Argentina occupies the southern part of South America. It is the second largest South American country. The island of Tierra del Fuego lies at its southern tip separated from the mainland by the Magellan strait. The country is in the temperate zone between 22o S to 56o S latitude. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east.
Study the map of Argentina and make a note of the countries that share their borders with Argentina. It is nearly four-fifths the size of India with an area of 2.7 million sq.km. It extends from north to south for nearly 3700 km from Bolivia to cape Town and its maximum width is 1500 km.
Argentina can be divided into four major physical divisions :
(a) Eastern slopes
(b) Patagonia plateau
(d) Gran Chaco
The eastern slopes of the Andes mountains (the highest mountains, 6960 metres) border the western part of the country and run through north to south separating Argentina from Chile. They have high snow-covered peaks and glacial lakes, Mt. Aconcagua lies in the Andes. Locate it on the map. The flat-level Patagonia plateau to the south-east is mostly a cold rainless desert which gently slopes eastwards. Small rivers drain this area. In the north, the Gran Choco is occupied by marshy lowlands. The river Parana drains this area. The river originates in the Brazilian highlands and is joined by tributaries coming from the Andes.
The Pampas are treeless lowlands with luxuriant grasses that cover about 1/5 of Argentina. In the Spanish language, the word Pampas means extensive plains. They are made up of very fertile deep soil. They are drained by the Parana-Paraguay and Uruguay rivers. Flowing southwards through Argentina, these rivers reach the sea at the estuary of Rio-de-Plata.
Climate and Natural Vegetation
Though most of Argentina lies in the temperate zone, it has a wide range of climates. Northern Argentina is hot in summer, being tropical in its location. Temperatures in general decease southwards. The effect of altitude is felt. The lowlands are much warmer than the Andes uplands. In summer the onshore winds bring more rain from the Atlantic Ocean. Rainfall in general decreases as you go from the east near the coast where it is 100 cm, to the west where it is 50 cm. The predominant vegetation of Argentina is rich moist grass, except in the marshy, densely forested warm temperate ‘Gran Chaco’. In the rest of Argentina, few trees grow near the river banks. The region of Patagonia plateau is rainless and cold. It lies in the rain shadow of the Andes mountains.
Natural Resources and their Utilization
Forest Resources : The forests of the Gran Chaco yield, the quebracho tree which gives valuable hardwood for making railway sleepers and fencing poles. The wood is so hard that often the tree is called ‘axebreaker’. Tannin is extracted from its bark for tanning leather.
The grasslands of “Argentina are ideal for animal rearing and wheat cultivation. The original grass has been replaced by a more nutritious alfalfa grass. Patagonia is nearly a desert with some cacti.
The cultivated fields and grazing lands of pampas have made Argentina the richest agricultural country of the world. The main grain growing areas are the rainier eastern pampas. Wheat, maize, linseed, alfalfa, sunflowers, vegetables and fruits are cultivated.
South-east of these grain-lands lies the chief grazing region of Argentina. Where rainfall is more, cattle are reared. In the drier lands towards the Andes, sheep rearing is more important. This is because sheep can survive on scanty grasses.
In Argentina cattle are reared on very large farms called ‘estancias’. They are 10,000 hectares in area on an average and each would have nearly twenty thousand head of cattle. The cattle graze in fenced pastures. When there is a shortage of grass or water they are driven to another pasture by ‘guachos’ (Argentina’s cowboys on horseback). They are of European and American-Indian blood. The guachos keep very busy in mending broken fences, inoculating and branding the cattle, driving them to new pastures, harvest alfalfa and attend to their own horses. Cattle are fattened and sent to ‘frigorificos’ after slaughtering.
The frigorificos are huge chilled houses at ports where the carcasses of animals are kept before they are loaded on to refrigerated ships. Every part of the animal is used. Apart from meant, leather from hides, buttons from horns, glue from hooves and fertiliser and bone-china from bones are made. Sheep provide meat and wood.
Mineral Resources, Industries, Trade and Transport
Argentina has limited resources of coal, lead, copper, zinc, gold, silver, sulphur and oil. Most of the industries are based on the agricultural raw material. Products made from animal husbandry such as meat, milk, cheese, butter and leather are processed. These industries are concentrated around Buenos Aires. Meat packing and flour milling are most important.
Other industries are chemicals, textiles, machinery, motor vehicles, paper and consumer durables. Recently big cement plants and oil refineries have come up.
Being a low-lying area, transport lines are easily constructed. The Trans-Andean Railway runs from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso in Chile. Air transport is also well developed. All major cities of the country are linked by air. Buenos Aires is a major port and the capital city. It accounts for one third of the countries population. It is also an important railway terminus. Other cities of Argentina are Mar Del Plata, Cardoba and Rosario. Argentina mainly exports meats, leather, wheat, maize, linseed oil, dairy products, wool and tannin. It imports machinery, minerals, chemicals, iron and steel, fuel and fabricating oils.
Argentina has a total population of over 35 million (1997). 75 per cent of this population lives in cities. Average density of population is about 13 persons per square kilometer. The people speak Spanish and Italian. Most people prefer to live in the central plains of Argentina and around the capital city. From the central core area, population thinks out in all directions. It is very sparse in the Gran Chaco in the north, Patagonia in the south and Andes in the west.