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Indigenous Communities at Terra Madre: Gran Chaco

Since the pre-Colombian era, the people living in the Argentinean Gran Chaco, particularly women, have been gathering wild fruits. an integral part of the local food culture, the fruits are used to make flours, breads and beverages…Gran-Chaco-3

Liberating Fruits

The Gran Chaco, also known simply as the Chaco, is one of the main geographical regions in South America, stretching across Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. This enormous region, covering around 700,000 square kilometers, is home to many different habitats. Mostly moderately humid areas, they also include some semi-arid zones, unsuited to agriculture and urban settlements. The Argentinean Gran Chaco has alternating dry and rainy zones, which make it particularly suited to agricultural and forestry activities.

Fruit Gathering and Processing

Since the pre-Colombian era, the local people, especially women, have been gathering wild fruits. An integral part of the local food culture, they are used to make flours, breads and beverages. These activities guarantee a source of food and often a small income for people, but over time a multitude of factors has led to their decline. Globalization has had a significant impact, with the large-scale import of foreign products like wheat flour and sugar flooding the local markets. The privatization of agricultural land has often led to indigenous communities being driven from their settlements. There has also been widespread deforestation, which, as in Brazil, is driven by the need to make space for pastures and monocultures. The risk is that authentic flavors profoundly linked to the local area, along with their connected knowledge, are gradually being lost. White carob (Prosopis alba and Prosopis chilensis), for example, produces oblong fruits with a fleshy, sugary pulp, which can be ground into flour, fermented into a beverage or used in pastries. Chañar (Geoffroea decorticans) is a drought-resistant tree, which can also tolerate low temperatures. The flesh of its small fruits, called patalcas, can be eaten fresh or used as an ingredient in breads, flours and soft drinks. The fruits of the mistol tree (Ziziphus mistol) are used fresh or boiled as an ingredient in arrope, a popular homemade syrup, and bolanchao, a well-known dessert. They can also be dried and then ground to make patay, a paste used to flavor many traditional Argentinean dishes. As is often the case with wild foods, these fruits have more than just cultural and gastronomic value; they are also used in traditional medicine. Chañar, for example, is used to cure inflammation in the respiratory tract.

The potential risks of losing biodiversity and traditional cultures have been recognized above all by local organizations, like Co.M.Ar. (Cooperativa de Mujeres Artesanas del Gran Chaco, the cooperative of Gran Chaco women artisans) and the Fundación Gran Chaco, with the support of international organizations and the national government, raising awareness of the traditional knowledge preserved in the Wichi, Qom, Qomle’ec and Pilaga indigenous communities in the Formosa and Chaco provinces, particularly the women. They are encouraged to share their knowledge about cooking and preservation techniques, and find different recipes and ways of adding value to each fruit. With the foundation of the Presidium for the Wild Fruits of Gran Chaco, an important step has been taken. Often the different communities do not know how the others work, and this isolation is a potential obstacle to a virtuous form of cultural mingling. For this reason, the first meeting of exchange on food culture between the different communities was organized, which led to the drawing of up the Presidium’s production guidelines and two cookbooks in both Spanish and the native languages of each indigenous community, to record, preserve and spread this knowledge in writing.

The Women and the Projects

In the Gran Chaco region, the women have always been responsible for running the household and looking after the children and, as in several other places around the world, they have a low level of education and struggle to access basic services. This is why all the projects launched by the Co.M.Ar. cooperation and the Fundación Chaco, supported at various levels by organizations such as IFAD and Slow Food, play such a fundamental role, as they aim to restore dignity Gran Chaco 5to the women’s work and help them to earn an income.

The projects are diverse, ranging from textile production, mainly chaguar and wool, courses on the revival of traditional textile, designs linked to the different ethnic groups and courses on the production of foods such as carob flour. Among all the products made from the Gran Chaco fruits, this is the one that could have the greatest success on the local, national and international market. It is particularly important that production is contextualized within a supply chain, at all levels. The project coordinators do not only discuss harvest techniques, recipes, preservation methods and nutritional properties with the women, but also how the products can be promoted on the local market and how important it is to preserve them in order to keep alive the techniques and traditions that can be a source of social liberation and help protect a particularly fragile environment.

The Presidium of Gran Chaco Wild Fruits will be represented at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 by Teresa Alonso, of the Qomle’ec people from Argentina. During the event indigenous peoples will be represented in the Conferences, Forums and with a specific program of events open to the public and the Slow Food network, in the Indigenous Terra Madre themed space in Valentino Park.

By Silvia Ceriani and Valentina Bianco;

An Event by
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 Regione Piemonte
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