At the end of 2022, the international community reached important agreements on the fight against climate change during several international conferences. In this year, the world is looking forward to a new beginning. We all understand that the commitments and pledges made will require new approaches to complex challenges such as climate change. One of these approaches is integrated landscape management.
Around the world, food landscapes are the foundation of food systems. A landscape is a complex socio-ecological system that contains various land use types, such as agriculture, forestry, biodiversity conservation and urban areas.
"The landscape perspective is gaining momentum in Ecuador, where the highly degraded territory with its endangered species is very vulnerable to climate change. It gives us all the more reason to promote sustainable food production and food security" says Carolina Toapanta. She is the president of the BOMACO Foundation (Forests, Seas and Communities) our partner in Ecuador.
We interviewed Carolina to understand the relationship between the dynamics of agricultural production and the degradation of ecosystems and forests. This is necessary to design great strategies to promote sustainable food production, while also generating income for the communities. Moreover, this understanding can help us leverage funding opportunities to support conservation, restoring and protection activities within an area.
Through studies co-funded by the Ecuadorian Institute of Forestry, Natural Areas and Wildlife (INEFAN), Carolina describes a reality that has been known for years now. The last carbon sinks in Ecuador are mostly dry forests, which are now threatened with extinction. They are being encroached upon, degraded, fragmented and damaged by activities such as the burning of trees. It has been proven that all this vastly contributes to global warming.
"Agricultural practices are responsible for the burning of trees in several provinces in Ecuador, and the land use has drastically changed to meet the demand for some of the most trending products consumed by the global minority. However, the producer countries cannot be blamed, we need to make the consumer countries part of the process," says Toapanta.
She stresses the importance of finding solutions that bring everyone together, and of creating solutions at the intersection of forest conservation, agricultural production and food security to change production models.
Little by little, the monoculture model is being taken out of the game, with countries and consumers showing an interest in more sustainable production using agro-ecological products. However, until the entire model is changed the expansion of the agricultural frontier will continue affecting forests. This is in direct contradiction to global efforts to achieve sustainable food production.
BOMACO and Rikolto are laying the groundwork for an integrated landscape management approach. This is a multistakeholder approach to landscape governance that seeks to address trade-offs and synergies among stakeholders linked to one or more natural resources, and to build collaborative relationships for a sustainable landscape.
The pilot started in 2022, when we started working with the producer organisations La Asociación la Y de Cucuy, the Asociación de cangrejeros 15 de Agosto and ASOPROAGRIAPE. This year, the integration of another organisation is being considered. We will focus on the four cantons of the North Pacific Commonwealth (Mancomunidad del Pacífico Norte - MANPANOR).
"During crab and shrimp collection in the mangroves, we noticed that the crab collectors were not following the recommended sizes and were picking up crabs that were too small," Toapanta explains.
To address this, Rikolto and BOMACO organised trainings with the crab growers' association in the municipality of San Vicente (Manabí). "After attending our trainings, the associations were able to improve the process of obtaining crab and crab pulp. They also enhanced their product packaging to generate more income”.
"With the help of an expert, they identified areas with certain types of mangrove that crabs can eat, making them bigger and therefore more profitable. This could directly benefit these associations' sustainability and economy. It has been incredible to see how the situation is changing and to realise that they dream of a different future where the community does not solely depend on these type of products”.
Another opportunity for sustainable production in the area is the production of honey with melipona bees. These bees use mangrove flowers. There is also the idea of birdwatching and sustainable tourism, which will make it possible to involve more farmers' organisations. The support provided by the pilot has opened up discussions about what can be done during the closed crab season so that families can continue to earn an income, says Toapanta.
"There has been a lot of discussion about diversification of production and the establishment of tree nurseries or vegetable gardens in the homes of the association members. Salinas is a successful case of food bio-entrepreneurship that can be replicated in other areas".
To further support the bio-enterprises and mangrove restoration efforts in the community of Salinas, technicians from the BOMACO Foundation will be part of the consulting team from the University of Espiritu Santo in Guayaquil to access the REDD+ Early Movers (REM) Fund.
Mangrove restorations will take place in Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas and El Oro. In Manabí, in order to support bio-enterprises and promote restoration and sustainable production strategies, the areas of the Chone and Cojimes estuaries have been prioritised.
In Manabí and surrounding areas, opening the discussion on the importance of solutions from a food system approach has been fundamental. It did not only help negotiate strict conservation zones in the area, it also ensured sustainable economic activities (e.g. with bio-enterprises).
However, a major challenge in reaching solid agreements is the lack of resources from local governments. Joining forces to attract funding is a strategy used by cantonal governments such as those of Pedernales, Jama, San Vicente and Sucre, which form MANPANOR.
The Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas (ACUS) have enormous potential to attract external funding to help with the conservation, sustainable productive development and watershed management of their territories.
According to Ecuadorian legislation, a Conservation and Sustainable Use Area (ACUS) is an area created by decentralised autonomous governments, communities or private owners, of local importance. It's purpose is to converse biodiversity and develop sustainable activities in order to guarantee the maintenance of ecosystem services that benefit human life. Under certain conditions, an ACUS can opt to become a protected area declared by the National Environmental Authority.
"In the ACUS, the core areas are protected. The areas outside the ACUS are sustainable use areas that promoting alternatives that do not degrade these forests. It is an approach that allows us to take better advantage of the reality of the Ecuadorian coast," says Toapanta.
"We are developing ACUS management plans in cantons such as Jama and Pedernales, with funding from the Manabí Prefecture. We are expecting funding from the ProAmazonía/UNDP Payment by Results Programme and the Sustainable Environmental Investment Fund. The latter can be used to implement the management plan, which includes the hiring of community forest rangers and the control and monitoring of early warning systems.”
Conservation and restoration agreements are currently being signed in the MANPANOR area, making (private) landowners responsible for conserving and promoting the restoration of hectares on their property.
Within the ACUS, there are also opportunities for bio-enterprises run by the women of the Asociación la Y de Cucuy. They decided to produce jams and wines, and are already promoting them at fairs.
Rikolto will continue to support the design of packaging or seals in order to position their products on the market, facilitate business meetings and build bridges to the market. With associations of agricultural entrepreneurs such as ASOPROAGRIAPE, promoted training in agroecological practices, finance and good manufacturing.
"With Rikolto, we want to promote the leadership of women and young people in bio-enterprises in the communities. They do this by addressing issues such as gender relations and masculinities, and access to finance."
BOMACO and Rikolto are working together through the Good Food For Cities programme an integrated landscape approach in the province of Manabí. We stimulate sustainable agricultural production and income generation with food bio-enterprises in the MANPANOR member cantons.
In 2023, Rikolto's alliance with BOMACO will provide technical assistance to the community in initiatives that promote sustainable production and bio-enterprises. And last but not least, we will also promote the exchange of experiences with other successful communities in Ecuador.
Do you want to know more about our work in Ecuador? Contact our colleague Carolina Salazar - Coordinator of the Sustainable Food Systems in Cities Programme - Ecuador.