Isolated from the rest of the world and without information: the inhabitants of the indigenous community of Jubal in Ecuador have been left on their own since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supply chains have collapsed, and farming families are threatened with malnutrition and financial hardship. Knowledge of agroecological farming methods promises salvation.
The disruption of supply chains and the health threat of coronavirus exacerbate the already difficult situation of the rural population. The emergency aid project aims to strengthen indigenous farming families. On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic is being combated through information and hygiene measures. On the other hand, the food supply of the families is secured and agroecological agriculture is promoted.
“Every now and then, we receive news of overcrowded hospitals from the cities. Otherwise we hear nothing. It is frightening,” says Flor Collaguazo. The 24-year-old woman lives in the community of Jubal in the highlands of Ecuador. The nearest town is three hours away. In Chimborazo province, Ecuador’s poorest region, there are no hospitals or pharmacies to be found.
The Ecuadorian government is focusing on urban areas in the fight against the pandemic. “If the virus comes to us, we don’t stand a chance,” says Flor Collaguazo. In early summer, the community therefore decided on total isolation: “No one was allowed to leave the community without permission.”
Malnutrition and isolation
Isolation was followed by hardship. Even before the crisis, the indigenous families were living at the subsistence level. The interruption of market access means that an existential source of income has been lost for them. Even the supply of commercial seeds and fertiliser has been affected by the crisis. This puts families who rely on conventional agriculture in great difficulty. Small farming families are increasingly running out of money and food shortages are growing.
The supply of commercial seeds, which account for 90% of the seeds in Ecuador, is no longer possible due to the COVID-19 situation. The supply chains have broken down.
Agroecology as a solution
In this precarious situation, agroecological cultivation promises hope. SWISSAID has been promoting seed diversity and agroecology in rural areas of Ecuador for years. This is now paying off.
The families who had already switched to agroecological cultivation with SWISSAID’s help before the crisis can continue to grow food. They have their own seeds and can cultivate their fields with their organic fertiliser. “We can feed not only our own family, but also part of the community with potatoes, beans and tubers,” says Flor.
Fighting hunger with 16,000 saplings
Buiding on existing projects in the region, SWISSAID is working to counteract the threat of food shortages in remote villages such as Jubal. Small farming families are involved in the development and distribution of organically grown seedlings. Community greenhouses are set up and local seeds are distributed. Around 16,000 vegetable seedlings were delivered to Jubal alone. “These plants help us not to fall into poverty and to continue to grow food for our families and our communities,” says Flor, thanking us.
As part of the emergency aid project, greenhouses will be built in which seedlings will be grown for eventual field cultivation. The plants are passed on to small farmers. Local seeds are also distributed free of charge to families to encourage the spread of indigenous seeds.
The crisis as an opportunity
The crisis highlights the damaging dependence of farming families on industrial agriculture. It shows the importance of maintaining a food system independent of international supply chains.
Since the pandemic, a change in thinking has been felt in the small community. More and more families are turning to their own seeds and agroecological cultivation. “We have learned to value our land more,” says Flor. She adds, “our fields and knowledge of agroecology have saved us.”