Thursday, May 12, 2005

Grassroots Ecological Agriculture in Argentina

In the US the ecological agriculture movement, for the most part, is driven by the premiums people will pay for organic food. Conscious consumers base their consumption habits on ethical and moral standards. This form of capitalist activism has been very successful; organics is the fastest growing sector of US agriculture. The certified organic movement in Argentina is also driven by this demand. Argentina has the second largest amount of certified organic acres in the world. 95 % of the organic production is destined for export.

In Argentina there is not much of a conscious consumer movement and the organic label doesn't add much value. However there is a thriving movement of local, ecological agriculture motivated by necessity and survival. After the economic crash of 2001 many activists groups turned to organic farming methods to augment daily food needs. Here, the link between sustainability, fair economics and social justice is obvious.

The third world suffers the most from the globalized industrial model of agriculture. The farm workers and their families at the most effected by chemical use and free market economics. In Argentina there is a resurgence of farmer worker organizations such as MOCAFOR that reject the industrial agriculture model and support a return to ecological farming methods. Two years ago MOCAFOR successfully stopped corporations from arial spraying Round Up on genetically modified soy crops.

Probably the most developed ecological agriculture movement in Argentina is in Misiones, the province tucked between Paraguay and Brazil. Misiones has a network of 43 farmers markets where local producers can sell their products. Such an extensive network of both local economics and organic production is non-existent in the rest of Argentina.

The farmers market network was started by primarily women farmers in the Agrarian Movement of Misiones. They wanted to create a viable economic alternative to planting the major crops in the area: tobacco, tea and yerba mate. These crops require high pesticide use and fetch a low price because of corporate control of distribution. The farmers markets encourage families to first produce their own healthy food and then make money selling to their local communities. I visited one farm that was bursting with so much abundance the owner was able to donate all the food needed for a festival honoring the farmers markets. The owner even had a biogas digester built by her 15 year old son that converted cow manure into cooking gas.

This ecological revolution is not just limited to the country. In Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina, urban agriculture has become a life line for the city┬┤s poorest inhabitants. The economic crisis of 2001 left 60% of the population in Rosario below the poverty line and 30% in extreme poverty. Local agrarian activists successfully lobbied municipal support to convert abandoned lots into community gardens. They saw self sufficient food production as a root solution to poverty. People in poverty spend 70% of their income on food. To date they have created 800 community gardens supporting 40,000 people.

In the US I have heard it said that organic food is a luxury of the wealthy. Amidst organic Cheetohs and TV dinners it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of organic farming. However, in the third world, in the most marginalized part of the world, the purpose couldn't be clearer. Ecological agriculture is a practical way of improving the quality of life and escaping from the slavery imposed by global industrial agriculture.

If you want to visit and work with ecological agriculture groups in Argentina or other parts of Latin America visit http://www.growfood.org.

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