La Riojana Cooperative

La Riojana Cooperative. Organization of Small-Scale Growers [Chilecito, Famatina Valley, Argentina].

Cooperativism u. n. Social movement that defines the cooperation of its members in the economic and social range as a means to ensure that its members, integrated in voluntary associations called cooperatives, obtain a greater benefit for the satisfaction of their needs.

Premium c. n. An extra sum added to income, wages or to interest; a prize.

When you get to Chilecito, it feels like you’ve just arrived in the Wild West. A wide valley surrounded by two ridges—the Velasco and the Famatina, with hills covered with tall cactus, welcome you. Learning that this valley hosts La Riojana Cooperative comes as a surprise. This organization produces 25 million liters of wine each year and plays a fundamental role in a country with large wine production. “Mendoza[1] produces 95% of the grape (…) the province of La Rioja accounts for 5%, and in that 5%, there is La Riojana, which produces 1% of the grape of the Republic of Argentina. The biggest producer would not be able to do it alone, and the smallest would disappear”.

[1] A region in Argentina famous for being the main wine production area in the country.

Lorenzo Capece, producer and member of the executive committee of La Riojana.

La Riojana Cooperative was born after splitting from the cooperative La Caroyense, created around 1940, the result of a vocation similar to the one that drove the conquest of the Wild West: to look for gold. In this case, grape. 

In 1989, a group made up of producers from Chilecito and the surrounding area grew to such an extent that the next natural step was to create La Riojana.

Since day one, this organization has focused on the relationship with its 350 cooperative members. “We have regular contact with the partners (…) we always have a reason to be close” like providing support to our partners’ local communities “we put up the first internet antenna […], and we were able to extinguish a fire.”

José Bellia, producer and member of the executive committee of La Riojana.

They’re like a big family that cares for its region and neighbors and wishes to share its success. It was the first wine organization in Argentina to become Fairtrade certified, for us, Fairtrade was a standard made for La Riojana or La Riojana was made for Fairtrade (…) they’re a perfect match (…). When Fairtrade arrived, and we implemented, no big changes were required for La Riojana to adapt to it as it had already done so naturally

Mario H. González, producer and member of the executive committee of La Riojana.

It was, without a doubt, the reason why La Riojana and their use of the Premium are a great example of why the Fairtrade system has a Premium and of the impact this produces.

La Riojana is responsible for and the driving force behind many projects. Thanks to La Riojana, there is a well in Tilimuqui, a small village in the valley. This well has made it possible for the locals to stop consuming irrigation ditch water by providing them with drinking water instead. The cooperative’s financial contribution has led to the creation of a school. Starting with only 30 students and has grown into the area’s agricultural technical college with a total of 500 students. La Riojana is also behind the construction and inauguration of a medical center for mothers and children suffering from endemic diseases[1]

Colegio Agrotécnico

Regarding the school, it expanded its facilities and has sought out an ally in the public university. Many hope their children can access a high-quality education: “Quickly a reputation has been established, which means that every year there aren’t enough admissions” [José Luis Bellia, producer and member of the Board of Directors of la Riojana]. “We couldn’t have imagined such a growth”.

Cecilia Neris, coordinator of the Agricultural Technical College.

La Riojana understood that better medical attention was required. “Villages have health centers, but it’s not enough… Even more so with COVID, the hospital of Chilecito couldn’t meet the demand, you needed to travel around 124 miles to the region’s capital” [José Luis Bellia, producer and member of the Board of Directors of La Riojana]. And it used the financial resources obtained with the Fairtrade Premium to build facilities that the regional government now sees as a partnership opportunity to improve the living conditions of the local inhabitants. 

It seeks to ensure that its small-scale producers continue being the 1% of Argentina wine production; and help with technical production improvements, with initiatives such as a water pump park, a hail insurance policy, or even a tractor fleet, “The tractors. Some producers did not plow the land 12 years ago, and now (…) that is what matters, is all about quality”.

José Luis Juárez, Small producer and member of the Executive Committee of La Riojana.

La Riojana works to facilitate that its members have access to essential services, have recreational space in a multi-purpose room, and microcredits for specific needs.

The cooperative thinks about the future  and seeks to empower new generations, educating them with the organization’s knowledge. “The idea is to build, attract and raise awareness about what La Riojana is doing”

Alfredo Capece, producer and member of the Board of Directors of La Riojana.

“At la Riojana, there’s always been a social aim that Fairtrade has facilitated”. The impact of this can be seen beyond the specific actions it implements, “the development of the village of Tilimuqui (…) the asphalt, the park and the trade initiatives starting from the school.”

Viviana Michel, engineer in agronomy.

Due to its sales and how they use their Premium, La Riojana is an absolute agent of growth in Chilecito for its cooperative members and their communities. La Riojana is a good example of why it is worth spending a little more on a bottle of good wine. It means investing in the growth and development of the communities where the product comes from.

Fairtrade fights for a world full of La Riojana Cooperatives. A world where small-scale growers and their families can maintain their livelihoods and make a relevant impact on their communities at the same time.des.

[1] The Fairtrade Premium, an extra sum of money that is paid in addition to the sale price of the bottle. The money is then managed by the Premium Committee, a group of small producers, part of the organization of small producers and democratically elected, which, in coordination with an Assembly made up of the rest of the small producers, develops social projects for them and their communities.


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