“Mama Pacha is generous – if we treat her well!”

‘Mama Pacha’, the personification of ‘Mother Earth’ and goddess of fertility, is highly revered in the Ecuadorian Andes. She is a giver of life in every sense – in the form of plentiful harvests for example. But the male and female farmers must play their part too and take good care of the soil. SWISSAID supports them in this.

In Guangaje, in the high mountain region of Ecuador, Mama Pacha doesn’t have an easy time. Here at an altitude of approx. 3,500 metres the climate is raw and the soil is barren. Farming in these conditions is a daily struggle. The growing water shortage is also a heavy burden on the shoulders of the local Indio community. They place their trust in Mama Pacha – and the courses organised by SWISSAID.

Three quarters of the population is malnourished

On this barren stretch of land more than 95 per cent of all local people subsist below the poverty line. Three quarters of the indigenous population are malnourished. The small farmers have no clean water and children and young people in particular suffer severely from debilitating gastric illnesses. 

The reasons for the food shortages, despite the community cultivating their most of own food, are unsuitable farming methods, inadequate irrigation of the fields and lack of knowledge. The crops growing in the fields are simply not enough. And the destruction of the Páramos, a natural landscape with vast quantities of plants covering the steep slopes and serving as a natural water store, is leading to water shortages.

To ensure that the men, women and children have enough to eat after harvesting their fields, SWISSAID has been specifically targeting impoverished small farmers since 2008 to offer them support. They can improve their health and nutrition over the longer term as well as their income thanks to environmentally friendly farming and the construction of a viable and functioning water supply. To support this ambitious task, SWISSAID assists grass roots groups, e.g. farmer organisations or water committees, by offering expertise, organisational and financial help. 

More variety, healthier and more productive

The help for ‘self-help’ is proving effective – and will therefore be continued. Agustín Vega Milingalle, President of the local farmers group, is delighted about this:

“Since we’ve been receiving help, our life has been transformed. Before, we didn’t have enough to eat. The men were forced to look for work in the city. That was the only way our family was able to survive.” 

In Agustín Vega Milingalle’s village hunger is now a thing of the past. Men and women have attended courses to learn how to diversify and boost their production, how to produce organic fertiliser and to breed small animals. This has led not only to more variety and healthier nutrition, but also enabled the producers to sell part of their harvest at the local market. 

What the farmers manage to produce from the soil these days is incredible, “We cultivate beans, carrots, lettuce, beetroot and radishes,” Agustín Vega Milingalle recounts. His wife Isolinda Lisintuña adds, “We also produce potatoes and onions and the feed for our rabbits and guinea pigs.” In any case, there is enough to feed a family of six and to share some of the harvest with the neighbours. 

“Without water, life is under threat”

But the family is a long way from being able to relax. “Without water life here in the country is really under threat. Humans and animals can no longer be fed, and the fields cannot be irrigated. You can live without money, but not without water,” Isolinda Lisintuña emphasises. 

She is a long and seasoned campaigner for the local people to have better rights to the springs. She was overjoyed when her campaign finally gained momentum and scientists were sent to the mountains to take measurements and trace the springs. “We were allocated four springs!” rejoices Isolinda Lisintuña. 

The success was no accident and nor did it come for free. Working together for three months the local men and women dug a ditch 1.20 metres deep and seven kilometres long. The spring tappings were filled with concrete and protected by a fence to prevent the water being soiled by cattle and wild animals. 60 families joined in, each family sending four or five people to carry out this strenuous work. And each family had to pay 57 dollars because the beneficiaries themselves have to fund a substantial share – in excess of 40,000 Swiss francs – of the total project costs.

Putting the brakes on migration

The continuation of the project enabled SWISSAID to renew the old water systems in three villages. After 30 years the water came out of the pipes dirty and only irregularly – renewing them was long overdue. The families attended courses to learn how to control the new pipes, chlorinate the water and maintain the tank. They also have to learn how to manage the precious water resource. “Today, we have enough water to prepare the food, wash ourselves and our clothes and even to irrigate the fields,” comments Agustín Vega with relief.

And he associates entirely different hopes with the improved quality of living,  

“Our aim is to persuade those families, who already emigrated, to return to our local communities. They can have their share of the water supply and win back their belief in farming. Because Mama Pacha is generous – we just have to treat her well!”



  • Project code: EC 2/14/01
  • Project costs: 113,773 Swiss francs
  • Project duration: 12 months
  • Number of beneficiaries: 552 families, or 2,760 men, women and children