Can Urban and Sustainable Agriculture be Achieved? The Case of Rosario, Argentina
The residents of Rosario, Argentina's third largest city, are no strangers to ‘’crises’’: the country's economy collapsed due to the 2001 Economic Crisis and a quarter of Rosario's workforce was suddenly unemployed. In addition, this economic crisis has forced more than half of the city's population to live below the poverty line. Unfortunately, some residents, faced with great poverty, resorted to looting supermarkets because they could not obtain food.
On the other hand, another crisis has emerged against the local people struggling with the economic crisis: climate change. The adverse effects of climate change have caused an increase in temperature in the city of Rosario, making the precipitation more irregular. This irregularity has led to floods in the city and fires that destroy habitats in the river delta close to Rosario.
Before the 2001 Economic Crisis, farmers in the ‘’Santa Fe’’ State, the agricultural centre of the city of Rosario, cultivated soybeans for export. However, in the aftermath of the Economic Crisis, Rosario has become a city heavily dependent on imported agricultural products grown with the heavy use of pesticides to meet the increasing food demand.
The Municipality of Rosario has been awarded the ‘’WRI Ross Center Prize for Sustainable Cities’’ Award, given within the term of 2020-2021, for the ‘’Programa de Agricultura Urbana (Urban Agriculture Program)’’, which puts innovative approaches first in the fight against both climate change and urban inequality. By winning it in June 2021, it once again offers us the solutions that can be developed in the face of the catastrophic consequences of the economic crisis and climate change in the city.
The primary purpose of the Urban Agriculture Program, which provides access to unused and abandoned public and private lands for farming, was to alleviate the food shortage by creating opportunities against the damaging effects of the experienced economic crisis and climate change. The fact that this program has been included in the regulations of the municipality over the years has also made it one of the inclusive cornerstones of climate action planning.
The implementation of the Urban Agriculture Program throughout the city started in 2002 to provide the local communities with tools, materials, seeds and training on agroecological production without using chemicals. The program has expanded rapidly to cover 75 hectares of Rosario, including seven “Parques Huerta (Vegetable Garden Park)” and small plots that have not been utilised or abandoned. The Municipality of Rosario has also established various markets where farmers in the city can sell local and homemade products such as pickled vegetables, sauces, syrups, organic cosmetics and jams to settle urban agriculture, which is intended to be a source of livelihood throughout the city.
Marisa Fogante, the owner of two small agricultural businesses selling her products in these marketplaces established in the city of Rosario, underlines the sufficiency of the marketplaces and states that consumers can reach the market areas on foot or by bicycle without travelling hundreds of kilometres. Fogante also adds that thanks to this sufficiency, customers meet with fresher and more affordable products, providing a mutual benefit for both local producers and consumers. Today, 300 farmers in Rosario have temporary ownership of public and private lands, and almost 65% of these farmers and producers are women.
Moreover, the Municipality of Rosario has created a unique culture around food production by expanding and integrating urban farming practices into public spaces, schools, marketplaces and various social programs, especially for young and old populations. Established for the development of low-income communities, the ‘’Parques Huerta’’ is critical for carrying out other social programs, including education and the development of young populations: municipal staff assist more than 2,400 families and 40 schools in agroecological production. Additionally, they gave pieces of training and taught these people how to set up their vegetable gardens. As a result of the education they received, many families and young individuals set up their vegetable gardens. Thus, the income distribution within the family and employment of the young population is increasing.
In addition to providing jobs and new livelihoods to the local people, the Urban Agriculture Program also has important benefits in the fight against the climate crisis: The people of Rosario, as the practice of ‘’monoculture’’, that is, ‘’growing a single agricultural product’’, dominates the entire market. As a result, it has started to supply food from a distance of more than 400 kilometres, which has created a supply chain that causes serious greenhouse gas emissions. Today, approximately 2500 tons of fruit and vegetables are produced agro-ecologically in the city of Rosario annually. According to a study by La Universidad Nacional de Rosario and RUAF Urban Agriculture and Food Systems, localising fruit and vegetable production creates 95% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to the carbon footprint of products imported into Rosario.
Since the Urban Agriculture Program went into effect in 2002, the program's impact has not been limited to the city of Rosario. Still, it has expanded into urban areas just outside the city. To institutionalise this expansion, the Municipality of Rosario presented the ‘’Green Belt Project’’ in 2015. The Green Belt Project is a new land use regulation that plans to use 800 hectares of land around the city for agroecological fruit and vegetable production. This project also significantly reduces the risk of landslides and flooding, which increases with climate change, by allowing agriculture to improve the soil over time. Agricultural engineer Antonio Luis Lattuca, the co-founder of the Urban Agriculture Program and director of the program, states that this new regulation sets Rosario apart from other parts of Argentina by paving the way for permanent areas for urban agriculture.
The idea and approach of the Municipality of Rosario to utilise unused and discarded wastelands for urban farming activities demonstrate that reasonable urban development goals can be harmonious and mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Furthermore, these new green spaces, both inside and outside the city, become a source of income for low-income residents and prevent urban sprawl. In this way, urban density and significant development have been achieved in the fight against the climate crisis.
As mentioned earlier, the City of Rosario's Urban Agriculture Program has evolved from a mere food production approach – fully integrated into many municipal plans for city management – into a tool for creating new jobs for local people and a strategy to combat climate change. The Mayor of Rosario, Pablo Javkin, states that they put ‘’continuity’’ at the base of this approach and emphasises that each public policy develops thanks to continuity. Thus, the fields of business and experience will increase. President Javkin also declares that even in all this uncertainty experienced, every local and sustainable element will become everyone's priority and that the program they have developed is interdisciplinary.
The Municipality of Rosario aims to reduce its carbon footprint by making urban agriculture a strategic plan to prevent the possible risks that the city may face in the fight against the climate crisis, to provide strong resistance to the adverse effects of climate change, and to increase employment and social inclusion in this regard. From this perspective, it would not be wrong to say that the Urban Agriculture Program is an economical, social and environmental initiative due to the areas it addresses. In this context, we can say that especially in local production and sustainable agricultural practices, as in the case of the Municipality of Rosario, other municipalities around the world can both prevent the negative effects of the climate crisis and support the advancement of economic development by creating initiatives to produce agricultural plants specific to their regions.