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Sustainable City & Model – Urban agriculture in Rosario, Argentina

Posted in Models, Movements by fedwards on July 13th, 2007

Urban agriculture is renown for producing fresh fruit and veg while greening urban centers. Popular in the West as community gardens and rooftop gardens, urban gardening takes on a new significance in the developing world where it also returns an ability to look after one’s self and retain self-dignity when times turn for the worst. This article below, sourced from the S-DEV Geneva 05 Conference website, by Valeria Román, outlines a successful urban agriculture model in the town of Rosario, Argentina.

“Before they buy, people sometimes ask me how often you need to water the plants. I’m thrilled that people are interested in what I do”, says María Eva, 53 years. She had been jobless before she started selling aromatic herbs at a large market in Rosario, Argentina’s third largest city located 300 km northwest of Buenos Aires.

It’s a very cold day and the sun refuses to show its face. María Eva is not discouraged for all that and nourishes the hope of selling all her wares: juniper, boldo and coriander, some of the many plants that grow in her urban garden. Three years ago this woman, the mother of two children, lost her job as a domestic servant. Her husband also found himself without work, like so many other Argentineans.
En 2002, the unemployment rate peaked at 24%, with 58% of the population living on the poverty line. Three years later, the signs of an upturn are beginning to show, with unemployment falling to 13% in the first quarter of 2005.

To confront the worst financial crisis in the history of the country, every Argentinean has been on the lookout for a solution. In Rosario, the solutions took the form of cooperation. A sustainable ecological and social project was launched, making it possible to provide forty thousand people with vegetables and herbs grown without chemicals. Many of these people lost their jobs in refrigeration and construction companies that had closed down.

The project was organized by the municipality of Rosario (run by the socialist party), two non-governmental organizations and the Pro-huerta (promotion of market garden) programme of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). More than 700 urban market gardens were created in this way.

This offered a great opportunity to improve considerably the condition of the land, including areas of the shanty towns that had become illegal waste tips. Six fairs were organized to sell the produce. The vegetable growers go there up to three times a week, and can earn between 10 and 30 dollars a day. This is true of María Eva, who sells aromatic and medicinal plants: “My plants have given me a living for several years now, but the time has come for me to learn more. I am going to take a full course in gardening”.

The market-gardens and fairs brought visibility and support to the most disadvantaged sectors of society, legitimizing their presence in the centre of town. The poor have come to realize that they too can grow high-quality produce and sell it to others. “All my life I have prepared tea based on “peperina”,pennyroyal and other plants. Now, I sell these herbs myself and I’m happy to tell people their secrets: melissa helps you to sleep, rue is a remedy for jealousy, and so on”, María, a lady of 76 years accompanied by her handicapped daughter, explains.

“The town market-garden programme has created a place where people can meet and live in hope, at a time when we thought that the end of the world had come,” says the coordinator of the project Antonio Lattuca, an agricultural expert.

Some traditional roles of the country have also been affected: “Up to now, it was the men who brought the money into the home, and they used it however wanted,” Laura Alfonso, under-secretary for social development at the town hall, recalls. “Then, a large number of women began taking courses designed to reinforce their self-esteem, to organize market-gardens and learn to sell, and this gave them more confidence to affirm that the income should be managed more fairly”.

The available land was chosen in advance. 35 % of the territory of Rosario was occupied by empty or virtually empty tracts of land. The town itself, located in a gently undulating plane with a temperate climate, was divided into districts. A technical coordinator and two local support workers were appointed for each district, each with many years of market-gardening behind him or her, to help the other inhabitants put what they had learned at their courses into practice.

In the community market-gardens, an allotment of between 500 and 1000 m2 was allocated to each of the “small farmers”. Maintenance of biodiversity was ensured by growing a large variety of plants. The land belongs to the municipality or private owners, who lend it temporarily in exchange for tax benefits.
The INTA provides the seeds and the technicians. The municipality pays the wages of the technical coordinators and organizes the setting up of the fairs. As for NGOs, they help by providing technicians, training and funding from outside bodies such as the United Nations or the Andalusian Association for Peace (ASPA).

Part of these funds have been used to pay unemployed blacksmiths and masons who have set themselves up to manufacture tools and building materials to equip the allotments. This material was then offered to the market-gardeners with small greenhouses and delightful scarecrows! Last year, the urban agriculture project was awarded a prize for one of the “Ten best solutions to improve living conditions” offered by UN-Habitat and the municipality of Dubai (United Arab Emirates). The prize money permitted the purchase of a tractor and a small van.

Children and teenagers also have their place in the project. The primary schools organize learning visits to the gardens. For its part, the organization Ñanderoga is helping 47 street children aged between 13 and 19 years: “Working in the gardens allows the children to get back in touch with their families”, remarked Modesto Lemos, the NGO coordinator. Now they go to primary school and are also learning to start and manage a garden themselves.

In addition to the regular fairs, the gardeners sell their produce to public concerns or on the markets, for example the cooperative supermarket, which is run by its employees. Carlos Gioldi, the supermarket secretary, explains: “Most of the customers who buy vegetables here do so from a sense of solidarity”.

The project of the city of Rosario has already won international recognition, but it has not stopped there. A pilot factory for preparing vegetables for the production of ready-cooked dishes and tarts, with municipal certification, is in the testing phase. Plans are also afoot to manufacture natural cosmetics, a project for which the city has donated 30,000 dollars, following a favourable vote by the inhabitants of Rosario. In addition, a group of landscape designers is working on the concept of five landscape gardens combining green spaces and vegetable allotments, each with an area of approximately 40 hectares. They will be the first anywhere in the country. The aim is to beautify the city and protect the environment, without forgetting the most underprivileged sectors of society.

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