Second Report from the Northwest Trip
by Nandani Lynton
Salta to Jujuy Province
San Salvador, the capital of Jujuy province, is a non-touristic town that gives a good view of local life in the Northwest. Like most towns we have seen it is built around a main square of trees and flowerbeds surrounding a hero’s statue, with the town hall on one side and the cathedral on the other. Narrow streets are lined with two and three storey buildings, some modern, many painted in different bright colours, and some in adobe. The sidewalks are full; people are out and about.
Here we visited two NGOs. The first is Fundacion Prosecto Ser, which provides low cost health care. There is a free health system in Argentina but the waits at hospitals to see a doctor are long, often an entire day. The alternative is to visit a private doctor, but they in turn are expensive. So Prosecto Ser runs low cost clinics with doctors who volunteer their time. Patients pay the equivalent of €3 for an annual membership and then €1 to see a dentist, €3.50 to see a gynaecologist and so on. The clinic is small and clean. The income covers the costs of the clinic and (old) medical devices, which means that Prosecto Sec is self-sustaining.
The second NGO, ProYungas works to support biodiversity in the Yungas region in Salta and Jujuy provinces. In 2002 the Yungas, an area with various belts of forest, grasslands, lagoons and lakes, that are crucial as water reservoirs for local towns, was declared a UNESCO biosphere. Initially funded by the French foundation FFEM, ProYungas now has 3 offices and works to maintain the cultural and natural heritage of the region, especially focusing on biodiversity. This is tricky, as the agricultural industry, mostly soy or sugar plantations and logging, owns 80% of the land in the Yungas. The area has national, provincial, municipal, private, and other jurisdictions so the Foundation mediates between them and is proud of facilitating many cross-sector dialogues.
ProYungas’ motto is consensus over conflict, so they seek non-confrontative and non-militant methods, cooperating with other NGOs and local and indigenous communities.
ProYungas is financed through large international projects, through projects with companies such as Ledesma, a local sugar company, or multinationals such as Shell – that are related to the preservation of land and nature, and finally through local sponsorship for tiny projects. There is little government funding but recently there was some money allocated to protecting land. They are currently creating a product quality certification called Produktos Yungas, testifying to sustainable production of local textiles, honey, woods, and so on. Carrefour, for example, will be carrying firewood with this sustainability stamp. They are also working together with the European organizations Alliance and Planfinance that give microcredits to small producers. In addition, ProYungas publishes guides to biological and cultural diversity of the Yungas areas that are used in schools.
Other projects include mapping and managing the region spanning Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. ProYungas also manages the Provincial Park Portrero de Yala where it researches, puts up signage, builds fences to keep cattle of the indigenous populations out of some areas and takes an educational program into the schools. The park has boars, ocelots, pumas and rich birdlife but most of the animals are hard to spot. Conservation is difficult to make sustainable, hence attempts at money generators like the Produktos Yungos sustainable production certificate. Such a project costs Pesos 500,000 (about €100,000) for three years. ProYungas is now working to establish co-operations with organizations in France and Brazil for the long-term management of protected areas.
We left the NGO visits impressed with their commitment to the local communities but wondering what their existence says about civil society or the lack of it in Argentina. With a per capita GDP over USD 14,000, Argentina is richer than Turkey and has natural resources so why don’t they finance the maintenance of their forests? Part of the answer from the NGOs is the need to develop awareness of sustainability and the value of their environmental riches among the general population and government. These are some issues we expect will be discussed at the Forum in the coming days in Buenos Aires.
The trip was completed with a dinner and cultural performance in Salta – dinner for many being the grilled steaks to which we have become accustomed accompanied by impressive Gaucho dancing and a band. We turned up for the flight to Buenos Aires and the Forum lacking sleep but definitely full of impressions and memories.