The first Fairtrade-funded secondary school ever built in Argentina has been officially opened by La Riojana, Argentina’s first Fairtrade certified winery.

The new secondary school, specialising in agricultural studies, is a Fairtrade project which has been largely funded by the sales of The Co-operative’s own-brand Fairtrade Argentine wine range. As part of the Fairtrade accreditation, the growers receive a social premium from the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), which The Co-operative matches.

The school of agriculture, named after “Julio Cesar Martinez”, the first president of La Riojana co-operative, has been built in the small, isolated village of Tilimuqui located in a poor, remote area of the La Rioja province, northwest Argentina. A place where children have before now only been offered schooling up to the age of 14.

It was officially inaugurated on 12 May 2010, just two years after the successful inauguration of the Tilimuqui water project, La Riojana’s first joint Fairtrade project with The Co-operative, which provided the village of Tilimuqui with a much-needed water facility.

The new school, which is based on non-selective entry, will offer a free technical education based on agriculture to children aged 13 to 18 years old and is expected to benefit hundreds of children from the village of Tilimuqui where many of La Riojana’s workers and families live, as well as nearby villages and towns.

Construction started in October 2008, and its recent inauguration marks the completion of the first two phases of the project, comprising six classrooms, a library, staff room, school office, medical room, bathrooms and a dining room. The first intake in March 2010 was 33 pupils, one third of whom are girls, and once the project is finished, the school’s capacity is expected to reach 300 pupils.

The education is being funded by the nearby National University of Chilecito which is providing qualified teaching staff, as well as school equipment including furniture, books and computers. The university also intends to buy a couple of hectares in Tilimuqui, to provide a farm and to cultivate vineyards and orchards for the children to carry out their practical agricultural education.

The school was also funded by sales of Ecologica, La Riojana’s successful Fairtrade Organic wine brand, distributed by Giertz Vinimport in Sweden, as well as Norway, Finland and Denmark and also distributed by Biagio Cru in the USA.

The inauguration itself was attended by representatives from The Co-operative and Giertz Vinimport, and attracted an impressive crowd of over 1500 people, including La Riojana co-operative members, workers and their families, the governor of La Rioja province, a number of other local dignitaries, and many people from Tilimuqui, Chilecito and local media.

Mario Gonzalez, President for La Riojana co-operative, commented: “This school was a dream made possible by lots of people and shows what we can do when we all work together.”

Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “I raise my glass to La Riojana and The Co-operative whose partnership with the wine producers is opening new doors to teenagers in Argentina and helping them build a better future. The Co-operative, which has always been a staunch supporter of Fairtrade, has gone beyond the minimum to show real commitment - in this case, matching the Fairtrade premium and so doubling the producers’ earnings. Clearly an achievement that Fairtrade supporters, and Co-operative customers alike, will enjoy celebrating with a glass of Fairtrade wine!”

Vicky Wood, Category Marketing Manager for Wine at The Co-operative, commented: “We are extremely proud to be involved in this life-changing project which is offering opportunities to the children of Tilimuqui through our initial water project and now the new school. Our customers have always been strong supporters of Fairtrade and we are so delighted to be able to communicate to them the significant changes they have made in developing countries by purchasing Fairtrade wine from The Co-operative.”

Bjorn Wittmark, Director for La Riojana’s importer in Sweden, Giertz Vinimport, commented: “It is clearly evident the incredible impact Fairtrade has had on a small community such as Tilimuqui, once a forgotten village in Argentina. The fact that the village now benefits from a reliable water supply and a first-class secondary school is attracting people to move here and in my opinion has put Tilimuqui well and truly on the map.”

Wittmark continued: “By offering the children here a free agricultural-based education, this project will be responsible for creating a new generation of better skilled and highly-trained individuals in an area of Argentina which largely lives from the land.”