Science for the autonomy of indigenous food
Together with the School of Agronomy of Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), a project of the programme PROCODAS (Programme Council of the Demand of Social Actors) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation (MINCyT) managed to reintroduce types of native corn so that the Qom community in Formosa could farm them in family plots of land.
Science for the autonomy of indigenous food
‘Professionally, this job is like a man’s dream to me,’ that was how Eduardo Musacchio, an agronomy student and undergraduate teaching assistant of the genetics chair of the School of Agronomy of Universidad de Buenos Aires (FAUBA), described the experience he has been developing since 2013 as a member of Grupo de Estudio y Trabajo junto a las comunidades Qom de la región del Chaco (GET) (Study and Work Group alongside Qom communities in the area of Chaco.) He discovered the fieldwork he is conducting together with an indigenous community (which has different cultural rules, needs and abilities) in a place distant from everything he had observed in the books he read during his course of studies.
The GET was created five years ago, after Félix Díaz, the qarashe [authority] of the Qom community Potae Napocna Navogoh (The Spring) of the province of Formosa, contacted professionals and students of the School of Agronomy seeking technical assistance for a crucial activity: to recover autonomy in the field of food and thus contribute to improving the life quality of the inhabitants of Paraje Colonia La Primavera, Laguna Blanca.
‘Qoms were originally hunters and harvesters; however, they raised the demand as the possibility of cultivating corn,’ expressed Pablo Rush, an agricultural engineer and the secretary of Extension of FAUBA. ‘We began with activities in vegetable gardens, and the university helped the community find funding: one of the funding projects was Programa Consejo de la Demanda de Actores Sociales (PROCODAS)(Programme Council of the Demand of Social Actors) of the MINCyT,’ he announced. The project ‘Maíces nativos para la promoción de la soberanía alimentaria y la inclusión social en una comunidad Qom del Gran Chaco’ (Native corn to promote food sovereignty and social inclusion of the Qom community in the Gran Chaco) had 70 thousand pesos funding by PROCODAS and was used to purchase specific equipment for rural tasks, such as shellers and manual seeders.
Through effective dynamics, PROCODAS seeks orienting the abilities of the technological scientific sector into the solving of problems in priority areas identified by the MINCyT. In order to achieve the foregoing, joint actions linked to institutional spaces are promoted. In this case, the programme’s familiar agricultural line aims at introducing innovations and carrying out productive improvements in familiar agricultural and livestock units, small businesses or cooperatives, paying special attention to projects which involve the development of agricultural machinery for small agricultural and livestock units.
Innovation for community production
Specifically, the initiative funded by PROCODAS consisted of the reintroduction of native corn adapted to the agroecological conditions of the Argentine Northeast area with the aim of producing grains and seeds that will contribute to this native community food sovereignty. The commitment was undertaken by Julián Cámara Hernández, an researcher of the agricultural botany chair of FAUBA and responsible before PROCODAS. Cámara Hernández devoted 35 years to the harvest of Northeastern native corn and created a gene bank at the university, which was key in determining the species to be cultivated by the Qom community, with whom he worked during the diagnosis phase.
The university specialists proposed semi extensive production in family plots of land, following a supplementary agroecological model with horticultural production and the landscape improvement. Thus, plots of land for grain production were handled through a system called ‘broadened family,’ formed by a group of approximately 15 to 20 people (grandparents, children and grandchildren, all of them above 14 years old.) ‘After certain success in the field of horticulture, we decided to move on to the next level, which meant extension agriculture in small farms. Corn is an extensive crop, and different types of corn exist. The university did not want to bring the commercial species but a species more adapted to the culture of this native community that would have cultural and symbolic value,’ assured Rush.
The process of reintroducing autochthonous corn called for team work, which aimed at multiplying the seeds in small plots of land prior to moving on to bigger cultivation. The FAUBA secretary of Extension said that ’there, the elderly identified the species we brought as some of the food they used to eat when they were younger. The different types of corn –or Avagá– already had their names in the original language: Damiareik (floury yellow corn), Tobareik (red corn like tupí or Flint), Lapageik (yellow corn for locro) and Chipiagá o Chipialageik (popped corn or popcorn.)’ Nowadays, almost 30 small farms are being built in a joint construction. Moreover, the objective is to recover associated meals, as well as culinary cultural practices.
From his first trips, Musacchio recalls the conversations shared in the community centre, the first seeds for small farms in a time ’when they were in charge of characterizing the situation, but, above all, of strengthening bonds.’ The student qualified the fieldwork as an enriching experience, both personally and professionally: ’As time went by, we developed a much stronger relationship with the community members. This helped us define the collaboration mechanisms that we could implement for development more clearly. As a social group, Qoms are living a very tough situation. That is why the projects have always been created to strengthen the community's autonomy.’
Rush stresses the forging of bonds with students, a process reaffirmed through constant work and frequent trips: ‘The self-esteem of a group of people that at the beginning lived on subsidies was increased, and mutual learning was provided: about 15 students and teachers specialised not only in Agronomy, but also in Environmental Sciences and Anthropology stay at the community houses and travel every two months in order to assess the progress made.’
The long-term goal of the project funded by PROCODAS entails fractioning-cultivated grains in bags and commercializing them in the City of Laguna Blanca, Nainec and in the FAUBA Fair in the City of Buenos Aires. The bags used for packing grains will be manufactured in a textile workshop located in the community. This will strengthen an aggregate circuit of virtuous value. In addition, they hope more autochthonous corn batches are sold in the form of seeds with the help of incorporated technical abilities.
Technology in pursuit of social inclusion is another example of the strategic focal points that the MINCyT deems to be fundamental, and the agroecological production proposal culturally acknowledged by the Qom community makes the production system –in the medium and long term– independent from the need for economic resources in order to function. Thus, the technological scientific system gets closer to the demands from regional economies, consolidating and establishing new productive bonds.
 Meat and vegetable stew popular and typically eat in South America, especially, in Argentina.