Juan Cruz Galetto owns a famous pizzería in Villa General Belgrano, a touristic town in Central Argentina’s Córdoba province, which is full every weekend. Finding organic ingredients in this area was tough until the community garden arrived.
Residents of Villa General Belgrano didn’t have climate change in mind when they came up with the idea of creating their own agroecological community garden, nor did they think about climate resilience. Nonetheless, it proved helpful.
Previously, locals had to travel more than 80 kilometers to the city of Córdoba to buy vegetables, which represented a risk in the face of extreme weather. Agroecology provided food security and unexpected benefits in the fight against climate change.
The garden is located on the roadside, 6 kilometers far from the town center. People can go and buy the vegetables there or at the local fair that opens every Friday. The colors of the garden change with every season, as they only grow seasonal vegetables.
The project began by the end of 2020, so there is yet no data available on the adaptive capacity of the garden. However, there are other places in Argentina where agroecology has proved useful for climate adaptation and also has lower production costs.
“Agricultural production has profound effects on the whole environment”, says a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as industrial production uses huge amounts of water and has a heavy impact on soils. Furthermore, food production is one of the main sources of greenhouse gasses at a global level.
Monocultures are the main type of production in Argentina, explained Agustín Barbera, an agricultural engineer that works with agroecological producers in an experimental farm in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This method destabilizes local ecosystems, said the expert. Because of this, producers use additional resources such as water, pesticides and fertilizers to make crops grow, he added. This makes them more vulnerable to changing climatic conditions.
On the contrary, having an agroecological garden makes a place more resilient to climate change, asserted Barbera. Agroecology involves the use of biodiversiversity, crop rotation and organic fertilization of soils.
Agroecology requires fewer investments than the traditional system, the expert explained. Because of this, organic production is much more adaptive. In common agriculture, if producers lose everything because of extreme climatic events, they end up in a very vulnerable situation, asserted Barbera.
In addition, this method generates more fertile soils, which also improves the adaptation to climatic conditions. When soils are better prepared, they respond better to changes in the rain cycle. If it rains a lot, the soils infiltrate water, and if there are few rainfalls, soils keep the water for much longer.
Increasing agroecological methods could reduce some of the negative effects of agriculture on ecosystems, the FAO asserts.
An agroecological town
Before the agroecological garden, every day at least ten trucks had to travel from Villa General Belgrano to the Córdoba Market to buy fruit and vegetables for the town, as Mayor Oscar Santarelli explained.
Trucks traveled for more than 200 kilometers per day to supply the village. Today, local production is not enough for all the neighbors, so some trucks still make that way, but they are fewer.
Now, a patch of around four hectares in this town is reserved to grow vegetables and raise hens to produce organic eggs. The main customers are neighbors, greengrocers, and restaurant owners.
Last summer the garde produced around 4000 kilograms of seasonal vegetables. This autumn-winter season they are cultivating chard, cauliflower, brócoli, cabbage, arugula, onion, leek, and green onions.
The money from the sales is used to pay the garden expenses. The project is not yet self-sustainable, but it is on its way to being, affirmed María Luján Quevedo, the agricultural engineer in charge of the initiative.
Agroecology is a method that takes into account socio-economic aspects, said Bardera. The project offers jobs to the community. Although only six people currently work in the garden, the local government expects it to grow and generate more employment opportunities. The local school also has an agricultural orientation course, so many young people have sparked an interest in working in this area.
One of the main differences with traditional agriculture is that agroecology does not use agrochemicals. “We don’t use any synthetic product, nor fertilizers or agrochemicals”, asserted Quevedo.
Even though the agroecological garden sells vegetables a little more expensive than the local greengrocers, neighbors choose them because of the quality of the products and also, to support a local project.
“There is a little difference in prices, but they are accessible and I choose to eat healthy” affirmed Susana Lapuchevsky, a neighbor of the town. She also said she prefers to buy something that is produced in her own village and where she actually knows the workers.
A resilient system
Villa General Belgrano created an agro-ecological garden to have better vegetables and to lower the pollution caused by transportation. But one of the unexpected benefits of agroecology is that it is more adaptive to climate change.
Community gardens in villages have proved to be more resilient than traditional systems, and are becoming popular in rural communities in South America.
An example of this is found in Brazil, where a group of families located in the Urucuia Valley switched to agroecological production. In little more than a decade, production increased and the system demonstrated that it had the adaptive capacity to extreme climatic events.
The garden of Villa General Belgrano does not have formal data yet analyzing its adaptive capacity. However, there are other places in Argentina where the model was successful. This is the case of the experimental farm of Barrow, located in Tres Arroyos, in Buenos Aires province, where Barbera works.
In this place, experts created two different spaces of production, one of traditional agriculture, called “ACTUAL”, and another of agroecology, called “AGROE”. They produced for 10 years in both spaces and studied costs, performances, rentability, and soil quality.
In the first years, the performances (amount of production) of meat and grains in AGROE were acceptable. When they stabilized, after almost four years, the performances were similar to the ACTUAL ones. However, AGROE was always more rentable.
From the beginning, AGROE had lower direct costs and it proved to be much more stable ahead of changing climatic conditions. The study concluded that productive systems based on agroecology principles can be more rentable than industrialized systems used in the present.
The key to success
Although the benefits are in sight, organic production is not the principal productive system in Argentina. “We need consumers, public policies, investigation, companies, and all the actors to make agroecology the predominant model”, affirmed Barbera.
Villa General Belgrano’s society is a very conscious one: they take care of nature, they recycle, and many families have their own compost, asserted the neighbor Juan Cruz Galetto. Also, many neighbors say the garden has improved their feeling of belonging to the town.
“We all want to take care of the village, and that requires you to consume agroecological products”, affirmed Galetto.
The project has been producing for little more than a year and yet the production is not enough to supply all the villagers. Because of this, sometimes there is a waiting list to buy the vegetables and the eggs.
The local government is aware of this situation but affirms that they are working to increase production. Besides, Mayor Oscar Santarelli pointed out that the project has caused a contagion effect, and now many families want to have their own agroecological garden.
“It is not easy to sell agroecological products. Everyone thinks it is a good thing, but this practice is very difficult and involves more work. That is why we have to value this and try to make it big”, asserted Galetto.