Agrupación Mapuche Cayún

The project promotes local food production based on the knowledge of the Mapuche Cayún People. It involves 21 families and the development of greenhouses and chicken coops to expand and diversify vegetable production and safe poultry farming. Through planning, workshops, monitoring and evaluations, the participants commitment to communal decision-making is essential.

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Lof Cayún / Neuquén / Argentina
+ 1,000 m
1,393 ha

The lof (community) is located on the northwestern margin of the Lácar lake basin, beside the Trompul area and surrounded by the Andean Patagonian forest of the Lanín National Park. The community is located 13 km from the town of San Martin de los Andes in the province of Neuquén, Argentina. The annual average temperature is 9.8 ° C. Snow is expected during the winter and there are no frost-free periods throughout the year.

Earth's refuge
Lof Cayún / Neuquén / Argentina
TEXT  Jorge Varela

Some 130 years ago, the Mapuche Cayún lof — the indigenous term for ‘community’ — fled towards the province of Neuquén at the Argentine border with Chile. Like hundreds of other Native Communities in Argentina, they were dispossessed of their lands by a military operation called the “Conquest of the Desert''. La Piedra de Trompul (Trompul's Stone), an area surrounded by national forests in the basin of lake Lácar, became their new home. Today, between 80 and 90 people survive at this place more than 1,000 meters above sea level, where winters constantly threaten to destroy harvests or to isolate families for weeks.

Life for the Mapuche Cayún can be complicated, says Lucía Elba Álvarez Paicura, a retired nurse and member of the lof's directive commission. The majority of its people live off their livestock and their orchards, and from the extraction and sale of the abundant timber around them. A few members of the community work in construction or as nurses outside the village. Money is scarce and most goes to staple foods like vegetables sold at the nearby market. Those who live in peripheral neighborhoods at higher altitudes have no electricity and struggle to conserve food without refrigeration.

These extreme economic and environmental conditions have resulted in malnutrition. Lucía is worried by the high rate of diabetes in the population. She is convinced that, in order to improve their health and income, they will need access to more sustainable practices.

Nearly two million Mapuches live in Argentina and the central and southern regions of Chile.

And so, the lof's directive commission, with technical assistance from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) and the Lanín National Park Management, and with the support of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) and the financial support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), through its Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) fund, took action to improve the community’s food security and sovereignty.


(3) View of the Andes mountain range at sunrise from Trompul.   (4) Elsa Vera, resident of lof Cayún.   (5) View of Belén Doralisa’s greenhouse.   (6) Pea seeds.   (7) Florentino Cayun and Albina Cayulef in their garden.   (8) Snow is expected during the winter at lof Cayún. There are no frost-free periods throughout the year.

The project, an effort to diversify and enrich the local diet, began with the construction of individual greenhouses. “Generating a greenhouse at your own home, I do not know how to explain it, has produced immense satisfaction and joy,” says Lucía. She can now work year-round, even during difficult winters. The lof has built hen houses for poultry and eggs, they’ve introduced new crops like zapallo (a type of pumpkin) and tomato along with workshops that taught the people how to properly harvest them. Traditions have also been recuperated through cooking classes with local products.

“We have land, why not have our own orchards? Why not have our own source of food when it is so pure and free of agrochemicals and all that other stuff that produces so much illness?”


(9) The preservation of ancestral knowledge related to farming and food production is essential to the future of the community.   (10) Saturnino Pacheco and Elsa Vera.   (11) Carrot seeds.   (12) Eluney Cayún and “Sapito”.   (13) Sheep among dry cherry trees.   (14) Lucía Elba Alvarez feeds chickens at a coop that was developed as part of the food security project.

“Seeds were continuously introduced,” says Lucía. “Maybe I could have built a greenhouse by myself with my small earnings, but the teachings that came with all of it are incredible”.

These actions have contributed to the improvement of the community’s diet and have allowed its members to depend less on the market: they can now sell a greater variety of crops. Lucia recalls with joy when she saw her neighbor, an older woman, proudly carrying the products of her own harvest back to her home.

The traditional Mapuche diet is based on Patagonian crops like wheat, broad beans, garlic, onions, chili peppers, corn and several varieties of potatoes and peas.


(15) Horse in lof Cayún.   (16) Nelida Claudina Purran, a participant in the food security project implemented with the accompaniment of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI).   (17) Mapuche Flag.   (18) Goats in the Cayún family corral.   (19) José Catricura holds a newborn baby goat.   (20) A hen on the frozen ground of lof Cayún.

As a nurse, Lucía understands the impact that a healthy, thoughtful, and diverse diet can have in the community, improving people's health and that of their children. Collective harvest also generates bonds centered around cooperation and learning. “We have land, why not have our own orchards? Why not have our own source of food when it is so pure and free of agrochemicals and all that other stuff that produces so much illness?”, she wonders.

Today, La Piedra de Trompul, to which the Cayún lof arrived fleeing from the violence of the Conquest of the Desert, has become a refuge once again, this time for young people returning home from costly cities. “Thank God we have land,” says Lucía.

The Mapuche administered 64 million hectares covering a large part of present-day Argentina. Their territory extended from the Limarí River to the north, stretching south towards Patagonia and bordering the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Lof Cayún / Neuquén / Argentina