DESIGN OF A STRATEGY OF URBAN AGRICULTURE CONSIDERING ITS SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
[original in Spanish; translation by Marta Garce and John Middleton]
The following is the development of a project called "Design of a strategy to implement programs in urban agriculture considering their social and environmental impact; comparison of experiences in Tomé (Chile), Niagara (Canada) and Rosario (Argentina)".
This project has been financed since December 1997 by the Organization of American States (OAS), and by the following institutions: Environmental Policy Institute (EPI), Brock University, Canada; Centre for Education and Technology (Centro de Educación y Tecnología) (CET), Chile; Environmental Studies Centre, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Rosario (Centro de Estudios Ambientales (CEAV) Fac. de Cs. Veterinarias, Universidad Nacional de Rosario (UNR); and Rural Development Centre, Faculty of Agriculture Science, University of Rosario (Centro de Desarrollo Rural, Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, UNR).
The implementation of the project created an exchange among the institutions involved as well as with the inhabitants who received the benefits, allowing reflection on the subject of Sustainable Development and its local dimension.
The work generated a channel of communication between the available information related to the subject and the spatial-temporal context distinctive of the local expression of the poverty problematique. The participation of local people was the internal motor of the project allowing development of external alternatives. Self management was the key to success in the proposed objectives.
1. THE CONTEXT
The emergent problems of poverty in vast sectors of cities across the Americas is a subject that demands priority treatment by various sectors of society.
The distribution of food and other elements as a way to respond to the peoples demands has been a traditional way to deal with the needs of the social groups living in poverty. Such a culture of social welfare is ever more deeply entrenched in the design of short-term social policies with scarce participation of those in need, who in the majority of cases are relegated to a passive receiving role.
The urgency of the demand encourages this type of response, but does not constitute a solution to the structural problem, which is no doubt complex and multifactorial.
The development of alternative strategies is a challenge for this project, which aims to detect and to evaluate the validity of economic, social, and environmental indicators in order to compare the effectiveness and efficiency of programs of urban agriculture with traditional passive aid programs.
Since the inhabitants are willing to participate in agricultural production, it is important to reconsider what kind of assistance to offer so as to direct the available resources in such a way that the potential which is masked when the people are not directly involved, and are considered only as "recipients", can be shown.
In this sense, urban agriculture is an option for broad sectors of low income in many cities. Latin America, in particular, has plenty of experience with this issue. When projects of urban agriculture are thought of from a comprehensive point of view (inter-institutional, interdisciplinary and systemic), they can be a powerful weapon for local development.
The case of the city of Tomé, Chile, is a clear example of this: starting with the idea of nourishing the low income population, it became a project of sustainable urban development.
Since the preparatory meetings for the Earth Summit (1992) in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), sustainable development has become an alternative to traditional approaches in numerous disciplines. The publications "Our Common Future" and "The Hague Report" are milestones in this respect, featuring the fundamental elements of this new current of thought.
Most Latin America countries face the challenge of implementing the commitments made at the Rio Summit, such as Agenda 21, at national and local levels.
In the present context, with a global financial crisis and the Nation-State in decline, the gap between the very rich and the very poor is ever increasing. Some authors imagine cities as the nucleus where new strategic alliances will have to arise for design of innovative policies.
According to the Group of Lisbon these alliances must arise from general consensus among municipal authorities, scientists and intellectuals, people representing small enterprises, neighbourhood associations, and organizations of civil society, among other social actors.
It is from this point of view that this project is carried out, trying to demonstrate that the resources to encourage community organization, participation, and the strengthening of local initiatives, are capable of starting the processes of sustainable development.
2. IMPACTS ACHIEVED IN ORGANIC URBAN AGRICULTURE.
Information on projects in urban agriculture is available from various parts of the world, but in only a few cases are the results analyzed and systematized. The experience developed by CET in Chile, where in spaces of 60m2 using organic technology the inhabitants produced vegetables, fruits, eggs, poultry, rabbit meat, and bread, demonstrates that, even living in poverty, the families are able to satisfy their annual nutritional needs.
From another point of view, food security has been a contribution to traditional economic strategies allowing the families to overcome their poverty. The studies made by CET show that strategies of secure nutrition associated with small enterprises, contribute increasingly to improvement of per capita income. During the first year of implementation of the model, the contribution amounted to only 3,2%, but from the third year it became more significant (21,3%), becoming in the eighth year a third (31,6%) of the income. In this way the strategy allowed a family to reduce its poverty by 35,7% between the third and the eighth year.
These actions have increased the sustainability of productive urban systems. as measured by the impact indicators used such as an index of diversity, changes in the soil, erosion, and recycling.
In another sense, the development of this kind of project produces positive changes in the social position of women, stimulating participation, affection, creativity, identity, and autonomy. Opening a space for the development of the individual and the family through productive activities, individually or in groups, strengthens ties within the community, and improves efficiency of learning by way of the exchange of experiences.
3. THE PROJECT DEVELOPED
3.1. The situation of the Empalme Graneros Neighbourhood
The Empalme Graneros neighbourhood in the city of Rosario was chosen to put into practice demonstration units and field experiments. Many very poor families from other parts of Argentina and also from bordering countries have moved to Empalme Graneros seeking a better standard of living near a big city, an ambition which, in practice, is rarely achieved.
The place that ten years ago was a large empty flood plain by the banks of the Arroyo Ludueña, was slowly colonized. Today the first problems of pressure and deterioration of the soil can be detected. Nevertheless this neighbourhood still has places available to install small enterprises while in other settlements of the city people live in high densities with an alarming lack of space. Many families have a rural background from the provinces of north east of Argentina (Chaco and Corrientes).
From its origin in about 1990, the neighbourhood formed through different stages of progressive colonization; from the better lands to the flooding lowlands adjacent to the arroyo (stream). This place was used as an informal garbage dump, so the new inhabitants had to do some arduous manual work cleaning, filling, and levelling the ground.
From the beginning this process was supported by the Department of Community Gardens of the Municipality of Rosario (Departamento de Huertas Comunitarias de la Municipalidad de Rosario), the national agricultural research organization INTA (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria Pro-Huerta), and other public and private institutions. Family and community gardens were developed, a community kitchen was organized, and numerous other activities of community organization culminated in the opening of the "17 de Agosto" Community Centre.
The centre responded to the people's requirements and demands such as: the creation of a health care centre, electricity for private and public use, regulations for use of urban space, etc.
Nowadays, though it is difficult to calculate, the area of the neighbourhood involved in this project consists of a group of dwellings inhabited by about 5,000 people.
With the present work we intend to become more acquainted with the problematique of poverty in this situation, considering the aspects of social organization, the capacity for leadership, and the possibility of working in the small available spaces using organic-based technology.
3.2. Development of the proposed model
The strategy of urban agriculture provides a framework for the development of initiatives to improve the economic situation (income) of the people, without disregarding their food security. Therefore trials were developed to generate products that can be both commercialized and consumed. The precarious living conditions of the settlers demanded immediate action. Therefore we applied tested and successful experiences with organic technologies that would have the chance to compete in the market and that could be a choice from the commercial point of view to cover the empty market niches left vacant by traditional systems.
This first, economic, axis included the active participation of the inhabitants so that they could develop their capacities associated with economic and ecological management.
The sustainability of the process depends also on what happens with the people1. For this reason, human and social development was highlighted as a second axis. The human development of each participant comes from the ability of the project to stimulate identity, inventiveness, autonomy and, at the same time, engagement.2 Social development will be accomplished when the people can consolidate an organization capable of carrying out their own projects, learning from their experiences, and elaborating new proposals.
As long as the inhabitants have an active participation in every project with successful results, we will observe sustained changes in their living conditions and significant improvement in their social and economic situation. The solutions have to emerge from inside and have to be permanent. The external aid has to be considered as a circumstance that helps people through this process, avoiding dependency.
The figure explains these ideas and indicates the action of this project in the framework of human and sustainable development.
3.3 Stated objectives of the project
The project has proposed to obtain an operational model that can be implemented in the member states of the OAS, to overcome critical poverty problems, paying attention to the relationship among social context, gender, and environment, through evaluation of experience with urban agriculture (UA) in different countries of the Americas.
Four aspects are developed:
3.4 . About the methodology
The project contemplates the development of different aspects related to the exchange of experiences between areas with different realities, to encourage the extrapolation of technologies and the unification of general criteria adjusted to each local reality.
Empalme Graneros Neighbourhood in the north of the city of Rosario was chosen as the site for the field experiments.
Here the professionals involved in the projects and the members of the community re-established a working relationship started in previous projects. They proceeded to develop mechanisms to favour social organization, by way of training and development of human resources, increasing the capacity of the inhabitants.
From the technical point of view, tasks were developed based on the knowledge of the people with the advice of the professionals given by way of exchange of their experiences with specific techniques, thereby strengthening ties with the residents and reinforcing common objectives. In this respect they stimulated previous work or started new tasks in areas including: individual and communal gardens, greenhouses for aromatic and medicinal plants, seedlings, and composting with earthworms for treatment of waste materials and production of humus.
The professionals and the members of the community exchanged their experiences through open talks, workshops, training, and travel to places where similar tasks had been developed.
The relationship between the institutions and the people was used as a tool for training for the working groups from the three countries involved, the professionals, the community leaders, and the community itself, with a two-way flow of information.
Related activities including the building of ovens to take more advantage of the production, the handling of water resources, the use of alternative species, and the development of mechanisms of commercialization, provided another link between productive activities and the environmental focus.
Another aspect of this last approach was the use of computers in the community to allow the people to have access to information. Some equipment was bought and the young people, generally the most eager to learn such topics, were instructed in the use of computers. It is the hope of the researchers that this experience will be multiplied through the entire community.
3.5 The first results
Although the project is still in progress, it is possible to list the results so far.
It is fair to say that the experiences developed in the framework of this project have opened new horizons for the treatment of social problems.
The active participation of the community not only in the doing, the producing, but also in the design of the activities, in the formulation of the most suitable project, and in taking decisions in one way or another, gives the people the chance to recognize their own capacities and limitations, looking for different ways to improve their knowledge as a way to begin to overcome their unresolved problems.
The orientation towards alternative forms of production has been a useful tool to introduce the concept of sustainability and to encourage planning for the medium and long term.
The interdisciplinary approach is a priority element for the development of these kind of proposals that involve multiple aspects of a reality so complex.
The introduction of concepts related to sustaining and caring for the environment favours improvements in the surrounding, and leads the community to improve the land, which is reflected in a better quality of life.
The distribution of the results of this project, as a point of discussion and analysis, may be an opening for tackling this general problem from other points of view.
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