Rethinking Agroecological Policies: The ProHuerta Program

Carola López
ProHuerta 30 years logo. Source: Argentina Gov

According to the Ministry of Social Development of Argentina, the main objective of ProHuerta is “to improve food sovereignty, favour the participation and organization of vulnerable sectors of the population and promote the commercialization of surpluses.” In addition, it promoted the development of “alternative markets with an inclusive outlook.”

The program was designed and implemented by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) together with the National Ministry of Social Development. Meanwhile, its implementation falls on the Secretariat of Social Inclusion, and, based on official information, it is implemented under five central strategies: 1) promotion of orchards and agroecological farms (family, school and community); 2) technical assistance and training; 3) food and environmental education; 4) strengthening of productive projects and access to water; 5) support for marketing through local markets and popular fairs.

Broadly speaking, it has more than 630,000 orchards and 130,000 farms that contribute to food access for more than 3.5 million people. With a national scope, it has a territorial presence in 88% of the country’s municipalities. In addition, it has a network of 20,000 volunteer promoters who contribute to territorial work, connecting with the population and solving problems.

Over the years, ProHuerta has been recognized internationally as a successful policy in self-production and food sovereignty. The program’s experience has been promoted in various ways, being replicated in countries like Haiti, as well as taken as an “example policy” during the Latin American Course on Food Self-Production, Food Security and Local Development. This course was sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with the goal of increasing the technical and methodological capacities of the representatives of different countries in the region for the generation and implementation of policies, strategies, programs and projects for food security and local development.

A Brief History

To understand some of the issues ProHuerta is facing nowadays, it is important to recognize the historical context in which the program was developed. During the 1980s, Argentina was in a complex economic and social situation caused by decades of military dictatorship and successive economic crises that reached a critical point with hyperinflation during the government of Raúl Alfonsín, and continued with various processes of structural economic adjustments. It is in this scenario that ProHuerta was conceived and implemented. Therefore, it can be thought as a policy of welfare that, due to its success and sustenance over time, gradually became a development policy.

Furthermore, the program was designed to mitigate the economic situation that affected the most vulnerable groups in society. Thus, a demographic cut can be observed, privileging families with children under 14 years of age, pregnant women, disabled people, and adults over 70 years of age who live in socially unfavourable conditions, and present a situation of nutritional vulnerability as the target population. In other words, the program had – at first – the main objective of preventing this social sector from falling into indigence.

For this reason, the central focus of the program was to promote family farming, understood as “a type of production in which the domestic unit and the productive unit are physically integrated. Agriculture is the main occupation and source of income for the family group and the family contributes the predominant fraction of the labour force.”

As it was said before, with the passage of time, PruHuerta was re-signified towards a more developmentalist perspective. It began to be presented as a new productive alternative to the modern agricultural system – characterized by the monopoly of production, monoculture and the development of biotechnologies – that enhance mass-production to the detriment of individuals and the environment.

Issues ProHuerta has faced in recent years

Taking this stance in theory did not necessarily translate into practice. This is evidenced, mainly since the 1900s, in the complications observed in various localities at a national level; regarding the commercialization of the surplus, both in the lack of official retail spaces and in the legal figure that should be assigned to the ProHuerta farmers. What is observed in several cases is a “bottleneck” effect since the producers are not registered as they remain excluded from the official sales circuit, replicating the initial exclusion conditions of the population in question.

An example of this problem is the case study by Feíto on the situation in the La Matanza district where it was concluded that “La Matanza’s agricultural sector has little connection with the rest of the party’s economy, lacking recognition from local authorities. The inclusion of this sector in a sustained development strategy aimed at social inclusion, the economic sustainability of local production and the respect and sustainable use of natural resources is still pending.”

Thinking Forward

The development of public policies is a non-linear process of constant transformation. Therefore, it must be restructured whenever necessary to continue covering and responding to the population’s problems. In the case of ProHuerta, the program was successful in the self-sufficiency stage, however, it was unable to respond to the sale of the surplus – a problem that occurred as a result of its implementation. The main issue is that both the lack of regularization of the legal status of the farmers and the absence of spaces for exchange and sale, thereby limiting their capacity for action and profit.

The need to establish a new problem-solution relationship that reconstructs the forms of intervention and the strategies that ProHuerta entails is clear. First, the new demands and interests of the actors are, if their needs have changed – from self-cultivation to commercialization – must build alternatives so that the program acquires functionality. Second, there is a need to adapt to current needs to remaining a leading policy in the region.

  • Are there other ways to improve this policy?
  • Can the ProHuerta experience help push agroecological policies in the region?
  • What will be the role of agroecological policies in the near future?

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Rethinking Agroecological…

by Carola López time to read: 4 min