Agroecology as public policy

date: December 31st, 2022

Rosario, a dual city

Metropolitan urban centre, export port for industrialised agriculture and a pioneer municipality in agroecological policies

Rosario is a port city of just over a million inhabitants, located in the Argentine Humid Pampas, on the banks of the Paraná River. The soil and climatic conditions of the region are excellent for agricultural production. During the last 50 years, an agro-export model of commodities has been implemented based on the intensive use of genetic improvement technologies, chemical inputs and mechanisation, causing the growing deterioration of common goods and human health. Export crops were gaining productive space in the region, displacing food production. Data from the horticultural census carried out by INTA 2022 in the Rosario region, indicates that 6,000 hectares of surface dedicated to horticulture were lost in the last 40 years. Among other negative impacts, Rosario has lost food autonomy, increasing dependence on other regions. Besides, it receives numerous peasant families expelled from the North of the country and from the region, who live mostly in informal settlements. 

In this context and after repeated socio-economic crises, the municipality has over the last 30 years been implementing agroecological public policies to promote local production in pursuit of food security. The Urban Agriculture Program was initiated in 2002 in the middle of a financial crisis. It departed from a social economy strategy which mobilises the new immigrant population of which many have roots in peasant farming. The  program is geared at participatory strategies to support the production, transformation, marketing and consumption of healthy food. Since 2016, the Green Belt Project has been developed, which manages the reconversion of horticultural and extensive production systems towards agroecological systems. 

During the last twenty years, Rosario has received important international awards for these achievements, being recognized as an inclusive and resilient city. Within the framework of the Urbanising in Place project, the modalities through which Rosario manages its agroecological development have been studied, given its character as a "dual city" based on the productive, urban and social models that coexist. The discussion on an agroecological urbanism consolidated the transdisciplinary exchange between the urban agroecology team working within the municipality and the university of Rosario. At the heart of this discussion is the effort to imagine how agroecology as a science, a movement and a practice can contribute to the sustainable transformation of a society conditioned by an agro-industrial and highly commodified supply chain, and how public policy can support that transformation.

Antonnio Lattuca (2018) Social Transformation through Agroecology in Argentina, Farming Matters, Vol.34 No.1.1/1.2 pp.40-43.

Transport of cash crops on the Parana river

Extensive agricultural plots and horticultural plots.

Setting the Scene

The critical systematization of agroecology as public policy

The agroecologisation process that has been developed in the city of Rosario since the 1990s, then continued with the Urban Agriculture Program in 2002 and later strengthened in 2016 with the creation of the Green Belt Program, has been the product of a co-creation between social organizations, institutions, orchard farmers, family producers and the local government, with each actor appropriating these programs in a process of participatory governance.

In this sense, the Local Platform of Actors built within the framework of the Urban Agriculture and Green Belt Programs has intensified social and public/political management in each change of municipal management, making it possible to sustain, generate and enhance the mobilising components and relationships of agroecological urban planning developed in the city. Given the intensification of real estate pressure on the use of urban and peri-urban land for food production, it was necessary to diversify and strengthen the Local Platform of actors defending the protected area. The call was extended and the articulation of public and private actors –  new and already linked to agroecology – was activated, in order to give continuity and strengthen the current Agroecological Policies and Practices. There was active interaction with the different academic levels in order to train the different actors, to make the circulation of information viable and properly transmit the importance of ecosystem processes related to the provision of environmental services (as metabolic optimisation factors). The cross-sectoral activities of this Platform of Actors who have started to use agroecology as the touch stone of sound urban planning has resulted in a series of formal regulations which have been adopted by the municipality such as the Ordinance: “Comprehensive Plan for Land and Productive Investments” and “Sustainable Food Production Programme in the Area of Protection and Promotion of Food Production, the Agrarian Park Ordinance, the Participatory Guarantee System, among others". The specific context of the Urbanising Place project has fostered a process of critical systematization of the work in Rosario over the past 30 years. This Online Resource is partly the fruit of this work for which the Rosario case has served as a direct source of inspiration. The formulation of the eight building blocks for an agroecological urbanism have in turn helped to think both the continuity and philosophy behind the Rosario programme as well as set the agenda for its future development. On this page, we walk through the building blocks and how they have been or are today emerging in Rosario.  

Political Pedagogies and transdisciplinary learning

Political pedagogies in Rosario are linked to a methodology of participatory construction that is established in the dialogue between the actors of the territory, the exchange of knowledge and experiences. Similarly, political action establishes relationships between institutions, organisations and local government to translate it into decisions.

Public policies found in the traditional horticultural practices and knowledge of European immigrants, from Northern Argentina and neighbouring countries, especially Bolivians, have inspired the integrated management of urban and peri-urban agroecological development in Rosario. This makes that Agroecology in Rosario is part and parcel of a system of relations that feedback synergistically, diversifying and strengthening a number of Political Pedagogies. These are characterised by their transversal, intersectoral, interinstitutional and participatory dynamics with local and regional results. On the educational-training level, in addition to the transfer of conventional knowledge, an inverse extension takes place from the territory to the academy, from empirical to formal knowledge, constituting the spaces of urban and peri-urban agroecological agriculture in scenarios for the Dialogo de Saberes (dialogue of knowledge). Growers and farmers who have been part of the programme are now taking up roles training others, and participate in processes of transdisciplinary learning both inside and outside of formal curricula.

The implementation of new type of political pedagogies for an agroecological urbanism in Rosario have many different forms: 

  • Creation of the Urban Agriculture Program (PAU) in the context of a deep social, economic and political crisis (2002), with the aim of providing food security to the population in a situation of social vulnerability.

  • The participatory mapping of vacant urban land with potential for urban agriculture, as a process of access to secure tenure of productive land by families in conditions of social vulnerability.

  • Implementation of the Rosario Green Belt Project (PCV), based on the exchange of knowledge between municipal technicians and producers, to enable transition processes towards agroecology for the cultivation of healthy food, preserving the soil for local production.

  • The management of the PAU and the PCV is aimed at establishing conditions for the production, transformation and commercialization of agroecological foods; design public support policies, intervention devices and an enabling regulatory framework. Participatory governance is promoted by integrating public and private institutions, social and technical organizations.

  • Creation of the Rosario Agroecological Center (CAR) as a centralized demonstration area, for community training and research based on participatory teaching-learning methodologies for agroecological practices. Space for the production of native seeds, inputs, mother plants and seedlings for the productive spaces.

  • The scale of intervention has progressively been urban, peri-urban and metropolitan. It directly involves farmers in conditions of social vulnerability, small family producers, internal migrants and migrants from neighboring countries, achieving self-confidence, empowerment and economic independence for women.

  • A process of dynamic participatory governance, based on the construction of a platform of local actors (social organizations, institutions, gardeners, family producers, diners, local government and others)

Dialogue of knowledge between technicians and urban and peri-urban farmers

Practices from Brussels, Riga and London visiting Rosario

Actively incubating access to land and market from the municipality

Trade fairs for agroecological vegetables have been installed in public squares in the center and neighborhoods of the city. They constitute spaces for direct encounter between urban farmers and consumers and incubators of access to differentiated markets. There are currently 40 sales points of this type and other permanent marketing spaces that are supplied by the production of farms from the Green Belt of Rosario (Agroecological Greengrocery and the Agroecological Wholesale Market, managed by a women's organisation called "Common Soil").

The municipality itself has actively been managing differentiated commuter markets and direct sales to consumers, has been organising (see for example) marketing at fairs and supporting agroecological greengrocers. Green gondolas were created and Agroecological Wholesale Markets supplied.

Agroecological greengrocery

Agroecological Fair in Public Square

Community gardens as Territorial Food Hubs

The Installation of Community Gardens through municipal management facilitates the access to land in different neighbourhoods, promoting agroecological practices. The orchards are spaces for growing food, areas of meeting and dialogue of knowledge between the municipal technical team and the actors of the local community, interpersonal relationships are strengthened leading to processes of resignification of values ​​and the reconstruction of sustainable livelihoods. Starting to produce within the community gardens led to the process of finding access to land appropriate for food growed, based on an exhaustive analysis and classification of unbuilt plots, with the aim of identifying the best and safest plots to organise urban and periurban agriculture.

Los Horneros Community Garden   

Revalorisation of fragmented lands into Garden-Parks

The installation of larger Garden-Parks or Parques Huerta flanked by the provision of several services to produce food in adequate quantity and quality, had allowed to revalue plots of land and restore the landscape and its functions. Often, these plots of land were previously degraded and abandoned spaces in different neighbourhoods of the city along large pieces of infrastructure. Example are the Parques Huerta la Tablada or the more recently initiated West Garden-Park. This spatial typology was incorporated into the Master Plan of the Municipality, establishing its multifunctional nature within the framework of agroecological food production and its educational-training role. Each orchard family gains access to a productive plot exercising the right to secure land tenure through a "commodate". They occupy 30 hectares of intra-urban land - mostly public or institutional - for food production.

La Tablada Garden-Park

El Bosque Garden-Park

Training in Garden-Park Hogar Español

Planting in Huerta Molino Blanco Park.

West Garden-Park Inauguration 2020

West Garden-Park in operation

From the Greenbelt Project to an Agroecological Park

Already since 2009, the municipality developed a territorial strategy for the urban greenbelt to complement its agroecological programme. This strategy focussed on the one hand on the management of productive soils within the municipal boundary but also included the coordination of local policy with the neighbouring municipalities, in particular the municipality of Soldini, as well as the provincial government of Santa Fe. These territorial strategizing exercises have led to the desire to establish an agroecological park within the peri-urban area. The purpose of this park is to align the strategic use of environmental regulation, the use of territorial and planning instruments, and the actual implementation on the ground of shared infrastructure.

The regulatory framework put in place includes:

  • A protection area (prohibition) for the use of agrochemicals (100 meters from the urban limit, 50 meters around schools, houses, organic crops and watercourses). Ordinance No. 8871/11.

  • The prohibition of the use of Glyphosate throughout the city. Ordinance No. 9789/17.

  • The protection of peri-urban land for local fruit and vegetable production and the regulation of 800 hectares through Ordinance No. 9144/2013 (replaced in 2020 by Ordinance No. 10139/2020)

Within the Green Belt Project, Rosario set in place technical assistance and training to strengthen horticultural and cereal producers who were sustained in their activity, valuing their role as local food producers, promoting their productive reconversion towards agroecology. Secondly, many agroecological production modules were installed in peri-urban establishments. There are 100 hectares of effective agroecological production and 120 in the process of transition to agroecology.

More recently, there was the design and approval of the proposal for the Agrarian Park as an integrating device for regulated peri-urban land for food production, pending the budget for its realisation.

On-site soil evaluation by a technician from the Green Belt Project    

Visit to a peri-urban agroecological enterprise guided by a technician from the Green Belt Project

El Gaucho Agrarian Park Preliminary Project. Master Plan and Rosario Green Belt Project

Recovering degraded soils for food production

The construction of a healthy soil landscape in urban, peri-urban and rural areas is related to reducing the imbalance of the metabolic interaction between society and nature, and overcoming the city-countryside dichotomy. Agroecological food production close to cities is a relevant strategy to overcome the metabolic gap. In this sense, in the urban and peri-urban farming spaces of the city of Rosario, appropriate technologies are being installed that take advantage of renewable resources and allow greater autonomy and better working conditions for farmers. Solar systems are already working for the extraction and heating of water, the drying of food, ecological toilets with biodigesters and recycling of sewage. Simple rainwater harvesting systems have been implemented in Parks-Orchards and Community Gardens and other strategies for capturing and reusing rainwater resources are being analysed.

The recovery of degraded soils for food production through biological activity has been one of the priorities within the programme. Marginal and residual soils were transformed into spaces for growing agroecological food. A supply strategy was implemented – to horticultural orchards and farms – of specific raw materials, from waste from urban trees, breweries, sheep refrigerators, and poultry farms, to use as an input for composting and incorporation into the soil as an amendment. Within the framework of the Soil Nexus Project, the quality of the substrates is being analysed for their safe use as an input for food production.

Compost quality trial in Parque-Huerta La Tablada by PAU and PCV, 2020

Peri-urban Agroecological Establishment in the Green Belt Project, 2022

  Photovoltaic system for water extraction pump in Peri-urban Establishment

Solar dryer in Parque Huerta

Rainwater harvesting in vegetable washing module in Garden Park

Community kitchens: From the Garden to the Pot

In Rosario, there are more than 400 community kitchens that, through an alliance between social organisations and the municipality, provide food to an important sector of the city's population that is in conditions of social vulnerability.

The Municipality firstly has implemented and then supported the Rosario Food Bank (BAR), with the aim of supplying social organisations in charge of dining rooms and picnic areas. Likewise, it has a network of kitchens in each of the neighbourhoods with “Cuidar” (“Take care”) Centers, aimed at children in need. Many of these centres are associated with orchards that provide fresh food to them. These policies are coordinated by the Secretariat of Human Development and Habitat.

Other noteworthy initiatives are those developed by social and environmental organizations. The Project "From the garden to the pot" is promoted and managed by the organisation Sustainable Technological Solutions (STS). Under the slogan “help us to help”, they carry out campaigns aimed at the general public. With the proceeds, they buy agroecological vegetables from producers of urban and peri-urban agriculture. They assemble bags of vegetables and send them to popular dining rooms and canteen areas in the city of Rosario.   

Preparation of bags for the STS campaign in Rosario "From the garden to the pot"

Vegetables provided by STS to a community kitchen

Inspiration from Rosario