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Amaranth: an old crop becomes a new resource for Argentinian families

Innovation / -

L'amaranto è una coltivazione tipica delle Ande

A traditional plant with very similar uses to cereals is improving the nutrition of the poorest families, thanks to a project by the Argentine Agrarian Federation that is yielding better than expected results.

In the province of Salta, which is situated in the Andes in northern Argentina, many rural families live below the poverty line and rely on public subsidies to meet their subsistence needs. In 2009, the Argentine Agrarian Federation (in partnership with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cipsi) gave the green light to the Kiwicha Project, which takes its name from the word for amaranth in the local Andean dialect.
The solution, which is aimed at improving children's diet and therefore their health, involves reviving this ancient agricultural product with the support of local authorities and families living in the area. Amaranth has nutritional benefits that are seldom appreciated: it is rich in protein and has a high content of calcium and phosphorus. Since it is also gluten-free, it is an ideal dietary component for coeliac sufferers and diabetics.
All-round involvement
The project involves the cultivation of six different variants of amaranth to obtain leaves and seeds that are highly appreciated in home cooking. The area's entire population is involved in developing this rediscovered crop, not least school children, who can have fun growing and cooking the seeds that derive from it. The project involves a total of 1800 families, 12 schools and a farmers' cooperative that manages a new processing factory for converting the crop into bars, pasta and bread.
Added to this is an outreach programme (in a permanent training and research centre) that educates people about the nutritional value of the plant, as well as a programme to develop new uses of Kiwicha.
This educational component earned the initiative first prize for best school project. It also spawned a documentary funded by the country's Ministry of Education.
A national success story
The success of this initiative has gone far beyond the intervention zones, reaching up to 40,000 beneficiaries who now use amaranth on a daily basis in their own cooking. Five years since the project was launched, the product has become an integral dietary component throughout Salta province, to the extent that the government has issued a decree defining the Kiwicha project a "national priority".
The fact that amaranth can adapt to different types of terrain and climate makes the initiative replicable in other countries with different weather conditions to those of Salta province.
Furthermore, the spread of this new agricultural crop has reduced environmental impact compared with tobacco and sugar cane plantations, which are highly polluting due to their use of pesticides and the production of waste that contaminates water sources.

Five questions for Cipsi. Amaranth returns to the forefront in Argentina

Innovation / -

Coltivazione di Amaranto in Argentina

The project, aimed at rejuvenating ancient cultivation has had so much positive feedback that the initiative will soon begin in various African countries. The international network of 28 NGOs, which are fully active in international co-operation and solidarity, answer our questions on the project they are promoting.

At Expo Milano 2015, visitors will be made aware of the Cipsi project thanks to the photo-story displayed in Pavilon Zero. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
The Earth has enough food to feed everyone, but due to the greed of just a few people, this is not currently possible. This project, aimed at improving children’s and women’s nutrition through the cultivation of amaranth at family and local levels, shows that various elements are necessary in order to achieve food security. One of these elements is: democracy, so looking after biodiversity and defending the interests of farmers, individual families and those that, without expecting anything in return, put food on the table for daily survival.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project?
Things that made getting started and putting things into motion difficult were: the population’s lack of education and professional training and the political and social fragmentation, with a rate of inflation that has exceeded 30 percent. The results were only achieved thanks to the patient work of the Italian and local staff in directly involving families, schools, mothers and children. The public buildings, such as the hospital and the prison, have been turned into the territory’s reference points.

What new results have you achieved?
The results exceeded all initial expectations: 84 agricultural technicians trained; 49 demonstration areas at the hospital in schools, at small agricultural producers and in 36 families; 133 seminars with 3,638 attendees; six species of amaranth under cultivation; 90 hectares of agricultural land; 15 small agricultural producers; a processing plant; a training centre; more than 2,300 alumni growing amaranth and using it in school canteens; enrolment in the National Register (Renspa) of the National Food Safety and Quality Service (Senesa).

What are the next steps?
Studies made on the economic viability of amaranth cultivation show a very high percentage of possible revenues that would radically change the lives of thousands of families, women and malnourished children at risk of starvation. We are therefore looking for entrepreneurs and investors interested in improving crops, expanding arable land, strengthening amaranth processing factories, developing training and investing in new projects in other countries.

Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
The ease with which amaranth can be cultivated, coupled with its high nutritional value means that this project can be a strong solution to the nutritional requirements of many countries, above all for children, disadvantaged people and others who are at risk of starvation. We started testing out new projects in Ethiopia, Mozambique and other African countries. There may be interest from Italy as well.

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