Julieta Quiróses researcher at the Institute of Anthropology of Córdoba - CONICET - UNC, and mentor of the exhibition "Look at that mountain - Life and work in Traslasierra". In this interview he analyzes the importance of making peasant work in this area visible. In addition, he talks about the quality of agricultural-organic products and the difficulties that exist today to eat healthy and varied.
Until May 24, on the ground floor of the Museum of Anthropology, the photo-ethnographic sample “Look at that mountain - Life and work in Traslasierra ”.It is a set of texts, objects and images that bring us closer to the rural and daily work of the people of the Traslasierra Valley.
To their ways of producing food, their ways of living and creating links, but above all to a community production mode and their relationship with the land. In this dialogue, from the warmth of her home in the mountains, the anthropologistJulieta Quirós reflects on the importance of making peasant work in this area visible. Of not perceiving it as something distant orexotic.
“Rural work and the way of life of the towns of the Traslasierra Valley –Quirós explains–, speaks of an ecologically sustainable way of producing food and wealth: an issue that today is part of the concerns and debates on national and international public agendas. The task of how we do to produce healthy and poison-free food has today become a challenge on a planetary scale. Family and peasant agriculture illuminates a path within this debate. It is remarkable that we are at a time in humanity when we had to invent a specific name to distinguish "healthy" products from the mass of "foods" that we produce ourselves: we call them "organic" or "agroecological." They constitute a market in geometric expansion, both in the central countries and, to a lesser extent, in our peripheral countries.
- How would you characterize this mountain region in relation to food sovereignty?
–Traslasierra and the western Cordoba region as a whole have historically been stigmatized and relegated as "poor" areas, from the perspective of the dominant agricultural model, today based on the production of grains for export. That which is known by the name of "commodities". However, the west of Cordoba is an extremely productive region of economic-ecological-social wealth: a complex of wealth that is generally separated and whose articulation is precisely what "the world" is coveting today.
Among other things, Traslasierra's peasant work produces “food sovereignty”. This means, conditions and capacities to elaborate and consume quality food. Thus, Traslasierra farm families do this on a daily basis through pluriactive economies that combine activities of self-consumption and surplus sales: they grow their vegetables, raise chicken and eggs in the field (free of antibiotics, hormonal aggregates and industrial foods); they harvest and market aromatic and medicinal herbs (the famous "weeds" of the mountain areas); they are responsible for 30% of the province's goat production.
That is, about 400 tons of top quality goat meat per year. In turn, they produce dairy derivatives, such as goat cheese, mountain honey is also produced and, most importantly, with their presence and work in the territory they promote ecological conditions for the reproduction of the beekeeping industry that today we call « organic '.
- Why is it so difficult to find organic products produced in Córdoba, within supermarkets and large distribution chains?
– The market for organic products is expanding in an extraordinary way, but active policies are needed that allow local producers to be the ones to supply that market. It is unforgivable that the States (provincial, and the Nation) do not work to make this articulation a comprehensive economic policy, which on the other hand would be a guarantee for the development of regional economies.
- What are the state policies demanded by agricultural producers in this area?
– Peasant or agroecological production needs a State policy of support, accompaniment and promotion. So that these and other healthy foods, produced by the hands of thousands of Cordoba families, can cross the borders of the towns of the interior and reach the consumer of the city, the State must implement concrete actions.
The family producer requires two types of actions, which must go together for a synergistic relationship: on the one hand, a clear and sustained policy in support of capitalization in infrastructure. This could be implemented through credits adapted to the sector. And on the other, a territorial and technical support in the production and marketing chain.
Today, thousands of Traslasierra families are responsible for the production of "regional" items: goat cheese, aromatic herbs, kid, wild honey. A set of products that nourish, with flavor and tradition, the main economic activity in the area, which is tourism. In other words: the peasant economy and tourist activity are absolutely interdependent. However, the absence of state policies means that these producers are the last ear of the jar in that chain of production of wealth: intermediaries in commercialization retain the bulk of the value produced, while the rural producer is imprisoned in unfair prices.
Cutbacks and absence of the State
"In the last three years, the government has been developing a series of measures that tend to the structural lack of protection of the family producer," explains Quirós, when referring to the management of President Macri.
“For example, with the dismantling of the Undersecretariat of Family Agriculture, carried out by the Ministry of Agroindustry of the Nation, the Trasasierra area and many others in the interior of the country have been seriously damaged. In Córdoba alone, it went from 60 territorial technicians to just 7, to meet the needs of 10,000 family producers throughout the province.
The current cuts at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) go in the same direction: contrary to what the global agendas are proposing, in Argentina agroecological production is practically being left out of the Nation's agrarian affairs agenda ”.
Eating healthy: a right or a privilege?
According to the latest surveys by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC), a typical family needed $ 28,750.94 to avoid falling below the poverty line. Thus, during the month of March, the price of the total Basic Basket increased by 4.3 percent. This is the figure –$ 28.750,94– that a couple with two children only need to buy food, clothes and pay for some services, without falling below the poverty line. However, in the lists corresponding to food, agricultural-organic products are not included either.
–Eating in a healthy and varied way is almost a class privilege today. What do you think in the area in this regard?
–In Traslasierra, as in many other rural interiors of the country, quality food is defended by cultural tradition and as a form of autonomy. "It's not going to compare," the serrano used to say about the flavor of Creole chicken, fed on corn; The same is often said of Creole meat: the local palate opposes it with the excessive "pork" flavor that characterizes meat from the refrigerator or "feedlot". However, this does not mean that peasant families are not victims of the conditions and effects of the Argentine food industry as we know it today.
Quite the contrary: like the popular sectors and working classes of the city, the towns of the interior of the country are the main victims of the perversity of cheap food; while the full right to consume natural and quality food is a right exclusively given by the market, that is, reserved for the middle and upper classes.
It is shocking when we see, for example, that in the soybean departments, cities and towns of the province of Córdoba, the women of agribusiness entrepreneurs are part of the select list of clients of small producers and agroecological cooperatives. In other words, the Argentine rural elite is very clear that they can make a living from soy cultivation, but that food for their children has to be grown in another way and elsewhere.
- Why do you think that the National government, in measures such as "essential prices", leaves out all the variety of agricultural-organic products?
– This exclusion is part of the class logic itself in which the food industry was shaped and deepened in the last thirty years: the poor are the ones who eat the worst, not only not so much because they eat "less", but above all because they eat poorly. . The poor are structurally and systematically confined to buying cheap and worst-quality "food": processed flours, "long-life" products, fast-food, cold cuts, and so on.
–Is it possible to generate poison-free food production areas. That is, outside of the agrochemical packages imposed by Monsanto?
–The social struggle for the preservation of Cordovan native forests - of which today only 3% of the original surface is conserved - is directly linked to the conditions for the possibility of developing an alternative, ecological and poison-free agriculture. The presence of families living in the countryside, both in Traslasierra and in western Córdoba as a whole, is a guarantee of this preservation, since the use and management that the small rural producer has of the native forest contributes to improving the renewal rate.
In other words, it is not a question of "not touching" the mountain, as some naive environmentalists sometimes proclaim; Rather, it is about maintaining and defending local forms of use that, as in family farming, guarantee the conservation and better reproduction of the species.
This happens in Traslasierra not only with the management of firewood - the peasant family produces firewood on a daily basis, in a sustainable and reproductive way - but also with other activities, such as goat production, for example, which depends on the bush for food and that , in turn, is a source of recreation for that mountain.
In this sense, it is necessary for environmental actors to begin to visualize and communicate more and more in public arenas that when we speak of "Cordovan mountain" we are talking about a place populated by people, many people. Monte and the towns of Traslasierra make up an inessential, inseparable reality: there is no one without the other. The Cordovan mountain is a people, a culture, and a way of producing wealth –healthy food– , among other things.
– What alternatives does the Córdoba Peasant Movement promote to preserve the land and ensure a healthy and varied diet?
–The Campesino Movement of Córdoba has been working locally and territorially on all these issues. It is an ant work that is done in and from each territory, and that depends on generating and strengthening daily ties between families and producers, production networks and fair commercialization, awareness and defense of the right to roots of rural people in the place of belonging.
The State must work alongside organizations like this one, whose social function in practice goes far beyond the "peasant question": these are initiatives that generate local and regional development in the interior of the province, strengthen modes of production. ecologically sustainable agriculture, promote effective citizenship rights (access to health, education, work) and weave networks of healthy food supply between the countryside and the city.
- Is it possible to generate in the city other consciences and worldviews in relation to peasant and community life? Was the exhibition "Look at that mountain" generated as a result of these motivations?
–Yes. The exhibition was aimed at "looking at" that mountain a little more closely and in its privacy, with everything that includes it: its people, its ways of producing food and wealth, its ways of creating community in and with that "nature".
That we begin to understand from the city that this way of life and production is not something "exotic" or something that happens "far away", on the other side of the mountains: it is a reality that involves us because it offers us ways to solve problems that they belong to everyone; and that far from being a mode of production of the «past», peasant agriculture, diversified, free of poison and producing territories without poison, is the agriculture of the future.
Julieta Quirós: anthropologist and researcher at the Institute of Anthropology of Córdoba - CONICET - Museum of Anthropology of the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities of the UNC
Portraits of Julieta Quirós: Ruth Guzmán
Photographs Sample"Look at that mountain - Life and work in Traslasierra"
Text: Irina Morán