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Fw: [Food-news] ARGENTINA: Urban Gardens Provide More than JustFood

  • Subject: [cg] Fw: [Food-news] ARGENTINA: Urban Gardens Provide More than JustFood
  • From: "James Kuhns" jkuhns@sympatico.ca
  • Date: Sat, 13 May 2006 17:56:51 -0400

----- Original Message -----
From: foodnews
To: Food News List
Sent: Friday, May 05, 2006 9:37 AM
Subject: [Food-news] ARGENTINA: Urban Gardens Provide More than Just Food


Editor's Note: The currency crisis that devastated the Argentine economy
beginning in 1997 caused one city, Rosario, to strongly embrace urban
agriculture as a solution to widespread poverty and unemployment.  The United
Nations HABITAT program has recognized Rosario for its many diverse urban
agriculture initiatives aimed at creating employment, increasing nutritional
intake and fostering cooperativeness among the people.  Especially interesting
is the city's strategy for giving gardeners access to private land.  This
recent article provides an overview of Rosario's response, with an emphasis on
community gardens and market development.  Can the programs established in
Rosario be replicated in other large cities facing similar economic and
nutritional challenges?  JK*


Urban Gardens Provide More than Just Food

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 9 (IPS) - Some 7,000 people who were out of work before
entering the programme have joined forces to clear the land, plant and harvest
vegetables, and sell their produce in street market stalls.

Many of them are also now involved in agricultural development projects aimed
at supplying the market with organic produce, grown without chemical
fertilisers or pesticides.

They are participants in the Urban Agriculture Programme set up by the city
government of Rosario, located on the banks of the Parana River in the eastern
Argentine province of Santa Fe.

The programme encompasses over 600 community gardens created on formerly
vacant lots, on both public and privately owned land, as well as a
distribution and sales network and projects designed to develop related

With a population of 1.3 million, Rosario is Argentina's third most populous
city. As a river port, it has historically been an area of significant
industrial development. But beginning in the late 1980s, as a result of the
implementation of neoliberal free-market economic policies in Argentina, many
of the city's factories began closing their doors, plunging more and more of
its residents into poverty. By 2001, a full 61 percent of the population of
Rosario was living below the poverty line.

Rosario is the only municipality in the country governed by the Socialist
Party, which was first elected to the city government in 1989. "When the
crisis hit, I had seven daughters and my husband was unemployed. I couldn't
just sit back and do nothing," Mirta Palese told IPS. The crisis she was
referring to was the economic, financial and social meltdown that forced then
president Fernando de la Rza out of office halfway through his four-year term
in 2001.

It was then that Palese set her sights on a vacant lot that was slowly turning
into a garbage dump across the street from her house in the west end of

The owner of the lot agreed that it was preferable for it to be used as a
garden, and allowed Palese to take it over temporarily.

Once she had permission to use the lot, Palese went to the city government for
seeds and gardening tools. Now she and a neighbour raise tomatoes, lettuce,
arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, green beans, radishes and peppers on a 10 by 30
metre plot of land.

The two women also sell the vegetables they grow in the community markets that
have been held six times a week in five different neighbourhoods of the city
since mid-2002. The municipal government covers the costs of transporting the
produce, the stalls and awnings set up for the market, the baskets used to
hold the merchandise and the uniforms and gloves worn by the vendors to comply
with hygiene standards.

But the women find time for even more. With two other neighbours, they spend
the morning washing and cutting vegetables to prepare plastic-wrapped,
individual serving-sized trays of ready-made salads. "All you have to do is
add the seasoning," noted Palese, who explained that they sell the salads in
office buildings at lunch time.

This initiative also forms part of the programme implemented by the city
government, which contributes the facilities and materials needed for
packaging the vegetables, including refrigerators. The participants are also
offered training through the city government's Food Institute to ensure the
safety and quality of the final product.

Thanks to the gardens, an estimated 40,000 people living below the poverty
line are provided with food for their own consumption. In addition,
participants can earn a monthly income that in many cases is triple the
subsidy paid to unemployed heads of households by the federal government.

The garden tended by Palese and her neighbour forms part of the Urban
Agriculture Programme coordinated by Razl Terrile, an agricultural engineer
working as a consultant to the Rosario city government for this project and a
member of the non-governmental Centre for Agro-Ecological Production Studies

Terrile told IPS that at the height of the crisis there were over 800
community gardens, but as the economy began to recover, "the project went from
being an emergency measure to becoming a development strategy," in which the
majority of participants { approximately 65 percent { are women.

"The programme is not designed for subsistence agriculture, but rather is
aimed at developing a source of family income," stressed Terrile.
Consequently, the support offered in the form of inputs and training should be
ongoing, he added.

In recent months, the Rosario city government has also contributed fences and
irrigation systems to the project.

However, one of the key contributions has been the measures implemented by the
city government to legalise the use of privately owned land for community
gardens. The owners are exempted from paying municipal taxes on the land for
two years, the standard time period for which the lots are ceded to the
programme. If the owners have accumulated back taxes over the course of many
years, they generally find it preferable to renew the contract for a longer

In the case of public land, which accounts for the largest gardens, they have
been pledged to the programme for a period of ten years. Up to 70 people work
on each of these government-owned plots of land, which can be as large as five

In the majority of these large gardens, food is produced exclusively for sale,
explained Terrile.

The participants receive monthly training sessions, while technical assistance
is provided in the field on a weekly basis. "The continuity of the programme
and the ongoing participation of its beneficiaries demonstrate that the
project works," he remarked.

In addition, the initiative has earned the recognition of the United Nations.
In 2004, the U.N. Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) selected the
Rosario Urban Agriculture Programme as one of the "best practices" worldwide
for improving people's living environment, especially among the poorest
sectors of the population, while promoting sustainable development.

This incentive motivated the Rosario city government to further increase its
support for the project, and the local planning department is now involved in
the task of identifying available areas in the city and designing new spaces
that can be adapted for urban agricultural use.

This has led to the emergence of a new kind of public area, known as "garden
parks". "These are gardens with a landscaped design that are created along the
sides of major avenues and other highly visible areas of the city. These
gardens, in addition to being productive, are pleasing to the eye," explained

The Rosario programme is part of a network of cities working to develop urban
agriculture. With the support of the Institute for the Promotion of
Sustainable Development in Peru and the Resource Centre for Urban Agriculture
and Forestry in the Netherlands, its organisers are seeking to promote the
initiative as a development strategy that can be implemented in other cities.

* James Kuhns is a Contributing Editor to Foodnews.

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