Agroecology and youth: opening up new business opportunities in Ecuador

Agroecology and youth: opening up new business opportunities in Ecuador

26/04/2021
in News
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In Pedro Moncayo, a town located 60 kilometres north of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, Rikolto identified a group of farmers willing to modernise their business to increase their incomes, not only respecting the limits of nature but also honouring them.

A community empowered in the production and consumption of safefood, and interested in opening new markets with a brand that supports them, are some of the results of Rikolto's work together with the Pedro Moncayo Farmers' Union, UCCOPEM, over three years.

"We managed to engage more people to take this path (agroecology) that we started with Rikolto because we believe that farmers can achieve a better quality of life with a fair income from production, maybe not as we would like, but being respectful and reciprocal with nature and our small scale producers", says María Elena Quimbiamba, then vice-president of UCCOPEM and youth leader, recently elected as president of the organisation for the period 2021-2024.

María Elena Quimbiamba, recently elected as president of UCCOPEM for the period 2021-2024.

To open up new markets for the farmers' union, Rikolto accompanied the development of the Yachik brand, which involved follow-up through technical assistance to improve production, post-harvest, storage and dispatch of products to the market or to new customers.

Producers also received training to implement agroecological practices that propose modes of production, processing and consumption that respect the natural and social diversity of local ecosystems.

"... Believing that in some way farmers can achieve a better quality of life with the income from production, maybe not as we would like, but yes, being in solidarity and reciprocal with nature.."

Both in the construction of the Yachik brand - which in Quichua means flavour - and in each stage until the products were brought to market for commercialisation, work was done in a collective and participatory manner, directly involving the members of the community.

Yachik, more than a brand... an experience

Before starting the adventure of improving the commercialisation of their products, the focus was on diagnosing potential farms with high-quality horticultural products and also other the farms that needed to improve cultivation practices with bio-inputs or to control diseases in some species.

Meanwhile, in the Ecuadorian capital, a search was carried out for potential clients interested in consuming agroecological products, discovering two restaurants that purchased vegetables; a pizzeria that also opened its doors to establish a point of sale; and also a school that requested baskets of organic products for its teachers.

Because of the volume and its vision of having a citizens' fair, another important space for commercialisation - which at its highest peak allowed sales proceeds of 1,500 dollars in a single day - an alliance with the Ministry of Production arose, in which farmers from two organisations offered healthy food every Friday.

Rikolto's support was essential. It financed the project and strengthened it on several fronts: on the accounting side, it provided technological tools; for marketing, it provided inputs for the fairs, contributed to logistics, and hired a sales manager. Also in the area of digital marketing, it involved young people in the management of social networks and promoted agro-ecological production.

Lizeth Barriga Commercial manager of UCCOPEM

I was born in the countryside and I'm staying here.

"Here I have everything I want, everything that makes me happy," says 32-year-old Cristina Toapanta, who has long dreamed of making her plot of land sustainable so that she and her family can live in peace.

"I was born in the countryside, my parents are farmers and I have seen their work and the sacrifices they make. I stay in the countryside because of my roots. They are here. Dad and mum have taught me about taking care of the land, the seeds, the animals and the plants. They have been my inspiration (...)", says this young agronomist and UCCOPEM producer.

With an easy smile and unflagging enthusiasm, she points out that the presence of Rikolto and each of the technicians taught her several things and broadened her vision of agroecology since it is not only about producing and consuming chemical-free products: "it is a lifestyle, a healthier and fairer way of life that begins with a process of personal transformation and expands to the whole community," she says.

Besides, Cristina highlights the different techniques she incorporated into production, such as including fruit trees, new spices and, above all, the planning of sowings, which is basic to improve control in an orderly manner. This, allowed them to face the pandemic with a harvest that emerged gradually.

“I was born in the countryside, my parents are farmers and I have seen their work and the sacrifices they make. I stay in the countryside because of my roots..."

Besides, Cristina highlights the different techniques she incorporated into production, such as including fruit trees, new spices and, above all, the planning of sowings, which is basic to improve control in an orderly manner. This, allowed them to face the pandemic with a harvest that emerged gradually.

María Cristina fondly remembers the mingas - a tradition of collective and voluntary work of common social utility in Latin America - because she considers that they strengthened bonds between everyone and "they were better than a WhatsApp chat", she says with a laugh, because during the mobility restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the producers remembered who had sown what and thus managed to diversify and attend to orders during that period.

Hear the story of Cristina and the farming families of Pedro Moncayo in this video.

The harvest

María Elena considers that the fair she attends at weekends in Pedro Moncayo has come to life. She says that it was motivating to see how a line of taxis and vans lined up around the local market to transport consumers and producers.

And she points out that this is the result of the work carried out with Rikolto. The farmers' organisation incorporated communication and dissemination actions and the use of new technologies and developed a media plan in local spaces.

Besides, it has encouraged a group of more than 50 young people who are interested in learning more about new forms of organic farming, a further step to promote generational renewal.

Liseth also verified that the brand is present and alive because in the most critical months, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, between April and May 2020, 1,200 dollars a week were raised in sales of organic baskets that were requested from different cities.

The Yachik brand is visible, and to sustain it, it is necessary to promote a marketing or communication campaign, diversify the products on offer, achieve some certifications, train producers in customer service issues and solve transport costs, which are still a bottleneck.

"The countryside teaches us to value life more, to understand that if we don't start to grow our own food and take care of what we have around us, it is impossible to survive under the current production system", concludes María Cristina.

Rikolto charts a clear and unifying path toward sustainable food systems by focusing on interventions like these, to reshape the roles of multiple food system actors, from the global to the local level. Access to sufficient and healthy food is a right ... not a privilege.

Do you want to know more about Rikolto's actions to transform the food system of Quito? Contact me on LinkedIn or let's talk via email.

Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Directora de Programa Sistemas Alimentarios Sustentables y Resilientes | Ecuador

Collaboration: Drafting: Isabel Proanio - Communication Consultant | isabelproaniorivera [at] gmail.com | Editing and style: Natalia Palomino - Communication Coordinator - natalia.palomino [at] rikolto.org, Selene Casanova - Communication Coordinator- selene.casanova [at] rikolto.org | Review: Nataly Pinto - Director of the Rikolto Resilient and Sustainable Systems (SAS) Program - nataly.pinto [at] rikolto.org.