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“Agroecology is born of love or pain”Says Joselo Trujillo, a producer from the town of El Pato, Berazategui, whose fifth was the second in the country to receive agroecological certification. In the case of his fifth it was the love of his mother, Trifona Flores: “Let's do that, it works, we'll be much better”Said the lady and her family was filled with love.
Berno Castillo's fifth neighbor, the first in the country to obtain certification, switched to agroecology because of pain: in 2015 Berno was hospitalized for agrochemical poisoning. Since then, its production of flowers and vegetables has replaced poisons with bio-inputs and process technologies.
However, it was the water that changed everything. In 2016 nature, with all its love, expressed all its pain: it flooded the fields with water to show how the production system was damaging it. The floods were too much water for a production without diversity. It hurt the producer families: they were left with nothing. "With the flood we lost a lot of money and many things. And that is how we met the UTT and found solutions to the storm, we joined the agroecology workshops and found answers”Says Delina Puma, who today integrates and coordinates the Popular Technical Consultancy (CoTePo) of the UTT that delivers agroecology certificates to the farms. Delina went from tragedy to joy. From pain to love. From conventional production system to agroecology.
While the producer families mutated to agroecology, consumers with concern in caring for the environment and also their own food changed their consumption practices: they reduced purchases in supermarkets and began to eat bags of organic fruits and vegetables or without pesticides. There was demand and supply. Consumers and producers. However, the marketing was failing, or at the very least sloppy. So, in this context, the Union of Land Workers opened its first store in Ramos Generales in Luis Guillón, province of Buenos Aires, where it offers agroecological vegetables and fruit and fair and sovereign warehouse products.
But there was still a difficulty: “How do I know that this tomato is agroecological?”, Always asked a consumer. The response of those who served in the warehouse was simple: take a knife, cut a piece and extend their hand with the product, as one who shows a wonder. And it worked, because there is no better proof than taste. But the need was there: there are clients who want to make sure they do not consume poisons and need something to certify them. That is why the UTT producers also opened their farms and colonies so that any consumer and node can see first-hand the agroecological process of the products they bring home.
“The certification arises from working as an agroecological marketer. Customers asked us how they could tell if a product had chemicals or not. People knew the organic, not so much the agroecological. We needed a guarantee in the warehouses to say that our products are not chemical because they took our word for it but there was nothing to certify it. That is why we began to investigate how it had been done in other countries and in meetings with producers we were writing how the certification should be with the help of INTA and Senasa. We had to adapt it to the needs of our lands and producers. Orán, Salta, is not the same as Santa Lucía, Corrientes, or La Plata, Buenos Aires. And we had to take into account that 95% of the producer families do not have land but rather rent it for periods of between two and five years”, Delina explains how the need for agroecological certification arose.
Marcelo Bellioni is a researcher specialized in agroecology at the Research Center for Family Agriculture -Cipaf- of INTA Castelar and is part of the technical team that accompanies the process of agroecological certification of the CoTePo of the Union of Land Workers: "From institutions such as INTA we accompany the certification process to analyze, circulate and systematize it. In a country where we still do not have a state certification, we put ourselves at the service to contribute to a joint construction. The fundamental thing is to support the bases themselves to generate their instruments and capacity. That is why the CoTePo of the UTT is a great milestone because they implemented this certification model themselves. The bases are the ones that will pull from the bottom up and put the traditional system in doubt ".
Until the agroecological certifications to the farms of El Pato, in the country there was only the organic seal, which gives guarantees of not consuming poisons but is exclusive for consumers due to prices and exclusive for producer families who cannot pay for the seal or who They are discriminated against for not owning the land where they sow and cultivate. The certifiers of organic products respond to international business schemes where producers are not consulted on what and how should be evaluated. Agroecology is something else. It is not just a better product and care for the environment: it is inclusion, transformation and social justice. Belloni defines it as a science, a social and political movement and a set of agricultural practices.
“Agroecological certification is much more complicated because it has to do with people's lives, organic only refers to the product”, Difference Joselo. And he adds: "Agroecology is also cordial coexistence with our children and our brothers, comfortable homes, bio-corridors. It is to know the people who receive the vegetables, make alliances and reduce intermediaries in marketing so that the price is fair for the consumer as well. Agroecology is a possible path towards healthy, sovereign and safe production. It is not an imposition what you produce”, Explains Joselo.
“An organic seal assures you that a field is produced without chemicals but it does not tell you in what conditions those who work in that field are, it does not tell you if the employees are well paid or are exploiting them. Or if there is child labor”Adds Delina to explain why the organic seal was not enough and agroecological certification was necessary.
The certification is a Participatory Guarantee System (SPG) that was written in meetings with producers and with the help of Senasa and INTA. The recognition and development of GSP by the State is a historic struggle of the international agroecological movement. To do this, we investigated how it was done in other countries and took as a model experiences that have been going on for decades in other territories of the continent, such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement of Brazil (MST).
“This protocol is more demanding in points to observe and analyze than those of organic certification”, Clarifies Bellioni. "It is elaborated based on the principles of agroecology: decent work, that the producer obtains the money corresponding to his activity, diversification of crops, short chain between producer and consumer, role of the human being as land worker and social equity”.
For the agroecological certification of the Participatory Guarantee System, producers and technicians must fill out an 18-point form with the aim of improving the quality of the products, expanding the capacities of those who produce food, and carrying out a mutual learning process among all the participating actors: producers, consumers, control institutions and local governments. In this way, the SPG recovers in the hands of the people the definition of what is healthy, what is good food and what type of production model is promoted.
Agroecological certification is concerned with living conditions, working conditions, living conditions of producers, proximity to care centers and the state of the roads; the management of land and water, the organization of tools and supplies, ecological aspects and the origin of the seeds. And it also gives a special relevance to marketing: "The quinteros in traditional production work day and night to make ends meet. With agroecology it is not like that. If the production goes to the market, it is poorly paid. On the other hand, with certification, the price is decided by the producer. Every six months we meet in an assembly with the stores and agree on prices. We sell at a fair price and the consumer gets a cheaper price than organic products and generally also cheaper than traditional production”.
“That is because in the traditional model there are many intermediaries, highly concentrated sectors of the economy such as supermarkets with a leading role and set prices, so the vegetables come at a much more expensive price”, Compares Delina. The marketing system of the Union of Land Workers is more transparent: 60% of what the customer pays goes to producer families, 20% to freight and 20% to warehouses. In the traditional way, the producer families barely manage to keep, in the best of cases, 10 percent of the final price.
“The agroecological implies that the producer is in the field, that he knows the land, that he perceives it, that a close link is generated with the Pachamama. An agroecological producer knows the life of the soil, he knows the need to diversify production. Agroecology aims for the producer to feel full producing with Pachamama and feel that he gives a service to society: healthy and living food”Adds Bellioni.
At the end of the inspection of the technicians, the colleague from the field must sign a moral contract on the form to commit to continue with this production and, thus, allow the warehouses to be organized. Now Joselo is producing seasonal vegetables: lettuce, beets, spinach, green, fennel, parsley and celery. And he is preparing tomato, eggplant and pepper for the summer-spring season. Meanwhile, aubergine from Salta and tomato from Entre Ríos are arriving at the warehouses. When that production ends, the tomatoes and aubergines will arrive from Joselo's farm.
Agroecological certification involves a meticulous and participatory process, which was slowed down by preventive and mandatory social isolation. The first 10 certified fifths are followed by 50 more in the rest of the province of Buenos Aires and when the health context allows it, the aggreocological fifths of all Argentina will continue. Joselo, who already has his certification, now has the challenge of accompanying more colleagues as CoTePo technician: “We want to expand the certification to expand the quality of life. Many of us lived as slaves in the farms, we spent 20 years around poisons. We want more and more colleagues to open their eyes, we want them to realize that this type of production that we carry out now is good: that it gives economic stability and improves social life. People, when you do agroecology, know you for what you do, for reaching the table of many families”.
Source: Union of Land Workers