The project contributes to improving the living conditions of rural smallholder families in Bolivar Province. Knowledge about agroecological practices is imparted in courses and workshops, and the population’s awareness of climate change is raised. The goal is to strengthen the resilience of smallholder families against climatic changes.
1.5 hectares, hardly fertile, in steep terrain. This is the average amount of land owned by the inhabitants of the municipality of San Lorenzo. With a poverty rate of 78%, the region is one of the poorest in Ecuador. Many of the smallholder families grow corn in monocultures. However, the chemicals used and the lack of diversification rob the soil of its last fertility. Consistently lower yields, less income and poorer health – the farming families slip into a vicious circle. In addition, the monocultures weaken resistance to the increasingly extreme effects of climate change.
With this project, SWISSAID is trying to make farming families aware of the harmful effects of monocultures. The aim is to encourage a switch to agro-ecological practices. Together with regional authorities and local partners, SWISSAID runs courses and workshops that raise the population’s awareness of climate change and promote their agro-ecological knowledge.
The effects of climate change are already clearly noticeable in Bolivar Province. Less and less rain is falling. Even in the normally rainy winter season, the fields remain parched and arid. The chemicals used on the monocultures rob the soils of even more fertility.
With mixed cultures against the crisis
March 2020: Mariana Hortas takes part in a SWISSAID workshop on agroecology. Rumours of a coming pandemic circulate for the first time. A few weeks later, the government declares a state of emergency. She moves with her family to the farm she inherited from her parents. There she has been implementing the principles of agroecology she learned in workshops for several years. She grows mixed crops and produces her own fertilizer. “It’s like I instinctively knew that these techniques would serve me in one way or another in the future,” she says.
During the lockdown, Mariana Hortas is able to provide for both her own family and her brother’s thanks to agroecology. Before the pandemic, she was long considered a rebel in the region with her agroecological farming practices. “Now I could even share food and seedlings with my neighbours whose conventional practices did not yield enough,” she says.
SWISSAID’s workshop teaches knowledge about agoecological practices. During her participation in March 2020, Mariana Hortas draws a planting plan for her plot. The knowledge she learns about sustainable agriculture helps her and her family during the lockdown.
The courage to be equal
Housework, cooking, maintaining the farm – the work piles up. Mariana Hortas feels exhausted and overwhelmed: “I realised that I couldn’t do it alone. The SWISSAID workshops, which also addressed gender equality, encouraged me to involve the men in the family in the hard work.” With success: today, her husband, brother, nephews and son are making an effort on the farm. In the conservative country, steeped in macho culture, this is a significant step forward.
Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is clear: the pandemic is shining a spotlight on much-needed social and agricultural change. Once initiated, the positive changes give people like Mariana Hortes hope for a more secure future.
In agroecology, food is produced based on natural cycles and without pesticides. Thus, agroecological agriculture is more resistant to external influences such as climate change and guarantees a local food supply even in times of pandemic crisis.