Huerta Protegida Cuenca 15 - 'Protected Garden' in Neuquen, Argentina
Huerta Protegida Cuenca 15 - 'Protected Garden' in Neuquen, Argentina - ©Nick Rose

PRODA - the Agri-Food Development Program

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Neuquén Province

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Main actors

NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2003/03

PRODA works with low-income women and families in the self-sufficient production of food and the strengthening of the family economy.

El Programa de Desarrollo Agroalimentario (PRODA - the Agri-Food Development Program) is an initiative of the Provincial government of Neuquén.

PRODA is financed by the Provincial Minister for Territorial Development.

PRODA has an interdisciplinary workforce of 20, which includes agronomists, communication specialists, social workers, a veterinarian, a philosopher, and demographers.

PRODA supports the establishment of community gardens in marginalized barrios, working with low-income families, principally women, who have low levels of education and are either experiencing food insecurity, or are at risk of experiencing food insecurity.

Sustainable Development Goals

End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Neuquén Province, Argentina

Size and population development
Neuquén is one of Argentina’s most prosperous provinces and has experienced rapid population growth in recent years, recording 551,266 inhabitants in the 2010 census.

Population composition
In the 2010 census 50.4% of the the population identified as female and 49.6% as male. 68.8% of the population are aged between 15-64 years and over 90% of the population were borrn in Argentina. A large percentage of the population have a university education creating a substantial pool of qualified workers for the whole of Argentina.

Main functions
Neuquén province is located in the west of Argentina, at the northern end of Patagonia. It borders Mendoza Province to the north, Rio Negro Province to the southeast, and Chile to the west, separated by the Andes mountains. The province generates a significant part of Patagonia's electricity supply.

Main industries / business
The main industries of Neuquen are the exploitation of hydrocarbons and the distillery of petroleum and tourism. Fruit production and more recently, viticulture, represent substantial sources of revenue for the province and population.

Sources for city budget
The National Government of Argentina and taxation revenue

Political structure
The Executive Power is exerted by the Governor who is the highest authority in the Administration. The Lieutenant Governor and ministers also form part of the Executive power. The Chamber of Deputies represents the Legislative Power. The Superior Court of Justice, together with the lower courts, make up the Judicial Branch.

Administrative structure
Argentina has a federal political system with twenty-three provinces. Provinces in turn are comprised of Departments of which Neuquén has 16.

Neuquén is located in the north of the Patagonian region of Argentina, and with a population of 265,000 is the largest city in Patagonia. The Neuquén province is known for its diversified agriculture, especially cold climate fruits like apples and cherries. More recently it has become a major centre of petroleum production, the so-called vaca muerta. The influx of investment and highly paid workers has created a phenomenon of the two-speed economy, mining and non-mining, which is very familiar in Australia. This has caused rents and the cost of living to increase, putting considerable strain on those who do not participate directly in the mining economy
Programa PRODA was established in 2003, inspired by the example of the Puesto de Capacitación No 2 de San Patricio del Chañar (Training Centre No.2 of San Patricio el Chañar). Its strategy has been the creation of a network of 30 Huertas Protegidas (Protected Gardens), which involve the recuperation of vacant and at times contaminated land, and its conversion into productive spaces that also serve as community hubs and educational centres. 
Its objectives are to: 
  1. Improve participants' attitude towards work; 
  2. Provide opportunities for permanent training, through courses and workshops; and 
  3. Create support mechanisms for food growing and food transforming activities
  4. Support improvements in the physical and mental health of participants
  5. Enhance community and social capital in the communities where the huertas are established
The productive activities undertaken include:  
  • Organic vegetable growing
  • Worm farming
  • Bio-intensive agriculture
  • Edible mushroom cultivation
  • Making of preserves
  • Under-cover production: greenhouses and macro / micro-tunnels
  • Family farming: raising chickens in coops
  • Seed saving
  • Aromatic and medicinal plants

The Program has been financed by transfers from the Provincial Government of Neuquen. It has a multidisciplinary staff of 12, and a two-storey office building in central Neuquén. 

PRODA works closely with 40 local governments throughout the province; as well as schools, health centres, libraries, churches, universities and others.

500 families participate in more than 30 of these ‘Protected Gardens’, located in diverse low-income neighbourhoods of the city of Neuquén and in other provincial centres.

The Huerta Protegida iCuenca 15 (see photo) has been established for three years, but already is producing a large amount of vegetables, a reflection of the amount of work that the huerteras – most of them are women, in common with the majority of urban gardeners throughout Argentina – have undertaken. A notable feature of this huerta is the strong presence and leadership of a small group of women, especially Marta. More than 40 different varieties of fruits, flowers and aromatic herbs are being grown, which serves multiple purposes:

  • Educational and capacity building, in terms of the huerteras gaining experience with different types of plants and their performance under different growing conditions
  • Agro-ecological, in terms of minimising the risk that too much of the huerta might be lost to pests or disease through companion planting
  • Productive, in terms of generating enough produce to satisfy the requirements of the families of the huerteras and also some surplus for sale

There are currently 16 families working in this huerta. Six have greenhouses and micro-tunnels. The garden is well maintained, and there have been no cases of pests or diseases observed. Water is provided by the provincial water company, and there is no charge for its use for this social project.

Climate and terrain is an obstacle to food growing in Neuquen, a semi-arid region in northern Patagonia. However through appropriate agroecological, soil remediation and water conservation practices, these barriers can be overcome. Another barrier is the so-called culture of asistencialismo, the payment of subsidies to participate in social programs.

Because of these climatic and productive difficulties, the staff of PRODA need to engage personally and directly with those who express a wish to participate in the construction and development of a huerta protegida. Much of this is related to addressing the culture of asistencialismo, as well as dealing with the particular challenges of vegetable growing in the region as a member of PRODA staff said:

"This is at times the most difficult [part of our work], because in some families you are dealing with three or four generations that are accustomed to receive subsidies. So, one of our biggest challenges is to work, and invite residents to work the land, without receiving a subsidy, which is different to what happens in other provinces…In Rosario, people charge a certain amount of subsidy, in lieu of working for the municipality, in order to work the land…Here it was a very different process of social and cultural construction in the communities. Here also the huerteras have to get used to working the land in a different way, in harmony with nature, to learn to conserve water and irrigate the plants in a different way, and to see how they can secure resources without depending on the State. We are a State programme, but we’ve managed to work with the goals of autonomy and self-management [for our communities] since the beginning."   

Ariel Zabert, Coordinator of PRODA, pointed out that, unlike similar programs in other provinces, the huerteros receive no payments or government subsidies. This was emphasized as important feature of the program in terms of achieving its first thematic priority: improve the attitude towards work.  Hence the plots within the huertas protegidas are all individual; and infrastructure improvements to them – installation of a greenhouse, planting a stone fruit tree, the opportunity to cultivate mushrooms, the costs of each of which are covered by PRODA – are allocated on an incentive and performance basis. In other words, the more diligent a huertera is in the cultivation of her plot, the more likely she is to secure (for example) a greenhouse or a micro-tunnel, which in turn will enhance her productivity.
Zabert also emphasized the importance of the community building and social function of the huerta protegida. To facilitate this, every huerta has its matera, or sheltered space with seating, where the gardeners can sip and share mate and chat. The huertas also have clay ovens, which are used to roast meats and vegetables on special occasions, and to cook pizzas and other foods in order to celebrate fiestas and achievements. Each huerta must have a minimum of 10 families; and several have more than that. 

Health and well being is a key strategic outcome which PRODA aims to achieve through its huertas protegidas. Health here refers to both physical health, which helps address issues of obesity through exercise and dietary improvement, and mental / psychological health. As regards the latter, PRODA has two huertas that are directly attached to hospitals with mental health patients; and so they operate explicitly as a form of horticultural therapy. PRODA is also at the point of establishing a huerta linked to a women’s prison, to assist the inmates reintegrate to society, gain new skills, and improve their self-esteem. 

Self-esteem gained through hard work is a clear benefit of PRODA's approach, and the lessons could be transferred to other provinces in which such a culture may be absent. The therapeutic benefits of urban agriculture are also transferable to many different contexts. 

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Nick Rose
Melbourne , Australia

Nick Rose

Individual | Food Systems Coordinator, Sustain: The Australian Food Network

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