Sustainable Food Production for a Resilient Rosario

In interview, the Environmental Undersecretary María Cantore tells about the territory's urban and peri-urban agriculture project.

17 de ago de 2021

Aerial photo of the city of Rosario, Argentina. Credits: Silvio Moriconi.

During the last month of 2001, Argentina suffered an economic and social crisis which left half of its population under the poverty line. In that moment, Rosario city improved its resilience through social inclusion and solidarity and launched an urban and peri-urban agriculture project.


The program is nowadays a model of an innovative solution to share with other cities and communities around the world as a result of winning the 2020-2021 Prize for Cities of the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.


We asked María Cantore, Environmental Undersecretary of the Municipality of Rosario, to tell us more about this project.


What was the urban and peri-urban agriculture project launched for? What is its current scope?


The project was launched to promote urban agriculture as a strategy to overcome poverty, to recover and preserve environmentally degraded sectors and to generate access to healthy food for the population. It is developed based on the principles of agroecology, the full exercise of citizenship and social and solidarity economy.


The strategies are focused, in the first place, on food security for the most vulnerable families in the city generated from food production on vacant land and their secure possession, establishing food production systems of high biological value.


A direct commercialization system was promoted in strategic places in the city which also consolidated a network of institutions and actors of civil society, academics, producers and consumers that accompany the maintenance of the public policy.


Currently, the public policy of Urban Agriculture, reaches 7 vegetable gardens and 6 group gardens, in 25 hectares, it includes more than 250 farmers who produce with agroecological techniques about 420 tons per year of agroecological and healthy vegetables, which are sold directly to consumers. It has also promoted the practice of gardening at home: today we estimate that about 2,400 families have joined this practice.


How did it extend to the project Green Belt: Sustainable Food Production?


Over the years, a more complete approach to the food problem was developed. Since 2015, the agroecological production strategies have been expanded to the peri-urban Rosario Metropolitan Area. The approach was also transversal and multidisciplinary, consolidating a trained technical team and articulating different areas of the municipal government. This allowed scaling up the number of vegetables produced and incorporate extensive crops.


Today, there are 17 farms on 50 hectares, where around 30 farmers produce 2000 tons per year of agroecological and in transition vegetables using sustainable techniques, many of which are also commercialized directly.


Rosario has 700 hectares of reserved land for fruit and vegetable production. In addition to the potential for generating healthy local food at scale and without agrochemicals, it provides key environmental services to cope with increasing rains, mitigate the urban heat island and preserve biodiversity. These are strategies to face climate change that cities around the world are seeking to develop.


How has the project changed over the years?


The maintenance and progress of this public policy has required the consolidation of strategies strongly associated with citizen participation, institutional interaction and transversal and transdisciplinary work.


City planning based on participatory processes consolidates urban and peri-urban agriculture as public policy and includes it in the city’s future perspective. It foresees the increment of land destined to agroecological cultivation, making explicit the population’s right to land use and healthy food.


At the same time, legal instruments were developed, including the institutionalization of programes and markets, regulations restricting the use of agrochemicals, regulation of land use by creating protected areas for horticultural production, and the creation of a system of participatory guarantees.


Over the years, the urban agroecology policy was extended to peri-urban areas and consolidated as a public policy not only in social terms, but also for climate and for local development.


What are the achievements of urban and peri-urban agriculture?


Urban inequalities have been reduced in social terms, improving the conditions of land workers and generating new jobs for people from vulnerable sectors. In addition, it has made possible for this population to improve their income and access to healthy local vegetables. Furthermore, the development of agroecological production skills, together with permanent support, allows better adaptation of farming practices to the local climate.


On the other hand, from a territorial point of view, the gardens have transformed sectors in the poor neighborhoods where they are located, constituting a significant environmental and landscape improvement in their surroundings, generating green lungs, which also increase resilience to extreme weather events by providing services such as mitigation of the impact of heavy rains and heat waves.


In the case of the peri-urban area, it is currently protected by urban planning regulations for fruit and vegetable production. Additionally, it has begun a process of reconversion towards agroecology, with experiences of horticultural crops, but also of cereals and oilseeds, an example that it is possible to produce at scale with agroecological techniques for local supply. Today, these spaces located in peripheral areas of the city are now valued; they have been incorporated into the urban grid and function as socio-productive spaces, with many environmental services that transcend their immediate surroundings.


The main beneficiaries are the workers of the land, around 280 people, and consumers, for whom there are no estimates of quantity, but the number of people who buy at the markets is growing. In addition, 2,400 families are estimated to have home gardens.


Besides the climatic advantages, what other benefits does it have?


The project has confirmed that agroecology is a viable and achievable option for inclusive local development, enabling sustainable food production even on a large scale.


Another important change that is beginning to emerge is the revaluation of the worker of the land, as what he or she is: a caretaker of the land, a builder of the landscape and an improver of the living environment in which we live. The relationship of proximity between producers and consumers generates a bond and a recognition of the value of their work that empowers them and consolidates the choice of agroecology as a way of life.


The public policy of urban and peri-urban agriculture has made it possible to generate alliances between different social actors, which is part of the project and sustains it, where bonds of solidarity and trust prevail.


In addition, experiences have been developed in terms of associations: exchange of knowledge with actors from other places, participatory development of knowledge based on current experiences and the ancestral wisdom of native communities.


How does the sales cycle work and how do consumers benefit?


Vegetables produced by Urban and Green Belt producers are sold directly in 7 permanent trading spaces throughout the city, at markets in public spaces, where producers and consumers meet. In addition, digital sales have become an option due to the restrictions imposed by COVID.


In this way, consumers have access to food of high nutritional value and can establish a bond of trust by meeting the producers. They can even buy from the gardens directly.


How does the city support the implementation of urban and peri-urban agriculture?


This municipal public policy has been sustained uninterruptedly since 2002, generating incentives and opportunities for the development of urban and peri-urban agroecological farming. It strengthens the capacities through the consolidation of technical teams, in alliances with other organizations and in a participatory way.


At the same time, it has been shaping a local regulatory field that generates conditions for its continuity, including this public policy in the city’s strategic planning: in the Strategic Plan, the Urban Plan and the Climate Action Plan.


What does it mean for Rosario to have won the Prize for the Cities of the World Resources Institute?


The production of agroecological food is a public policy in Rosario, sustained for more than 20 years with the participation of numerous social actors, consumers, academics, businesses, civil society organizations and mainly Urban and Green Belt farmers. This award is a recognition to all of them. It recognizes that we can build greener cities, with less social and territorial inequalities and more prepared to face climate change, with nature-based solutions that reduce risks and strengthen our capacity to adapt. Agriculture allows us to move forward in all these ways.


Our experience shows that this is possible. This award will be a boost to accelerate processes that we have already started. We hope that there will be more and more cities that are committed to agroecology agriculture on a local scale as a strategy for inclusion and resilience in response to climate change, which is ultimately a commitment to life.