"Naturaleza Viva" is a farm of about 200 hectares, in the north of Santa Fe, in Guadalupe Norte, where fifteen families work that produce a great variety of foods without using agrochemicals or transgenics. Its production reaches thousands of homes in many Argentine provinces. The remarkable experience has been led for three decades by Irmina Kleiner and Remo Vénica, a couple of former militants of the Rural Movement of Catholic Action, persecuted by the military dictatorship for organizing peasants in struggle. The incredible story of the survival of Remo and Irmina for four years in the Chaco mountain was first reflected in the bookMount motherby Jorge Miceli (author's edition, 2006) and then in the filmThose on the ground, by the director Juan Baldana (2015).
The revolution they fought for then took other directions in the lives of Remo and Irmina: their farm “Naturaleza Viva” is a powerful example that it is possible to produce food in another way, that agroecology is sustainable and that it can resist crises economic and unfair models of the most varied nature. The farm receives schools, delegations and families interested in learning about this experience, and the presence of students and professionals who carry out internships is constant, producing a rich exchange of knowledge and experiences from different parts of the country and the world.
The preaching of both, sometimes present in person but multiplied by an aura that little by little becomes a legend throughout the country, is a message full of lucidity, conviction and good sense, and this is how it appears in this sustained dialogue in Gualeguaychú, within the framework of a conference on agro-ecological production as part of the activities of the Healthy, Safe and Sovereign Food Plan of that city.
Those responsible for "Live Nature" explain here how it is possible to produce without harming nature, without poisoning food and without enslaving themselves as producers. Irina's calm contrasts with Remo, who speaks with admirable passion. Of course, the transcript of the interview fails to convey the warmth and enthusiasm of their voices, when telling what it was like to bet - thirty years ago - on what was not yet known by the name of agroecology: the most natural way to emancipate oneself from the debts that burdened them. And they assure that this way of producing puts back in the center, together with nature, "to the producer, it returns the will to live, the enthusiasm, because it becomes the most important part of the production process", while in the Agrochemical agriculture "is an outcast, an instrument of the multinationals."
“Fertility is maintained through the cycling of the elements of our ecosystem: the sun is free, the air is free, the water is free and the land is naturally free for the peasant. Proper handling of the sun, air, land and water optimizes production ”.
Remo and Irmina, you have been in charge for more than 30 years, since 1987, one of the most interesting experiences of natural production, of agroecological production, in Argentina. I would like to know what the beginning was like, that they decided to bet on that way of producing.
Rowing:Regarding how it was, at the time of the change ... Do you know what happens? When you adjust the shoe, what you have to do is change it. In this case, we were already in a perverse moment of the "green revolution", of the use of agrochemicals. And we entered that game without being aware of it, so we went into debt. In my father's field there was a great debt, with the risk of losing the land. So what we did was: gentlemen, let's turn around, let's make a possible change, let's save the earth. And for that we decided to prevent the use of pesticides in the field, because we already saw the negative effect of pesticides on the quality of the land.
Irmina:The decision was not to continue getting into debt by buying more inputs, and on the other hand also the land, which was very deteriorated, very impoverished, had no life. That was a very strong challenge, it was necessary to reconvert, to begin another process of re-fertilizing, revitalizing, generating trees in the environment, organic matter. That was one of the elements to make the decision.
Rowing:What is the most serious question, for the producer, of the production techniques that the "Green Revolution" made common, the techniques of industrial agriculture? It is the permanent indebtedness of the producer, because he buys inputs and takes them out on account of the production that he is going to get in four to six months. But if our grandparents, our parents, never got into it, because they were self-sustaining on the subject, because they produced their seeds, and they didn't need to buy poisons or supplies because they worked looking at the earth, looking at the quality and vitality of the soil.
And how was the decision?
Rowing:It was from one day to the next. We decided not to use more pesticides and we started. We did not have many indicators of similar experiences in the country or abroad. We are talking about 1987, and there was not even a legal framework. There was a resolution on organic production in 1994 and Law 25,127 on organic production is only from 1999.
In 1987 there was no internet to search ...
Rowing:No. There was no internet. Today you press a button and you have experiences from China, the United States, Europe, Brazil, and so on. We had none of that. But we had a perception of what was happening, because we were both peasant leaders, of the Movement of Agrarian Leagues, of the Rural Movement of Argentine Catholic Action, which has worked a lot in the region forming groups of young peasants. This has allowed us to identify and observe peasants from Misiones, Formosa, Chaco, Corrientes, Santa Fe, from different parts of the country and the Northwest, to see how the activities were developed. Many of the small farmers were agro-ecological without naming them. They didn't have the label, but they didn't use poisons, they didn't use purchased seeds, they didn't use herbicides, they used the spine, the hoe. And that for us was very strong.
Irmina: And another ingredient is that in 1984 we had returned from exile, we had been in Europe, and there we strongly saw environmental movements, the fight against pollution. We saw the very polluted rivers, the polluted environment. So we saw where this process of killing soil fertility, polluting and using agrochemicals would lead. We had the image very close.
How does Living Nature work?
Rowing:Our perspective is biodynamic, but in the same work that we are doing we use others according to the conditions: whether they are fruit trees, horticulture, extensive productions. There are variables, we do everything. Tambo and dairy productions. We never, or exceptionally, sell milk: what we sell is cheese, yogurt, ricotta, butter, dulce de leche. In the other activities we have, agriculture, we do agricultural production but we also do the transformation of products. We transform the thread and the sunflower into cold-pressed oil. Hepellet, which remains from that pressing process, cycles again on the farm. That is why we speak of integral farms, that is why we speak of the importance of knowing how many minerals we remove from the soil through the type of productions we do, so that the soil does not wear out and lose its productive capacity. Agroecology is very important here, that is, the recovery of soil nutrients from the biological processes of the modes of production. And wheat, corn, transformed into wholemeal flours, which also have a difference compared to wholemeal flours with what we consume as white flour.
It's like a virtuous circle right?
Irmina:A fertile soil is very efficient to produce without agrochemicals. Because insects and weeds come on deteriorated soils. Diseased plants emerge from deteriorated soils, and diseased plants are attacked by microorganisms, insects, pests in general. But pest plants disappear with the fertility of the land, and fertility is maintained through the cycling of the elements of our ecosystem: the sun is free, the air is free, the water is free, and the land is naturally free for the farmer. Proper handling of the sun, air, land and water optimizes production. And if in the production process you do crop rotation, combination of crops, combination of agriculture and livestock, life and the incorporation of nutrients are favored. In the case of "Living Nature", we make a very important addition, which is to return the phosphorus to the earth from the grinding of the bones of our own cattle, which is sold the meat but not the bones. You don't have to be stupid in agricultural work, you have to be smart in the recovery of nutrients. If I sell the sunflower grain, I am selling the minerals, because what I sell is energy, I sell the oil they consume. The same thing if I, instead of selling the orange, sell the juice, all the rest is part of the cycling of the elements, and so on. So how do these elements cycle? Through the animal. Dairy cows consume thepellet from sunflower, they consume vital elements to cycle, the minerals in the soil to allow a sustainable agriculture with high profitability but also sustainable over time.
That high profitability, in your case, is also linked to the fact that you do not sell raw materials ...
Rowing: Exact. We have the entire chain: production, processing, transformation, sale. We deliver food to cities and towns in 23 of the 24 provinces of the country. We have networks. Because we also do it through networks.
Is it central then that the producer does not resign the elaboration of his own product?
Rowing:And it also has to do with the history of agriculture. The history of the original peoples. The story of our European grandparents. They delivered the products to the market because at that time let's not forget that more than 50% of the people lived in the countryside. Today we have only 7%, and it seems to me that I am exaggerating. All this phenomenon made them appropriate the work of the agricultural producer. Then the agricultural producer becomes simply a producer of raw material, which is the most complex and riskiest item that exists. Because you have the climatic factors: rain, droughts, pests, diseases. All this became more and more complicated and they have consciously taken away from us being food producers. Because also, behind it was all the use of poisons, which have nothing to do with food production. This is the great paradox of today's society, for the men of the cities, for the agricultural workers. It cannot be that we are producers of food contaminated with agrochemicals, and worse still, affecting the life of our Pachamama, which is what gives us the possibility of living today and continuing to live in the future. We are in a society with a lot of risk from this great phenomenon of urbanism and zero rurality. And we have also lost this from the entire food processing chain.
“We are used to seeing the fields free of people, of individuals, of families. We have to seriously rethink this, what has happened is very serious. We have to repopulate the earth ”.
Therein lies the secret.
Rowing:Clear! When we realized that, then there was the potato: we tripled the profit reducing the risks. You imagine? We are left with the three links, but not only that, the richest thing about this is that from one link to another there is no transmission or taxes because it is the producer himself who generates everything. Therefore, from primary production, from the movement of soil, to the finished product, it is a whole chain where all the profit remains for the producer and in this way he can reinvest, he can recreate the productive systems. And all this from recovering the life of the earth, of the soil, the most extraordinary potential that we must take care of so that the new generations, both Argentineans and all of us who live on the planet can continue living in the future.
Irmina:And on the other hand, each of these productive links requires hands and heads behind doing and making things concrete, then from the depopulated countryside we go to a field that generates employment, occupation, and therefore resources for the families. And it is repopulated. It is a fundamental social aspect, the productive structure of the field is a social question.
Rowing:We are used to seeing the fields free of people, of individuals, of families. We have to repopulate the earth.
You show that it is not a utopia, it is not impossible.
Rowing:We work two hundred hectares, fifteen families. And if we take into account that there are more than 60 million hectares in the country that are not populated, then 60 million hectares, divided 200 by 15, need between 4 and 5 million families to repopulate the countryside. And surely you are going to tell me "Che, but how are you going to repopulate the countryside? If the culture was lost." We must get it back! Culture is not buried, it is alive in our grandparents and in the experiences of many peasants, because there are experiences from Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, extraordinary in this sense, and there are universities that are rethinking the educational and training systems to prevent this decaying process of an agriculture of pesticides and poisons and to provoke an agriculture of life, of fraternity, of affective and constructive relationships between the countryside and the city.
It is a phenomenon that is already taking place.
Rowing:Yes do you know why? Because the "Green Revolution" is collapsing, the culture of pesticides: they don't know what to do because the soils are deteriorating. According to data from international organizations, every minute twelve hectares are desertified on planet Earth. Twelve hectares! It's bad.
Irmina: Yes, it is very serious. And on the other hand, the strong argument of the "Green Revolution" was always the need to produce food to combat and reduce hunger in the world. It turns out that after 30 years hunger in the world is not reduced, on the contrary, it continues to increase: then we know that it is not a problem of food production, but of distribution of that food. And that with desertified lands or important losses of fertility, it is obvious that less will be produced, if where is it going to come from if we kill the life of the soil. That is very logical: if we do not have soil, we cannot produce food.
Rowing:We have problems of hunger and at the same time serious diseases, but how are we going to have a healthy population if it consumes agrochemicals, pesticides, poisons? So we have to modify the production system to produce. There is a very beautiful phrase from a great teacher of humanity who was Hippocrates, 350 years before Christ: "May your food be your medicine, and may your medicine be your food."
Another concept that you mentioned, in relation to the diversity of experiences and techniques that are being generated. Until recently, these perspectives had little contact with each other, but now there is more and more interrelation, largely due to communicational advances. You mentioned that they are not contradictory but complementary perspectives ...
Rowing:Yes, they are proposals that have emerged from reality, from very skilled people, among them teachers like the case of Masanobu Fukuoka, in Japan, with natural agriculture. Or Jairo Restrepo's proposal with regenerative agriculture, Rudolf Steiner's biodynamics, Bill Mollison's permaculture. Fortunately, we are interacting with all of them now, looking for the favorable aspects of each one, because in one region it favors one, in another region it favors another, it favors a productive system, another productive system. They are complementary, and this is the important thing: there are several ways to produce without attacking and without fundamentally poisoning the food for our beloved population.
And some of those techniques are ancient, or are inspired by very ancient practices.
Irmina:It is that before the "Green Revolution" agriculture also existed! But from this system, all the research organizations were supporting, investigating and dedicating their energies and resources to this proposal. And the other was stopped investigating. So today is a field that science will have to recover. But thank goodness, we have all these other institutions, organizations and scholars who on their own were developing many tools to produce in another way, or to support with specific techniques that natural production that was being done. With errors, but that did not harm or pollute the environment like agriculture based on agrochemicals.
Rowing:We work on 200 hectares, of which 110 are our own, and 120 that are rented to producers who have abandoned due to deficiencies in soil productivity. We are recovering and incorporating them into agroecological production. This is very important to say because slowly thepoolsIn our region, which is north of Santa Fe, with third-rate soils, they are abandoning the fields because they end up being unproductive. Because they also have to pay the rent to the producer and get their profits. And now they are experiencing some minimal phenomena, some of heavy rains and others of drought like the ones we had today, then the system collapses because they, the agriculture of chemists, have a high percentage of costs, and yes or yes they have to grow crops to pay for investments, purchased inputs. I know cases of families that produced in 13 to 15 thousand hectares and that collapsed. In agroecology the advantage is that you do not risk previously: the seed is produced by you, the inputs of the fertility of the land are produced by the management of pastures, green manures, composts, through biofertilizers, through biodynamic preparations, through regenerative agriculture, that with a ton of preparations that you make you can make 100 hectares, 200 hectares vitalize and cause the effect of greater fertility and higher productivity of the land.
The other element that seems central to me in a time when there are so many factors that bind people together, is that natural production returns autonomy to the producer, power over himself, the sense of being the owner of his destiny, right ?
Rowing: Clear! And not only autonomy. It restores the will to live, the enthusiasm, because the farmer becomes the most important part of the production process, the one that generates the production process. In the agriculture of agrochemicals, the producer is an outcast, he is an instrument of the multinationals.
In fact it may or may not be. It does not matter.
Rowing:It may or may not be there, you have the representatives of the corporations who can develop the crop without the need for them to be present. But in organic farming the peasant is an active part, because he is developing the process, a growth process. An ascending process of fertility. A bottom-up process in labor. An ascending process of quality of life, health, well-being, biological diversity, of beginning to live extraordinary processes. Also from the point of view of the animals that come to repopulate the place.
“In organic farming the peasant is an active part, because he develops the process, a growth process. An ascending process of quality of life, health, well-being, biological diversity, of beginning to live extraordinary processes ”.
How is that?
Irmina:They ask us "Che, but you who make fig jam, make figs in syrup, how do you do if parrots eat me all?" Well, the farm is inhabited by red eagles and caranchillos that do not leave a parrot. There is no parrot in "Living Nature." But if it wasn't for this producer's reflection, we wouldn't know why. We went in to observe how the birds are. Because we have tall trees. Eucalyptus, and other tall trees ...
Rowing:Of all kinds of very tall trees. We also have a family of monkeys that populated it 8, 10 years ago, a female came, a pioneer, and before the year the male came, and now there are eight monkeys that are populating “Living Nature”. And it is also an efficient way: they plant the forests we build for us. Because we started “Naturaleza Viva” with 60 trees that we gringos had in those days, nothing else, because everything had to be dedicated to agriculture. Today we have more than 20 thousand trees, in a forest system interacting with fruit trees, as well as other species of the place and missionary species, of fruit trees, which adapt perfectly to our northern region of Santa Fe because we become an almost tropical area .
Wonderful. Makes you want to go see "Living Nature".
Rowing:Anytime! And I assure you that it is a place that when you go to see it, makes you want to share, because the human being is the protagonist, it is not an outcast. Because while for the system the farmer bothers, for agroecology he is the protagonist. He is the one who drives the process. Because you also have many alternatives.
It reminded me of the idea of humble anthropocentrism, proposed by Guillermo Priotto. The human being assuming himself as part of the environment, but directing the process, of course with other values.
Rowing: Yes! And at such a level of humility that I had to sit in the forest and laugh because the monkeys taught me to produce in the forest.
Let's see, count that.
Rowing:Of course, because the group of monkeys that we have eats the fruit trees that are on the farm and they take them to the forest. How to say, cerella, mamón, custard apple, dates, loquats, chaucha ingá, a sweet bean. They eat all that, and they go and sleep in the forest. Not long ago I had to sit in the woods laughing. To think that the monkeys taught me. Because I was fighting to produce fruit trees that affected me because of the sun or frost. And they, no: they planted them with compost and in the forest. So now I have the seedlings made by the monkey family.
Made naturally by monkeys, when going to relieve themselves ...
Rowing:Naturally. I assure you that I did not tell them anything(laughs).
The last one: what should we demand of the State? Today we were talking about their role, the presence or absence, the complicity of the State or the decision to promote something different. In the case of the municipal state, which normally ignores these issues ("it's not my problem, it's the province or the national state's problem"). What if the State, and especially the municipal State, accepts the challenge of encouraging its producers to produce food in an ecological way, to feed its people, its own neighbors?
Irmina: It is fundamental: that the State, which undoubtedly has the role of watching over the entire population and ensuring that its organization, its paths, go through the best possible place. If we integrate the health problem that is intimately related to this question of food, the environment, the soil, and the productive part, I think the best proposal is this, to metaphorically clean the roads, because it will favor everyone, to the producers because they are going to resume the path of clean production and stop spending on agrochemicals that are not really necessary; in contributing to the revitalization of the soil from production, thus closing the way of the loss of fertility; to repopulate trees where it can be repopulated, that is, the trees can be for forest use as trees for food production, both. And above all, health for the population, in a clean environment, the health of the population is obviously going to be much better.
Rowing: A mayor must be, among other things, the administrator of the quality of life of the city, and must provoke the rural people to review their behavior to avoid that the soils continue to deteriorate, but also prevent them from continuing to buy mortgages pesticides and poisons, and also project an action of agroecology that is already giving us examples. It is what we have to do. From this phenomenon of the "Green Revolution", we have lost the sensitivity of the mutual relations between human beings, between the countryside and the city, between food production and consumers. We have to recreate relationships of humans, of human beings, not of beasts as it happens at this moment. And I say that it is possible because we have been self-sustaining in food production for 31 years now. All we have to buy is salt, pepper and a couple of other things. The rest we produce everything, because Pachamama is wonderful, it gives us the opportunity with minimal management that we as farmers, as peasants, as people linked to the land, we can generate everything on our land. The agriculture of pesticides, industrial agriculture, makes the producer lose his affection for the land. Any human being! What love can I have if I am poisoning her?
AMERICO SCHVARTZMAN,DIRECTOR OF THE VANGUARD. DEGREE IN PHILOSOPHY. JOURNALIST. AUTHOR OF “DELIBERATION OR DEPENDENCE. ENVIRONMENT, SOCIAL LICENSE AND DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY ”(PROMETEO 2013).