For over 10 years, Groundswell International has been collaborating with Indigenous and mestizo communities in the Central and Northern Andean Highlands of Ecuador to address the accelerating erosion of their culture and well-being as a consequence of modernization. Traditional chakras (farms) and food systems have been displaced through dependence on industrial technologies and foreign investing and trading. This has resulted in negative effects on shared natural resources, the loss of control over seeds and biological resources, and damage to local economies, health, and human relationships.
The communities in this region are mainly Indigenous mixed with a mestizo population. All the highland communities are located in fragile and degraded mountain ecosystems where climate change is altering rainfall patterns and groundwater availability, increasing the challenges for small-scale production. Additionally, most of the men in these communities migrate to other work zones, forcing women to take on more and more responsibilities in household management, agricultural production, community organization, and leadership. Collaborative programs between EkoRural (a local NGO partner in Ecuador) and Groundswell International are focused primarily on addressing the needs of this vulnerable population and its children.
This program will work with at least 9 communities and 250 families on the following outcomes:
- Increased local knowledge, with an emphasis on women’s leadership and agency for innovation and management of soil, community seed banks, and biodiversity at farm and community levels
- Strengthened autonomy, capacity, and resilience of communities
- Strengthened participation of community leaders, drawing on their experience of effective strategies, to influence ongoing public policy debates about agrobiodiversity, seeds, and the promotion of agroecology
- Exchange of strategies and synthesis and documentation of results across Groundswell’s network of partners in ten countries to strengthen our collective impact locally and globally
The agroecological transition process in this region has led not only to the search for community-level socio-technical innovations but has also fostered efforts to extend urban-rural relations. Urban populations stand to benefit from increased access to sustainably farmed, local produce that can enhance their nutritional outcomes just as much as it benefits the populations growing these crops. On a broader scale, securing funding for this project would allow EkoRural and Groundswell to add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the positive impact of agroecology.
Groundswell International’s participatory analysis with highland communities has demonstrated that strengthening household and community capacities to manage agrobiodiversity is a catalyzing entry point that enables families to address their concerns regarding loss of culture and environmental degradation. The process generates inspiration and capacities to further unlock the potential of biological, local, and cultural resources for improved productivity, income, and well-being. With the right support, the downward spiral can be replaced with a positive cycle of social change based on trust and community-building.
Throughout Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, traditional culture is being displaced through dependence on externally based knowledge, distancing of markets, and the intermediation of relationships through financial institutions. This strengthens predominantly Indigenous communities by enhancing their traditional farming methods and allowing them to retake control of common-pool natural resources and local economies. To achieve this, support is given to community organizations to lead initiatives and make their own decisions.
Through community action-learning processes with farmers focused on ‘learning by doing’ and the diálogo de saberes (dialogue of wisdoms), Groundswell international assists them in efforts to enhance on-farm biodiversity conservation and preserve Indigenous knowledge.