- The Argentine city of Rosario has developed public-private partnerships over the past two decades to reserve land for agriculture and create a network of local markets where farmers locally sell their crops.
- Sustainable local agriculture is seen as a solution to mitigate climate change and promote biodiversity, and Rosario’s urban agriculture program does this by growing food for home consumption.
- This reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transporting food, increases the amount of green space in the city to reduce the urban heat island effect, and allows diverse populations of wildlife to thrive alongside cultures.
- Detailed maps of Rosario identified vacant land unsuitable for other purposes and reimagined this land to create farms in the city, while collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions led to the development of an agricultural green belt around Rosario. .
In the Argentinian city of Rosario, an award-winning urban agriculture program marks nearly two decades as a model of how to place local agriculture and agroecology at the heart of an equitable and sustainable development system.
Throughout this period, the program demonstrated many benefits of such a system: improved public health outcomes, job creation, efficient reallocation of underutilized real estate, and mitigation of greenhouse gases caused by food transport. But supporters say local agriculture and agroecology – farming systems designed to improve yields and benefit the natural environment – remain largely ignored by policymakers, town planners and activists seeking to build a better world.
In Rosario’s case, it took desperate moments to trigger this change.
“A perfect storm of financial factors gathered in the early 2000s to trigger an economic collapse in Argentina,” said Anne Maassen, global head of the Ross Center for Cities Award at the World Resources Institute (WRI).
Argentina’s Great Depression, as it is known, saw the incomes of more than 50% of the country fall below the poverty line. The city of Rosario, long an agricultural hub, has seen 25% of its workforce lose their jobs. With rising inflation and declining food supplies, people have looted grocery stores out of hunger. Compounding economic hardship, Rosario has faced a vicious cycle of forest fires in the nearby delta that eroded soil and vegetation, leading to flooding.
In the years leading up to the economic collapse, Rosario had increasingly embraced monoculture: growing soybeans to meet global demand and importing the vast majority of food for domestic consumption. In 1998, the soybean market collapsed along with the rest of the economy, and Rosario was left with a sharp drop in income and with nothing to eat.
But Rosario still had a community of highly skilled farmers and a widespread need for food and jobs. He also had maps showing vacant and underutilized land that was either abandoned or degraded, and therefore unsuitable for other purposes.
“The conversion of these areas into farms has turned them into productive agroecological sites to produce high quality food, stimulate biodiversity, reduce air pollution, regulate temperature and improve soil quality,” explains María Cantore. , municipal under-secretary for the environment of Rosario.
Urban agroecology has also created jobs, a critical part of Rosario’s recovery. Taking an ecosystem approach, Rosario’s government not only helped more farmers grow more food on more land, but also created a system of pop-up markets where the food they grew could be bought and sold locally.
No more heartache driven by global demand
“The strength of local community farming was tested again in 2008,” Maassen says.
A rebound in the global soybean market has prompted landowners to allocate more cleared land to soybean crops. For this, they had to push the cattle out of the cleared land and into the Paraná Delta. And to make the delta suitable for cattle, they lit fires to clear the vegetation.
The fires quickly got out of control, destroying land and wildlife populations, with the thick smoke posing a threat to public health. The rains that followed reignited the vicious cycle of flooding. The delta caught fire again in 2020, this time over climate change concerns.
“Win-win for everyone”
By 2015, Rosario had extended the urban agriculture program beyond the city borders and into neighboring jurisdictions. Together, they created a one-of-a-kind land ordinance known as the Green Belt Project, which permanently designated 800 hectares (1,980 acres) of land for agroecological fruit and vegetable production.
The project produced complex maps that provided an unexpected benefit when the delta caught fire in 2020: with the maps in hand, Rosario and its neighbors could clearly see that the green belt project areas were maintaining the integrity of the soil and reduced flooding and temperatures. In addition to soil integrity, the lack of pesticide use in the program has also improved biodiversity.
Over the years, as Rosario’s political leadership has changed, the community agriculture program has maintained strong support across jurisdictions.
“The many benefits to people, land and wildlife have firmly anchored the program in the process of long-term urban planning, policies, budgeting and environmental plans,” said Maassen. “The stability of the program has shown how the government can foster public-private partnerships that are win-win for everyone. “
To recognize inspiring urban development programs around the world, the World Resources Institute has created the Ross Center Prize for Cities. The prize includes a substantial cash prize for the winning program and a global communications plan to publicize the efforts of the five finalists. On June 29 of this year, WRI awarded Rosario the 2020-2021 Cities Award for its efforts in sustainable food production. Out of a field of 262 nominations from 160 cities in 54 countries, Rosario’s work has stood out for its longevity, its commitment to inclusion and social justice, multidimensional benefits and the philosophy for developing partnerships across geographic areas and in harmony with nature. The 2022 Cities Prize is now open for entries and entries will be accepted until February 15, 2022.
From vicious circle to virtuous circle
Today, 300 urban farmers in Rosario and the surrounding area temporarily own a combination of public and private land where they cultivate 2,500 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables in harmony with the land and wildlife for local residents. A study by the National University of Rosario and the RUAF Urban Agriculture and Food Systems showed that this reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 95% compared to imported food. For the sake of gender equality and social inclusion, 65% of farmers in Rosario are women.
In an effort to inspire other elected officials to embrace urban agroecology, Rosario Mayor Paul Javkin recommends a community-wide approach.
“Listen to farmers and give them a voice to co-create short-term opportunities that also look to the future,” he said in an interview regarding advice to other mayors around the world. “COVID-19 has shown us what our basic needs are. Food and health care are more important than ever. The climate crisis underlines that all the solutions we create must be in harmony with nature. “
Banner image: Expanding the urban agriculture program to areas outside the city protects land from urban development and conversion to soybean cultivation, helps reduce the risk of flooding, and lowers air temperatures. Photo by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.