From Argentina: the Wichi wild honey Slow Food Presidium

23 Dec 2020

The area of central Chaco, in Argentina, is a region characterized by little rainfall for much of the year and heavy downpours in November. One of the most important products for the indigenous Wichí community that lives in the region is honey gathered from wild bees, known as tsawotaj in the indigenous language.

In November, the producers of the Larguero Community Presidium, by observing the activity of the bees and birds, identify the trees or hollow branches in which the bees live and harvest their delicious honey, which is then transported to the community to be filtered and bottled.

Since 2018, the Slow Food Presidium project has been working to increase the sustainable harvesting of honey by training producers in clean harvesting techniques, including the construction of a honey processing room and the purchase of special equipment. In addition, activities and processes have been developed to strengthen the leadership of young people in the community through the relationship with the Indigenous Terra Madre network and to recognize and value the role of women through the implementation of activities linked to the harvesting and use of carob pods, connecting the women of the community with indigenous leaders in the neighboring Gran Chaco Wild Fruits Slow Food Presidium.

What was your community like 10 or 20 years ago?

The Larguero Community is a very recent community, formed by its families between 2013 and 2014. Before that, in the past, our group was part of a larger indigenous settlement called “Las Vertientes”, which we inhabited and shared with several different Wichí communities, and which still exists today. At that time we lived near the Pilcomayo River and shared the place with the other communities. We were about one hundred families in a physical space that became too small to live in together and to carry out our activities. We lived with very little space and it was very difficult to carry out our planting and animal husbandry. In addition, due to the proximity to the river, in the rainy and flooding season, we also had serious problems with river overflows and flooding.

Do you have any funny stories from the project?

In 2018 we were visited by a member of the Slow Food Italy team. She came to the Larguero Community to meet us and to see what we do here. We knew that as it was winter it was not the most suitable time of year to show the process of honey harvesting and production, but we still wanted to tour the mountain with her so that she could observe the place and a little of how we work extracting wild honey. I repeat that although it was not the right time to do it, we did it because it was her only opportunity. But the bees reminded us of the lesson: when we took honey from a wild hive, as expected, the bees turned nasty and attacked us (or defended themselves). Our Italian visitor was bitten on the leg, ran into the bush in desperation to get away and wouldn’t come any closer. We remember it as a funny moment, but also as a lesson from the bees.

What is the most important change or changes that this project has brought about?

Without a doubt, the most important thing that the project has brought to the Larguero Community is having helped us to see and understand that our work, our honey and our harvesting and production process is highly valued by people outside our community and our region; even by people from other countries. This has greatly strengthened our community and self-esteem, and has led those of us who do the work to value it more. For the harvesters, it has motivated us and allowed us to get in touch with marketing organizations that now work with us in the distribution of our honey. This has led to the product and our special production process becoming known in other parts of our country and abroad. In addition, the tools and infrastructure provided by the project and our work to implement it allowed us to agree on and progress towards the formal registration of the honey, according to local regulations.

Which activity is most representative of this process?

For the Larguero Community, the trips made as a result of the project were the activity that had the most impact, because it made the members of the community value their own work much more. The experience of participating in Terra Madre in Turin in 2018 was very important: we brought our honey to Italy, it was very well received and people were interested in our work and in our community. Also the trips made to other cities in Argentina, from which the harvesters could see the result of our work, seeing how our products are sold in the shops of Buenos Aires; and we could also have exchanges and talk with the people who work in marketing. Finally, the participation of one of our young people in Indigenous Terra Madre – Pueblos de América in February 2020 in Puebla, Mexico (a meeting of Slow Food indigenous young people from the American continent) strengthened the link between the Slow Food movement and the Larguero community and promoted a greater appreciation of indigenous identity.

How do you think the community will continue with its project from now on?

The community will continue its work with greater enthusiasm for honey harvesting, from now on with better material conditions to carry out the work and with greater motivation than before, both at the personal level of the harvesters and at the community level. This is undoubtedly due to a better perception of the value of one’s work, which has increased self-esteem and the importance of continuing the harvesting activity. Furthermore, starting to see one’s own process as something valuable, like a Presidium, is a great motivation to continue, to improve the process and its organization.

Has Covid-19 affected Project activities, and how have they been organized in response?

Covid-19 has definitely had an impact on the project’s activities: it has forced some of them to be suspended and others we have had to modify so that they can be implemented and continue with the project. It has not been possible to carry out all the meetings that had been scheduled, or the trips. It has also not been possible to transport honey to sell or materials and tools for building and working. These difficulties, due to the pandemic and the country’s regulations in this regard, have forced us to rethink and reorganize both the deadlines and dates and how we carry out the activities. The way to adapt to this situation was based on re-scheduling actions earlier than usual for the community and the project, in order to have more time to solve the difficulties arising from the pandemic. Let’s say that we are improving our planning in the medium-term.

How do you feel as part of the Slow Food network? What would you like us to do together in the future?

Being part of the Slow Food network is very interesting; it has opened up a network of links to the community, which gives us new perspectives and consolidates the path we have embarked upon, seeing that there are many more people and organizations on the same path. We would like the link to be maintained in the future and to continue various exchange activities involving members of the community.

How do you imagine your community in 10 years?

I imagine a stronger community as a result of all these things: Tsawotaj honey with accreditation under current regulations, and with this the possibility of distributing it in new areas; expansion of the group of harvesters to people from other communities; distribution, together with Tsawotaj Honey, of carob tree products and chaguar crafts (a traditional plant of the Chaco, ndr), including the women of the Community in the process of selling and promoting their own products.

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