Chaco region in Argentina

Silvateam’s history of compliance with the environment

«Green management has become a common term in recent years. The equivalent phrase Silvateam stands by is respecting nature. This valuable lesson has been handed down from generation to generation»

Paolo Battaglia who is one of the founders of the Silvateam family and still today is head of the Piedmont Group truly values respecting nature. For decades Paolo has been personally engaged in the management of the Argentinean manufacturing plant and clearly represents one of the main aspects of the Silvateam’s experience in the “dark gold” region of Argentina.

This philosophy still today characterises the working methods of the Group. The Group pays close attention to environmental protection, respect for local communities and their traditions and social and economic promotions. The group not only promotes the workers but also has developed and grown this entire underdeveloped region.

The passages below were written as an excerpt of the interviews that Andrea Bienati and Maria Cristina Scalcinati have collected for “The valleys of tannin” which are stories of family businesses in the Monregalese region of Italy (Trauben editions, Turin 2004, pages 200-203). This is a volume which was edited by Robertino Ghiringhelli about the history of the Silvateam group.

Interviews on the history… And the history continues….

Robertino Ghiringhelli interviews Paolo Battaglia

Q. - In your last answer, you had begun to speak about an important fact: your relationship with the territory.

A. - We can define it as a complex relationship, but not a complicated one, since we are not only involved in the tannin factory but also in the social aspect of the region. In fact, our Group has improved its production techniques by introducing the use of the steel concentrators in 1971, which replaced the copper concentrators used since 1925. We are also proud of having been recognised as an example of foreign entrepreneurs who optimised the resources and progressed together with their own workers. Since 1983 we started the production with the first furfural production, used in oil refining and later furfuryl alcohol. So, we produce not only exports but also for the domestic market, so the tannins are not only useful for tanning. It is just a matter of chemistry and they can be turned into an ingredient for the food sector, especially in oenology. We have introduced in the local manufacturing plant European working standards, with all the social protection clauses included in the contracts which were unknown over here. We should say the Italian approach is working, because not even our competitors who have European parent companies and are also active in Argentina, has received the recognition awarded to us by the local authorities for our social promotion activity.

Q. - An ideal world, but when we think today about Argentina, suddenly images come to mind about demonstrations in parks due to inflation and the economic crisis affecting doctors as well as workers, employees and farmers.

A.- The crisis of these last years is economic, not one of the resources. The “resources per citizens” ratio is very high; the problem has been the public indebtedness which was out of control. Even before the devaluation, the cost of labour as well as the wood was extremely low. Nowadays, it is ridiculous, so it is necessary to restore the dignity to the workers with salaries and grants and protect their mode of living “modus vivendi” without implementing excessive staff cutbacks. Otherwise, it will happen the same as with the quebracho, which if indiscriminately felled, will start to vanish little by little in some areas, and which will lead us to research other areas in which to settle.

Q. - A strong comparison, but that explains the relationship with nature in Chaco and Argentina. Quebracho is a feeling, as I had the opportunity to read in those quebracho-inspired poetry books.

A. - Yes, the quebracho is the sacred plant of the TobaIndians, who were the owners of Chaco before the arrival of the colonists at the beginning of 1900s. All around the trunks of this “huge plant”, sacred rituals were celebrated under its branches. It was a sort of natural sanctuary. It is said that the quebracho cries when it is chopped, immediately the tannin oozes and from those tears the richness of the Razachacois born. The legends have some truth and it is not a coincidence that the tannin is better in this area, where the lands have a slight incline and the necessary height, almost respectful of the Quebracho which stands for “plant breaking the axes”. Even the forestry laws seem to respect the sacredness of the tree, as they only allow to chop the “enfirmos”which mean sick trees, thus preserving the “renovales”which mean the young trees, which are not sufficiently seasoned for tannin extraction anyway. We try as much as possible not to damage the ecosystem and each year we plant 10,000 new trees, thus renewing our commitment to nature.

Unfortunately, as already mentioned before, the farmers no longer remember the myths and the legends. Today, they need to eat and to survive and they are deforesting large areas indiscriminately to plant soy. It is suitable for the world market, after the mad cow disease phenomenon and the scepticism toward chemical fertilisers which led to the plantation of a crop that represents an investment for the future, as it fertilises the lands in three or fours years.

Anyway, the quebracho still remains the primary source of work of the Razachaco. You can imagine that when in the nineties we introduced machinery to peel the bark of the trees, only 70% of the trunk is useful for tannins, the Government intervened in order to ban the use of these technologies which would have reduced the need of local labour, the peladores.

Q. - With some kind of integrated production with the natural environment then the legends are respected. But how has the market changed in the face of the invasion of synthetic tannins and chrome tanning?

A. - Today the world market has changed, production has decreased and also the demand for niche products for natural tanning, which have survived in Italy and are strongly defended by the tanning district of Santa Croce (in Tuscany). In Argentina, out of the 30 companies established in the post war period, only 3 have survived to this date and our production covers 43% of the total sales.

There is a crisis, the consumption has decreased and especially the purchasing capacity. That is the reason why chrome tanning is very powerful, with devastating effects on the environment and Brazil is proposing mimosa tannin extracts from its bark. We are not scared by this challenge; our market is in 50 countries and we have commercial offices in Italy, Argentina, China and Brazil.

Looking into the future does not mean chasing profit at any cost, but following our project and respecting our origins by making innovation and not distortion. Green managementis for us the equivalent of “respecting nature” taught by our parents when we were children and we wondered why the chestnuts“enfirmos” in bad conditions were used, legends always have some truth in them.

Q. - How would you like Silvateam Group to be remembered in Argentina?

A. - A company which has not impoverished the country, that has not taken advantage of it, that has created some kind of co-management with worker representatives, promoting respect for the individual. In the Chaco of the peronistas, of the desaparecidos (disappeared persons), we never had any problems. We have always created a bridge with the Monregalese region in Italy, based on work and training. Faced with computerisation and mechanisation, we train our workers for new challenges in Buenos Aires and in Mondovì, with scholarships and subsides. Only someone who is not hungry can do a good job and only one who has good self-esteem can work better. It is not a slogan but our path of development in Argentina. Probably the institutions which awarded us with distinctive recognitions saw it the same way.