Breathe Deep 2019

Breathe Deep has allowed small-scale horticultural producers from disadvantaged peri-urban areas in Buenos Aires to install green barriers in schoolyards in the inner city.

Cooperative members standing outside around plantpots

The project

Building on the BREATHE project and the British Council supported green fences capacity-building workshops, Breathe Deep extended this work through a training initiative that has allowed small-scale horticultural producers from disadvantaged peri-urban areas in Buenos Aires to acquire the skills needed to construct and install green barriers/living fences in schoolyards in the inner city and to grow the plants required for these interventions.

Through participation in an experimental training course (co-produced by the academic partners and NGO Ribera), the producers acquired new skills in using plants to address environmental challenges, and co-produced knowledge in how to design and build green barriers/living fences effectively and in ways that produce environmental improvements at multiple scales – from at-risk priority sites such as schoolyards directly exposed to traffic fumes to rehabilitated city-regional green corridors serving multiple ecosystem functions.

They also received practical training in how to set up and sustainably run ‘green fence and phytoremediation’ enterprises and co-produce strategies to promote the generalisation of green barrier/living fence and broader nature-based strategies in the Buenos Aires metropolitan region.

This has given them the opportunity to diversify and expand their activities to service the emerging green infrastructure sector in Buenos Aires, boosting employment opportunities and livelihoods.

This project provided a proof of concept as to how green infrastructure can support socio-economic development in low and middle income countries in the global south. It has also enabled the Breathe/Respirar partnership to build the capacity needed to initiate other projects and to work towards its objective of establishing an international interdisciplinary hub related to inclusionary nature-based solutions.


Environmental policy in the City of Buenos Aires is an exemplar of how many cities in the global South are beginning to build green infrastructure in response to mounting perceptions of environmental challenges, such as the decline in air quality and its important implications for residents’ health and future life chances.

The question arises of who is going to grow the plants and install the green infrastructure and will these new jobs replace those that are being lost in Argentina’s changing industrial sector.

5,000 factories reportedly closed in 2016 and unemployment reached 9.2% in the first quarter of 2017 and became the highest in ten years at that time of the year.

Training and support are required for those who are hoping to work in an emerging green economy. Argentina’s grassroots cooperatives, which serve to assist people in meeting pressing needs, including skills development and access to employment, provide an appropriate forum in which such training and support can be offered.   

Objectives and impact


  • Explore how inclusionary approaches to green infrastructure and nature-based solutions can help to address intractable urban problems with complex socio-environmental dimensions in Latin America
  • Produce a proof of concept on the ‘future of work’ potential of green barriers/living fences; demonstrate how these can be leveraged as a mechanism towards employment and skills gains
  • Demonstrate the potential of small-scale horticultural producers (organised in four grassroots cooperatives) from disadvantaged peri-urban areas to contribute to the emerging urban green economy and the management and restoration of regional ecosystems
  • Promote and research the development of an inclusionary supply chain linking green barrier/living fence construction projects in central city districts with small-scale horticultural producers from disadvantaged peri-urban areas
  • Generate co-benefits in terms of health and wellbeing, and climate change adaptation outcomes in demonstration schoolyards and provide evidence that creatively implemented nature-based solutions can make a real difference to urban liveability in addition to ecosystem rehabilitation
  • Strengthen and extend an interdisciplinary network between the University of Sheffield and academic, government and community partners in Buenos Aires and build an international hub with capacity to formulate approaches of wide applicability for cities in low- and middle-income countries in the region and beyond

Impact (actual or expected)

  • Grassroots economic actors (small cooperatives of horticultural producers from some of the poorest municipalities in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area where poverty and unemployment levels are considerably higher than national averages) are able to improve their business prospects and create new quality employment in an expanding green economy sector
  • Second-order beneficiaries include the communities where future green barriers/living fences are built as the supply chain begins to reduce costs and a broader coalition of stakeholders lends support to this approach to air quality management in cities.
    • Additional green barriers/living fences built will allow further assessment and refinement of the impact of phytoremediation and landscape design, and of how these low-cost approaches can be implemented effectively within a broad range of green public spaces catering to diverse populations and focused on the most vulnerable
  • Built capacity within the Breathe/Respirar initiative by extending collaboration to new governmental, academic and civil society partners, including developing a partnership with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) Experimental Station in Buenos Aires
  • Development of a scalable proof of concept on how the construction of green infrastructure can be tied effectively to the generation of inclusive and quality future work, providing a base develop future research projects of relevance for Latin America and beyond