Beyond borders: the revolution in the consumption of organic and agroecological foods


Ilustration: Katt Aguirre

The consumption of agroecological products is becoming a reality in Latin America. But it is not only about eating agrochemical-free products, it is also about generating new dynamics. Here are stories, data and (in)actions of the States in relation to the food that reaches the table.

The consumption of agroecological products is becoming a reality in Latin America. But it is not only about eating agrochemical-free products, it is also about generating new dynamics. Here are stories, data and (in)actions of the States in relation to the food that reaches the table.

Every week, Chío and other colleagues (who prefer not to share their names for security reasons) Popolocas (indigenous people of Mexico who live in towns between Puebla and Veracruz) sell tlacoyos, tortillas and other products at an agro-ecological market of small producers and subway stations in Mexico City. They themselves harvest the beans, squash and blue corn used in their production. They do it without agrochemicals or pesticides, as part of their work in the collective Mujeres de la Tierra, Mujeres de la Periferia (Women of the Earth, Women of the Periphery).

This was founded by them to break with the machista tradition of their homes. They all live in Milpa Alta, a rural district of Mexico City where, as in the rest of the country, women suffer discrimination and gender-based violence. What happens there with agriculture is a reflection of this. According to data from the National Agrarian Registry (RAN), only 27% of the owners of agrarian nuclei are women and only 8% of these women preside over ejidal commissariats.

In May 2020, the collective secured two small plots of land on which to harvest. Today, its members use the knowledge and cooking skills inherited from their mothers and grandmothers to fight against gender violence, empower themselves economically and promote sustainable food for their community and the environment.

That is why, although many do not understand it, they sell their tortillas at double the usual price.

-The difference is that we use native corn, not Monsanto corn, says Chío, who is also an educational psychologist.

-Behind a tortilla ( of ours) there are ten months of work. It is so normal to find this food that nobody questions how much time is behind it or whether it is made from transgenic corn.

Indeed, the consumption of agroecological products in Latin America and the Caribbean goes far beyond putting pesticide-free vegetables on the table. Instead, it goes back to ancestral forms of production and invites us to think about new relationships between producers and consumers.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the difficulties, rural and indigenous movements such as Chío’s collective are increasingly committed to agroecology and food sovereignty as an alternative to the neoliberal system of monoproduction and international trade.

This report focuses on the consumption of agroecological products in Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador, an activity that, rather than a luxury for certain elites, is a right of all people and a responsibility of the States.

Produce what is necessary, redistribute everything

According to a report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Swiss Organic Agriculture Research Institute (FIBL), despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have eight million hectares under organic production, per capita consumption of this type of product in countries such as Mexico and Peru was just $1.5 in 2019, far below that recorded in North America, Europe and Oceania.

It is important to note that organic is not synonymous with agroecological. Organic agriculture maintains monocultures, depends on external inputs and is not based on agroecological principles.

Furthermore, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2021 the price of the basic food basket increased 42% in the area compared to the previous year, something that directly affects the consumption capacity of families.

The concrete experiences of Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina show the need to think of policies that feed populations from local production. This involves the inhabitants in the process, guarantees quality food and adapts the population’s consumption to seasonal products.

In this sense, local agroecological production chains are essential to think about both a healthier and more sustainable food, as well as a «fair price» for food.

-Agroecology is not just a way of producing without agrochemicals, or with fewer of them, says Luis Mosse, a sociologist at Argentina’s Family Farming Research Center. It involves production practices different from those of the traditional model, but also incorporates social and environmental criteria. Among them, local marketing.

Under the concept of «fair price agroecology», more and more farmers, NGOs, governments and academic institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are betting on this type of practice.

This is what is happening at the Parque Oliver Healthy Food Fair, in La Pampa, Argentina. It emerged in 2013, when several local producers decided to put their gardens at the service of the community. Unlike traditional markets, where the law of supply and demand prevails and fruits and vegetables tend to raise the price of the basic food basket, here producers take into account the purchasing power of consumers.

-It has to be accessible, says Horacio Farias, a member of the Fair’s assembly. We cannot charge the price of everything. It has to be an intermediate price between the producer’s effort and what the consumer can afford.

Further east, in La Plata, Province of Buenos Aires, some agroecological producers, together with the National University of La Plata and the Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), make up La Justa: a network of social, community, political and cultural organizations focused on providing the population with regional popular economy products, including agroecological fruits and vegetables.

Agustina Florin, a customer at one of the points of sale of this marketer, assures that although local products are more expensive, they are worth paying for.

-They bring many more health benefits because they are from the garden to the consumer, she says.

She also regrets that there is no general awareness of the importance of betting on this type of products, whose production models protect biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change.

According to Roberto Gortaire, founder of the Colectivo Agroecológico del Ecuador (CAE), there are at least 140 agroecological marketing circuits in Ecuador, made up of some 15,000 producer families and more than 20,000 stable consumer families. Thus, agroecological markets currently account for between 5 and 6% of the country’s food consumption.

Something similar, although on a smaller scale, is happening in the outskirts of Lima, Peru. There, inspired by collectives such as the Popular Federation of Women of Villa el Salvador (FEPOMUVES), Cusy Mejia, co-founder of Casa Tacarigua, says that they have trained more than fifty community leaders in the creation of agroecological gardens that support «common pots» programs. With this, they not only meet the basic food needs of women in the district, but also those of dozens, even hundreds, of migrants without resources.

A road full of obstacles

Although the above are just a few examples of active agroecological projects in the countries investigated, the truth is that the revolution in the consumption of this type of products seems to be in its initial stages, at the expense of overcoming many difficulties.

Although the Venezuelan government has promoted hyper-local agriculture to alleviate the rising cost of the basic food basket, it has not prospered due to a lack of culture and inputs.

-I believe that beyond educating, it is also about giving the tools and guidelines, says Zaida Di Viccenso, manager of Monarca, an agro-ecological products distributor in Caracas.

The members of the 8 de Marzo cooperative, in the community of Palo Verde, also in Caracas, produce and market pasta with pesticide-free vegetables. However, their commitment to agroecology is almost a rarity in that city. Yamileth Villegas, one of its members, mentions that in the region «almost nothing is said» about it.

The lack of awareness about the importance and benefits of agroecology is a common denominator. Paula Karavanski, a Peruvian consumer, believes that there should be more communication and awareness on this issue.

-I feel that the interest and knowledge is in a small part of society. There is a stigma on the issue of costs, that leading a healthy lifestyle is more expensive, which needs to be worked on.

The same thing happens in Ecuador. According to Esthela Escobar, the prices of agroecological products there are affordable. However, the big problem lies in the lack of knowledge and promotion of this type of food.

Like her, Alma Osiris and Ritz Osalde, non-binary consumers, believe that, although it is possible to get agroecological food at affordable prices in Mexico, supermarket chains often abuse the «green label» to raise their prices, which exacerbates the inequality in terms of accessibility.

The challenges are there, but the experience of projects such as Mujeres de la Tierra, Mujeres de la Periferia, the Feria de Alimentación Sana or the Colectivo Agroecológico del Ecuador show that it is possible to feed everyone in a healthy and diverse way based on a commitment to agroecosystems.

This not only makes soil renewal possible. It also boosts employment and local production through short commercial circuits, as well as the organization of women and LGBTIQ+ people in food cooperatives.

To achieve food sovereignty for the «nuestro-americanos» peoples, as the Cuban José Martí would call them, it is essential to advance in public policies that raise awareness not only of the importance of consuming agroecological products, but also of getting involved as a community in the production process. Likewise, to stimulate the creation of new projects of this type, which would be as positive for the environment as for the vulnerable communities of each Latin American country.


¹ Pueblo indígena de México que vive en localidades entre Puebla y Veracruz

Reporting & Writing: Charo Zeballos, Arleth García & Mariana Beltrán  •  Reporting & Transcription: Nery Chi, Arleth García & Mariana Beltrán  •  Reporting & Curating: Charo Zeballos  •  Editing: Javier Roque  •  Coordinator: Zoila Antonio Benito

libelula verde

Libélula Verde, Laboratorio de Agroecología

Libélula Verde es un proyecto agreológico que busca ser un espacio seguro para las mujeres, un espacio integrador donde las mujeres siguen dando alimento a sus hijos y a su familia. Laboratorio de Agroecología, en la ciudad de Chihuahua, México.

cooperativa puntos verdes

Cooperativa Puntos Verdes: Agencia de desarrollo humano local

Ubicada en el municipio de Tixméhuac en Yucatán, México, la cooperativa Puntos Verdes tiene como objetivo impulsar una red de comercialización, consumo y producción locales para crear una alianza e intercambio entre los diferentes municipios y comisarías del estado.

This investigation was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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