Nutritious Food for the Wichi People in Argentina
Bishops’ Appeal donated £7,800 to support the Anglican Church in Northern Argentina enable people to grow nutritious food. (SAMS)
“AT THE HEART OF EVERY HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS THE DESIRE TO SURVIVE AND PROSPER; TO LIVE WITHOUT FEAR, HUNGER OR SUFFERING.”
The Wichí are traditionally hunter gathering forest dwellers, indigenous to the tropical lowlands of Northern Argentina and Bolivia. They live mainly between the two rivers Bermejo and Pilcomayo, the latter forming the border between Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Wichí have been living in this region for thousands of years, but their ancient culture is under threat. They are no longer able to support themselves in their traditional way due to deforestation. The past forty years have seen the arrival of large agricultural companies who have inadequate concern for the condition of the Argentine environment or for the indigenous people. They have deforested large quantities of land in order to grow soya beans. In the winter the Wichí depend on fish from the Pilcomayo River and in the summer on vegetables grown in their gardens on what little land they have left. Wichí families protect their plots with fences of thorn bushes as random cattle belonging to white settlers can trample the gardens. The indigenous tribes have the worst social statistics in the country with high rates of child deaths and illiteracy and widespread malnutrition.
The Anglican Church in Northern Argentina works within a vast and challenging context.
Scattered around the Chaco region are over 100 rural congregations all led by their own unpaid indigenous leaders. The diocese seeks to support these rural communities both practically and spiritually.
Anglican Church in the Chaco
The indigenous church numbers roughly 15,000. The congregations cover an area about the size of France in mainly off-road areas. This is divided into fifteen deaneries, each with its ‘zonal pastor’, whose role is coordination and communication within the area and with the diocese.
In 2011, The Rt. Revd Nick Drayson was appointed the Diocesan Bishop of Northern Argentina. The history of the Chaco region can be difficult reading as numerous government agencies and multinational groups from oil companies to bean harvesters have bought and sold land which at one time was the life blood of the indigenous communities.
Nick and Catherine are committed to encouraging, training and mentoring church leaders across this vast region and ‘The Garden Project’ is one of several tangible Anglican initiatives.
Alejandro Deane, affectionately known as “Alec” grew up in the bustling city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. He left his familiar surroundings and moved to Northern Argentina where he has been working for 30 years alongside the Wichí people. He remains a passionate advocate for the rights of this indigenous group. Alec is now using his expertise in agriculture to develop a garden project with local Wichí. The idea to develop the Garden Project came about after a young Wichí girl died of protein deficiency. Wichí families have traditionally grown a few crops to supplement their diet, but this has proved more difficult in recent times, due to the rapidly changing environment. Vast areas of Chaco land have been cleared for commercial farming. The environmental changes caused by this deforestation means that there are higher summer temperatures and more frequent droughts and flooding. Alec, who has a background in agriculture, felt sure that the situation for Wichí families could be improved, if they had some support and good gardening techniques were incorporated. Thus the “Yachuyaj wo” (Wichí word for Gardener) project was born. The secret to good harvests is incorporating drip irrigation and providing people with good seed. Alec’s vision is that the Wichí can live sustainably and with dignity in their own land.
Over the next three years the three major and equally important aims are:
- Enabling people to grow nutritious food.
- Developing people’s education and learning
- Creating opportunities of hope for marginalised Wichí families
Seedlings Delivered and Ready to Plant
A Grandfather’s Perspective
My ancestors lived in the Chaco as hunter-gatherers. Things are different now because people have taken our forest and cut it down, the land has been fenced and cattle now cover vast areas. My grandson, Pedro loves to listen to my stories of times gone by when the Wichí were still ‘hunter-gatherers’ moving from place to place hunting and collecting food in the forest. We speak our own language, also known as Wichí, which is very different to the main language spoken in Argentina; Spanish. The changes that have transpired within the last 50 years have been immense. Numerous multi-national companies have pushed into the
heart of our land. My heart breaks when I look at the land and the imprisonment of my people with fences and restrictions being placed around us. The land belongs to no man, we are to care for it and respect it but the machines rip up our forest to clear the land so farmers can grow cash crops such as soya beans. I have watched many of our young men migrate to the towns and cities and it’s a place which steals our language and culture. We are looked down on as if we are less important because we come from the Chaco. I spend all my spare time working with Pedro in my garden. The garden is a happy place for my grandson and me. It’s important for me to share life and hope even though I am uncertain about our future. Our traditional way as Wichí was to support ourselves by hunting, fishing, and gathering forest fruits. I hunted for many years and I respected the forest and the animals such as rodents, peccary, armadillo, deer and puma which shared the forest with us. Our forest is fast disappearing. Biodiversity in the area has significantly reduced and parts of the land have turned into a dry sandy desert, leaving us vulnerable.
My grandson is a good boy. There are limited opportunities but I stay strong for him and I know the Garden Project has given me something to build upon. This project is much more than growing food. It touches something deep within; it gives us some control in our lives. It also builds bridges between the generations and it gives us hope.
A Grandson’s Perspective
I spend all my spare time working with my grandfather in our garden. The garden is a happy place and I love working with my grandfather because he shares with me about his life when he was a young boy like me. He tells me about our history and how my ancestors lived in the Chaco as hunter-gatherers. Things are different now because people have cut down the forest and taken over the land. My grandfather tells me that when he was my age his family moved around from place to place, hunting and collecting food in the forest. He says that the traditional way we supported ourselves, was by hunting, fishing, and gathering forest fruits.
It’s much harder to follow our traditional ways nowadays because of what has happened to the land. I love it when my grandfather tells me about his hunting trips. In the days of his youth there was plenty of game and fish. The rains were heavy and regular, much of the land was swamp and vegetation was lush. Jaguar and puma roamed the forests and deer lived on the forest edges along with peccary (wild pig). As a young boy my grandfather shot fish with his bow and arrow in the swamps. Using a hollow reed as a snorkel, he swam underwater grabbing ducks by their legs and pulling them under. He hid in the reeds and would hunt storks and other birds by throwing sticks at them. As he grew up my grandfather learned about animal breeding times, understanding when it was best to carry out hunting trips. It was important not to hunt too many of a species so that it could survive to provide food for the future. The land that my grandfather fished and hunted has steadily been taken from us over the years. Loggers have felled the forest, and settlers have introduced cattle and they grow crops like soya beans on huge areas of land. This has turned parts of the land into dry sandy desert. My grandfather is sad sometimes when he looks around at the land that used to be such a part of his life, but he wants me to be strong and happy and he always tells me that we have our garden which is full of hope.