Protecting Pàramo

Water in Guangaje at last

The right materials to hand, the necessary knowledge in their heads: with a little support, smallholder families in the Ecuadorian Andes can find their own way out of destitution. Once organised in water committees, they can protect their valuable water reserves for the long term – and thus also arm themselves against climate change.


Country, region:
Ecuador, Cotopaxi
September 2018 - December 2020 (project over)
570 small farming families, i.e. 2,800 people and 35% of all those living in the project area
Total project budget:
CHF 322,978


Secure nutrition thanks to sustainable agriculture and improved water supply for indigenous smallholder families: this is the declared goal of the project in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Agro-ecological agriculture forms the basis for long-term problem solving. Smallholder families learn modern cultivation techniques adapted to the location and apply the knowledge acquired. Besides better water supply, the project objectives include species-appropriate small animal breeding and husbandry, energy-efficient kitchens, sanitary facilities and training in political participation.

This project is co-financed by the SDC program contribution.

Mist wafting over a hilly landscape, a llama peering out between the washing, chickens bustling about, sheep serenly grazing. A woman doing her laundry on the washing stone outside her hut. Idyllic – isn’t it?

But the everyday life of those living in the Guangaje community in the middle of Cotopaxi province is anything but that. Around 90 percent of  people live below the poverty line and most are malnourished or undernourished. The small piece of land on which they grow their food simply does not yield enough. Access to water? Even today, that is a pipedream for most smallholder farmers.

There is more and more freak weather. In the rainy season it stays dry, but in the dry season it rains more and more often. And the rain is unusually heavy. Floods, soil erosion, disrupted production cycles in the fields – here, at 3,000 metres above sea level, people have long been familiar with the ugly side of the effects of climate change.

Water is a precious resource. With its dense grass cover, the páramo provides vegetation that can absorb a great deal of water – an important natural water reservoir for the area. But the pàramo is endangered, in no small part because more and more trees are being planted that have no place here.

Fixed water tariff: each family pays the equivalent of one franc per month. The money is mainly used to pay the water keeper. Any surplus goes into a fund.

Everyone helps – even with money

If water-catchment and spring areas are to have permanent access to water, they must be better protected and more sustainably managed. This can only work if local grassroots groups receive technical and financial support and are strengthened in organisational terms.

Organised by SWISSAID into water committees, the groups are building and fitting up seven drinking water supply systems for 1,750 people. 76 small-scale irrigation systems ensure that whatever smallholder farmers plant will now thrive until the harvest.

SWISSAID’s approach has already borne fruit in three villages in Guangaje: “We received building materials and made a financial contribution ourselves. Then we all built a large reservoir and laid water pipes,” says Daniel Otto Lutuala, president of the water committee in Candela Fasso. His counterpart in Tigua Rumichaca is delighted with the result: “In the past we didn’t even have water for cooking here – today the houses are linked to a water supply and families have access to clean drinking water around the clock,” says Juan Manuel Chusín.

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