Organic hunters: two young Catamarcans travel the north of Argentina to help small producers
30 Nov 2020
In addition to having their own company, they work together with the Municipality of Tinogasta and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of the province to generate greater added value in the economies of the region.
Blueberries, Andean potatoes, quinoa, cumin, anise, walnuts, grapes … and the list goes on. Perhaps Matías Cabrera, 27, and Franco Gervan, 32, never imagined that, in May of last year, when both young Catamarcans participated in the Argentina Exporta Forum 2019 to present their organic asparagus, new doors would open to other regional economies northern Argentina.
From that day to today they began to investigate and discover productions in their beloved Catamarca, they bought seeds, seedlings, taught how to cultivate, met with provincial and municipal government officials, planned projects and signed contracts, always with a common objective as a lighthouse: In each production they would help Catamarca farmers to certify their production. To know the history of Cabrera and Gervan you have to go back to 2016, when they came together with the aim of producing organic vegetables and fruits. Grandchildren and children of farming families, thanks to a mutual friend, began to grow agro-ecological food.
“It was quite a challenge,” said Cabrera, “to carry out conventional agriculture we went to a totally different type of production: it was an unknown world for us. We started with an old tractor owned by one of our grandparents and put up tools and equipment that are used to grow tobacco ”.
Together with two entrepreneurial friends they created the company Waylla (which in Quechua means fertile and kind land): in addition to asparagus, they produce blueberries and collaborate with the commercialization of Andean potato and organic quinoa producers.
Currently, they cultivate 52 hectares certified under United States and European Union (EU) standards, located in fields in the towns of Alijilán and Manantiales, east of Catamarca, where the soils are sandy and the climate is humid, which gives them allows to obtain a quality asparagus. But they went for more and decided to help small farmers produce and certify food for export and domestic consumption.
Create value at source
In lands that are more than 3,000 meters high, surrounded by mountains, Cabrera and Gervan began to collaborate with producers of Andean potatoes and quinoa in Antofagasta de la Sierra.
They also traveled to Tinogasta, to the west of the province, to participate in an organic grape project together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Catamarca and the Municipality of Tinogasta through the Production Secretariat. The end? Help growers certify table grapes and raisins. In addition, they started a mill to grind cumin and anise grains.
“Through this public-private work we create greater added value at source: divided into packages of 20 or 30 grams, the producers of Tinogasta, who have cultivated high quality cumin all their lives due to the agro-ecological conditions of the place, can obtain a better price. This excited them a lot and we went from cultivating 3 hectares in 2019 to 30 this winter, aiming to reach 50 ”, explained Cabrera in dialogue with TN.com.ar.
The entrepreneurs created the firm Tinogasta Productiva SE. together with the municipality of the locality, where both young people collaborate from the management to help the commercialization of the producers.
One of the projects they develop is to produce concentrated cherry grape must for export to South Africa. While the municipality of the town of Catamarca will build the concentrator plant and have already bought 145,000 seedlings, the young people gave them to the vineyard producers to start production.
The goal is to add 300,000 more seedlings next year and in about 20 days the first containers of certified grapes with a seal of origin will arrive in Buenos Aires in Tinogasta.
At the same time, they develop a nogalero plan in different districts of the department of Tinogasta. “They are native communities that live where the Inca Route crosses. Many farmers have walnut plantations in the back of their houses and use it for their own consumption. With the help of the municipality and the provincial Ministry of Agriculture we were able to deliver 600 plants at no cost to start boosting production, which will be very good due to the conditions of the place ”, stressed Cabrera.
Chain of favours
As for many, this year was marked by barriers that arose with each new dawn. It was not easy for them to travel the province since the mandatory quarantine was decreed due to the pandemic, but together they dodged so many days of isolation and swabs that they have already lost count.
The question is obliged: why do they do it? “It is something that one carries inside. We come from tobacco-producing families, a sector that has been badly hit. Knowing the problems that arise daily in agriculture motivates you to help. They are sectors that are heavily affected by marketing prices and there is no assessment of the work of the northern producer, who is very sacrificed, ”explained Cabrera.
And he added: “They are farmers who get up at 5 or 6 in the morning, go to the fields, work and have nothing insured because they depend on rain, stone, wind, heat or cold. We want to help them without subsidizing, so that they can work and once they sell their production, they give back what the State gave them to help another producer with that ”.