The Co-operative, the UK’s leading supermarket supporter of Fairtrade, has provided an Argentine village with regular, clean water thanks to the sales of its own-label Fairtrade Argentine wine range.

Tilimuqui, a small, isolated village situated in a poor, remote area of the La Rioja province, northwest Argentina, has benefited from the first joint Fairtrade project carried out by The Co-operative and La Riojana, Argentina’s first Fairtrade-accredited winery.

The Tilimuqui water project was officially inaugurated by The Co-operative and La Riojana, at an event attended by over 500 people, including the entire community of Tilimuqui, representatives from The Co-operative, the Governer of the La Rioja province and the local Mayor.

The water project was set up to help a community of workers from the La Riojana co-operative vineyards living in the village of Tilimuqui, to renovate the old water supply and give the 381-strong community access to regular, clean water. It was funded through sales of The Co-operative’s Fairtrade Argentine wine range, largely accelerated by the fact that The Co-operative matched the social premium received by La Riojana’s growers from the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), which meant that, as well as receiving a guaranteed Fairtrade price for their grapes, for every case of wine sold an additional 82p went back to the project from the social premium.

The Co-operative’s Fairtrade Argentine current wine range comprises of six products, including three dual varietals (a Torrontés-Chardonnay, a Bonarda-Shiraz and a Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc), two varietals (a Pinot Grigio and a Shiraz), and a stunning Organic Malbec Reserve.  All the wines are produced by La Riojana in the Famatina Valley, a natural viticultural paradise, with its high altitude vineyards (some as high as 1600 metres above sea level), which benefit from extraordinary sunlight, warm days, cool nights, and very low rainfall.

Maria Elener, wine buyer for The Co-operative, comments: “Lots of people do not associate Argentina with Fairtrade, but when we visited Tilimuqui in March 2006 we were shocked by what we saw, and found it hard to believe that there are places in Argentina where the basic necessities of life, such as water are not provided. As a result of what we saw, we decided to give more - more commitment, more of our time and more money to La Riojana, Argentina’s first Fairtrade-accredited winery.”

Tilimuqui is a place that up until now has had to endure summer time temperatures of up to 45°C with no regular supply of running water, with 30% of the houses with no access to drinking water at all. Just under half of Tilimuqui’s population is under 14 years old, with many young mothers, some with as many as 12 children each. The standard of living is very basic, with adobe style houses, dirt floors and curtains instead of doors. The houses do not have bathrooms, sinks or taps; instead they have large plastic water butts outside which are filled up by water hoses. The erratic and unreliable water supply has had a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of the villagers, affecting both their health and hygiene.

The new water facility will change all this. Built on a piece of land 2500 m2 on the outskirts of the village, generously donated by a local resident, Leopoldo Ledo, the new site includes a well 12 inches wide and 160 metres deep, with an electric pump, one 150,000 litres reservoir and one 10,000 litres tank built eight metres above the ground. This new system will give the necessary water pressure required by the whole community and will connect to the current water distribution, which in turn will be updated and enlarged to encompass the houses that do not have any water supply. All of Tilimuqui’s houses will have 500 litres water tanks installed, if they currently have no access to water. The new facility also includes a small administration office, which will provide a job for the local community. There is also room at the water site to include a second 150,000 litres reservoir, in the event of increased demand.

Walter Carol, Export Director for La Riojana, commented: “There are many forgotten people in many forgotten places in Argentina and South America. Tilimuqui is one such place. We have proved to ourselves that by doing something seemingly small we can make a huge impact and can really change people’s lives and the way they live. Our dream has finally started to become a reality and now we want to do much more. Fairtrade works!”