PRODA - the Agri-Food Development Program
Neuquén Province, Argentina
PRODA works with low-income women and families in the self-sufficient production of food and the strengthening of the family economy.
El Programa de Desarrollo Agroalimentario (PRODA - the Agri-Food Development Program) is an initiative of the Provincial government of Neuquén.
PRODA is financed by the Provincial Minister for Territorial Development.
PRODA has an interdisciplinary workforce of 20, which includes agronomists, communication specialists, social workers, a veterinarian, a philosopher, and demographers.
PRODA supports the establishment of community gardens in marginalized barrios, working with low-income families, principally women, who have low levels of education and are either experiencing food insecurity, or are at risk of experiencing food insecurity.
Background and objectives
- Improve participants' attitude towards work;
- Provide opportunities for permanent training, through courses and workshops; and
- Create support mechanisms for food growing and food transforming activities
- Support improvements in the physical and mental health of participants
- Enhance community and social capital in the communities where the huertas are established
- Organic vegetable growing
- Worm farming
- Bio-intensive agriculture
- Edible mushroom cultivation
- Making of preserves
- Under-cover production: greenhouses and macro / micro-tunnels
- Family farming: raising chickens in coops
- Seed saving
- Aromatic and medicinal plants
Financing and resources
The Program has been financed by transfers from the Provincial Government of Neuquen. It has a multidisciplinary staff of 12, and a two-storey office building in central Neuquén.
Results and impacts
500 families participate in more than 30 of these ‘Protected Gardens’, located in diverse low-income neighbourhoods of the city of Neuquén and in other provincial centres.
The Huerta Protegida in Cuenca 15 (see photo) has been established for three years, but already is producing a large amount of vegetables, a reflection of the amount of work that the huerteras – most of them are women, in common with the majority of urban gardeners throughout Argentina – have undertaken. A notable feature of this huerta is the strong presence and leadership of a small group of women, especially Marta. More than 40 different varieties of fruits, flowers and aromatic herbs are being grown, which serves multiple purposes:
- Educational and capacity building, in terms of the huerteras gaining experience with different types of plants and their performance under different growing conditions
- Agro-ecological, in terms of minimising the risk that too much of the huerta might be lost to pests or disease through companion planting
- Productive, in terms of generating enough produce to satisfy the requirements of the families of the huerteras and also some surplus for sale
There are currently 16 families working in this huerta. Six have greenhouses and micro-tunnels. The garden is well maintained, and there have been no cases of pests or diseases observed. Water is provided by the provincial water company, and there is no charge for its use for this social project.
Barriers and challenges
Climate and terrain is an obstacle to food growing in Neuquen, a semi-arid region in northern Patagonia. However through appropriate agroecological, soil remediation and water conservation practices, these barriers can be overcome. Another barrier is the so-called culture of asistencialismo, the payment of subsidies to participate in social programs.
Because of these climatic and productive difficulties, the staff of PRODA need to engage personally and directly with those who express a wish to participate in the construction and development of a huerta protegida. Much of this is related to addressing the culture of asistencialismo, as well as dealing with the particular challenges of vegetable growing in the region as a member of PRODA staff said:
"This is at times the most difficult [part of our work], because in some families you are dealing with three or four generations that are accustomed to receive subsidies. So, one of our biggest challenges is to work, and invite residents to work the land, without receiving a subsidy, which is different to what happens in other provinces…In Rosario, people charge a certain amount of subsidy, in lieu of working for the municipality, in order to work the land…Here it was a very different process of social and cultural construction in the communities. Here also the huerteras have to get used to working the land in a different way, in harmony with nature, to learn to conserve water and irrigate the plants in a different way, and to see how they can secure resources without depending on the State. We are a State programme, but we’ve managed to work with the goals of autonomy and self-management [for our communities] since the beginning."
Lessons learned and transferability
Health and well being is a key strategic outcome which PRODA aims to achieve through its huertas protegidas. Health here refers to both physical health, which helps address issues of obesity through exercise and dietary improvement, and mental / psychological health. As regards the latter, PRODA has two huertas that are directly attached to hospitals with mental health patients; and so they operate explicitly as a form of horticultural therapy. PRODA is also at the point of establishing a huerta linked to a women’s prison, to assist the inmates reintegrate to society, gain new skills, and improve their self-esteem.
Self-esteem gained through hard work is a clear benefit of PRODA's approach, and the lessons could be transferred to other provinces in which such a culture may be absent. The therapeutic benefits of urban agriculture are also transferable to many different contexts.