The province of La Rioja is one of Argentina’s most exciting wine districts with sandy and alluvial soils and vineyards at altitudes stretching from 900 to 1,400 m above sea level. La Rioja is known for its high quality wines – and for the wine cooperative.
The cooperative was founded in 1940 by a group of Italian immigrants. Today, it has 422 members and an annual production of over 40 million litres of wine. So despite most of the members having less than 3 hectares of land per family, it is one of the biggest cooperatives in Argentina.
In 2006, the cooperative took another step forward in its collaborative work, becoming Fairtrade certified. The certification means, amongst other things, that the cooperative receives a so-called Fairtrade premium per kilo of grapes sold and co-determination when it comes to investing this premium in the local community. And it is here that the little village of Tilimuqui enters the Picture.
Tilimuqui lies just over 10 kms from the main vineyard and is home to many of the copperative’s workers and their families. Since La Riojana was Fairtrade certified, its Fairtrade premiums have been used to finance and partially finance two major social projects in Tilimuqui:
- The water supply in Tilimuqui has been unreliable for many years and this has had a significant impact on the residents’ health, not least during the summer season when temperatures can reach 45°C. In 2008, the village inaugurated a new drinking water plant, financed in part by the cooperative’s Fairtrade premium. A well, an electric pump, and two water tanks now ensure that the people who live there have access to clean water.
- Education was also previously in short supply in Tilimuqui. The village’s isolated location meant that its children were previously only offered schooling up to the age of 14. So in October 2008, another social project was launched – building an upper secondary school specialising in agricultural studies. The school opened its doors in 2010 and has become incredibly popular, with the number of students increasing dramatically in just a few years from 33 in 2010 to over 300 in 2014.
For the people of Tilimuqui, the Fairtrade certification has made a major and important difference. This is how a spokesperson of the cooperative put it during the inauguration of the new drinking water plant:
“There are a lot of forgotten people in forgotten places in Argentina. Tilimuqui is one such place. We have proven to ourselves that we, by doing something that seems small, can genuinely change people’s lives.”