Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

ENVIRONMENT-ARGENTINA: Amid Crisis, Appeal of Eco-Villages Grows

Marcela Valente-Tierramérica*

BUENOS AIRES, May 26 2002 (IPS) - The success of a small community of people in Argentina who decided to live and grow food in a sustainable way has become more significant to the extent that the country’s economic and social crisis continues to deepen.

A group of Argentine ecologists decided in 1996 to found the “Ecovilla Gaia”, a community where they practice the principles of production and development that maintain respect for the environment.

The fruits of their effort appeared at almost the same time as the country sank into economic depression. More than 25 percent of the economically active population is unemployed, poverty has risen rapidly in the past few months (and now affects nearly half the population of 36 million), hunger is widespread, and there is fear that hyperinflation will return.

The rate of visits and consultations the Gaia community receives has multiplied 10-fold since December.

These environmentalists, members of the Gaia Association, established the community in a shared 20-hectare area in the Navarro district, located 110 km west of Buenos Aires.

Eight families live there, while six more are building homes with the mud, straw and wood available on the land. Another 20 families are planning to move there, and are participating actively in the project in the meantime.

This ecovillage has some “luxury” items, such as computers with Internet service, telephones, television and other domestic appliances.

Each family is responsible for sustaining itself and contributes three dollars a month for shared expenses. The village’s residents grow vegetarian foods without the use of agro-chemicals and meals are served in a community dining hall.

The families do not raise livestock in order to prevent harm to the development of local fauna. Electricity is generated through eco-friendly means, such as solar panels, windmills and high-efficiency wood stoves.

“This is not an attempt to create paradise. On the contrary, we encourage the greatest possible contact with reality,” Silvia Balado, pioneer of the project, told Tierramérica. She says that life in the Gaia ecovillage “is not rosy, it isn’t perfect. It is life itself.”

The Gaia Association was founded to take part in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and since then its members have promoted the dream of carrying out the commitments laid down in Agenda 21, the final document of the Earth Summit.

“We decided to offer the governments a concrete reference point for how people can put sustainable development into practice,” Gustavo Ramírez, a veterinarian and co-founder of the ecovillage, told Tierramérica.

In contrast to the private gated communities that have sprouted up in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and of other big cities throughout Latin America, the Gaia eco-community is open to exchanging information and it encourages visits and consultations.

Nearly 5,000 people have visited the village since December, when the Argentine economic crisis exploded. Families, couples, the elderly, and students – from primary school through university – want to learn about the eco-community experience.

“The government says there is no ‘Plan B’ for Argentina, that the only plan is a joint administration with the International Monetary Fund. But we believe that this is a ‘Plan B’. We have always believed it, ever since we founded the ecovillage,” says Ramírez.

This community is a trailblazing effort in Latin America and is part of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and of the Global Ecovillage Network, which unites people engaged in similar experiences in industrialised countries with those in developing countries.

“Some people consider us hippies, idealists. But we have a very concrete proposal for living life and we are carrying it forward,” Ramírez stated.

* Tierramérica is a specialised news service (www.tierramerica.net) produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

 
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