto Cortés Conde, Juan Carlos Korol, Eduardo Míguez, Christopher Platt and Hilda Sabato for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, and to the Riat family for allowing me access to their papers.

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