WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CAftAR? A CASE STUDY

Communities A and B are indigenous communities located between 3,000 and 3,400 meters above sea level in Canar province in the southern ranges in Ecuador. A’s population is close to 2,300 inhabitants, while B’s is close to 600, with an average of 4.4 members per household for both communities. According to the survey, more than 70 percent of households in both communities reported income lower than US$300 monthly. Together, the two adjacent communities are perceived as the organizational nucleus for farmer and indigenous organizations whose influence goes beyond their geographic boundaries. Table 14.1 includes details on the most important organizations located

Table 14.1 Farmer organizations in communities A and B and percentage of household leaders with perception of little trust in their capacity for improving the welfare of their communities

Organization

(number)

Details

Trust

Perception*

Second-level

organization

This organization groups fifteen communities and four land cooperatives. Its activities include conflict resolution, planning and coordination of agricultural activities, technical assistance and training, and micro-credits. However, its more important role is to control the irrigation system that covers fourteen communities in the area. It also has a demonstration farm for activities such as integrated pest management.

  • 14.04%A
  • 12.86%B

Farmer association and credit cooperative

Originated as an agricultural development initiative linked with seed production, it has a solid financial institution for farmers. In addition, it contains a grain processing and trade program. It also has a demonstration farm for activities such as integrated pest management.

  • 14.04%A
  • 11.43%B

Association of

indigenous

agronomists

Professional association of agronomists dedicated to planning, development, and technical assistance on development projects for agricultural and livestock production. It has a market located in the urban centre, which provides support for the commerce of some farmer products. It has built some small irrigation subsystems for some communities. It also has a demonstration farm for activities such as integrated pest management.

  • 7.02%A
  • 4.29%B

Trade

organization

Recently created, it groups close to sixty farmers with the goal of eliminating intermediaries and trading their products directly at the urban centre. One of its main objectives is to position themselves as organic producer:

NA

s.

continues

Community Capacity and Challenges 291

Table 14.1 Continued

Organization

(number)

Details

Trust

Perception*

Women's

A community-level women's organization that generates association several projects for women's welfare, including some development projects and projects for entrepreneurship.

  • 2.63%A
  • 1.43%B

Community assemblies (2)

Community-level organizations for planning and conflict resolution in a geographical area. Conflict resolution.

  • 43.86%A
  • 14.29%B

Land

cooperatives (2): Community A and B

Originated with land reform, they distributed land when this was available. According to land distribution, they group the farmers and help to plan and coordinate projects such as irrigation and rural development.

  • 29.95%A
  • 10.00%B

Other Relevant Institutions

Bilingual institute of technical education

Part of the bilingual education system controlled by Ecuadorian First Nations, this is a training institute for future teachers in their schools. It contains basic training in agronomy as part of its program.

NA

Technical

college

Catholic high school with technical training at a bachelor level in agronomy.

NA

‘Percentage of household leaders who trust that this organization can help to improve the community's welfare; NA = not available. Source: Author's survey and field notes.

in the two communities. Based on institutional capacity and coverage, the first three organizations are the most important. This high density of organizations is connected to a network of cooperation that supports their action.68

Similar to other Andean communities, farmers in the two community sectors studied have resorted to the extensive use of pesticides to protect their crops. The use of pesticides, which is generally poorly handled in terms of human and environmental protection, has helped to reduce crop damage and assure quality for a more competitive market. According to the survey, more than 95 percent of the households had at least one person who used pesticides on a regular basis. A great majority of them did not use gloves or protective equipment when applying pesticides. Moreover, some of the pesticides used in the community are of high toxicity, as in the case of Carbofuran, which is banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.69

This pesticide use occurs despite the high density of farmer organizations and their explicit involvement for years in activities and programs to reduce pesticide- related problems. In effect, social organizations have attempted to reduce the human and environmental risk from pesticides on several occasions but without significant results. For instance, in association with some NGOs and government institutions, farmer organizations in the past have offered courses on proper pesticide management. In addition, some attempts for promoting clean production (products that do not rely on the use of pesticides or fertilizers) have failed.70 For instance, some years ago, the second-level organization tried to coordinate a trade chain in Quito for pesticide-free quinoa, a traditional Andean cereal. Despite their best efforts, the harvested product was rejected because (1) the cleaning and packaging post-harvest process was inadequate, and (2) the product did not have the homogeneity required by the quality standards (data from interviews). In general, the organization leaders are very active and committed to their vision of environmental and healthy productive alternatives for their communities.

The fact that the organizations in the area face some of the challenges for agricultural production described above may explain the reason why their activities have not yielded better results. For instance, most of their products are traded locally by intermediaries, who target local markets that are in crisis due to imports and demand changes. Basically, the farmers’ main products in the communities are potatoes, corn, and beans, none of which are important export products for Ecuador. At the provincial level, most of the sales are through intermediaries (50.5 percent), while direct sales are just 16.6 percent. Sales to food processing or exporters are just 2.5 percent.71 My interviews with intermediaries show that prices of traditional products are continuously pushed down because of imports from countries such as Colombia and Peru.

The difficulties offered by the market are worsened by the fact that the area has a problem concerning smallholdings. This reduces crop productivity and makes coordinating activities more difficult for farmer organizations. In the fifteen communities belonging to the second-level organization, 63 percent of the families have farms of 5 hectares or fewer.72 The average area of land is decreasing at a very quick pace. According to my analysis of the database for their irrigation system, from 1997 to 2007, the average of productive affiliated units reduced from 0.43 hectares to 0.35 hectares. As discussed above, two factors contribute to making smallholdings a problem for organizations. First, smallholdings may require bigger investment by the organizations to cover transaction costs and to provide proper technical assistance. Small-farmer organizations may not have this capacity. The second element is that coordination for sustainable projects is more difficult. If the land is owned by smallholders, it is more onerous to coordinate a common strategy.

Adding to the problems offered by smallholdings, the phasing out of some of the state programs for technical assistance in the late 1980s and early 1990s has left a void that is still to be filled by the organizations. By contrast, during the same period, most of the organizations consolidated by taking some of the spaces left by the state and other organizations. For instance, the credit cooperative took advantage of the state’s reduced alternatives for rural financial assistance. Nevertheless, this process has not filled the gap of assistance left by the suspension of state programs. For instance, when the National Autonomous Institute for Agricultural Research (INIAP) left, and the local personnel of the National Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding saw its personnel reduced from close to ten technicians to just two, the programs of rural schools, a tool for teaching alternative pest management, stopped. Thus, while some organizations may have been strengthened in the previous twenty years, their real capacity is far from the type needed for reducing pesticide-related problems in the area.

In addition to not replacing the need for state programs, the relative strengthening of farmer organizations faces scarcity of resources. They have limited amounts of different types of resources necessary for establishing comprehensive programs. For instance, funding of development projects is temporary and scarce, while their own small businesses still lack the strength to support agriculture programs. Community organizations’ main leadership positions are either voluntary or poorly paid (due in part to scarce financial resources), making it difficult to retain their best human capital. This shortfall has caused, for example, many of the available agronomists to emigrate. In another illustration, the organization in charge of the irrigation system has recently laid off its technical coordinator. Concomitantly, it has increased the irrigation fees several times to balance its budget. Furthermore, the scarcity of resources has led to increased competition at different levels among the organizations, favoring fragmentation and inefficient use of resources, which sometimes occurs despite the best efforts for coordination. Together, these elements have forced the community organizations to struggle to face the needs of the community. In fact, Table 14.1 shows that most household leaders in the survey have little trust in the capacity of their farmer organizations to improve the quality of life in their communities.

As trust in farmers’ community organizations declines, family strategies, such as migration and multiple employments, seem to be the most important alternatives sought for maintaining the household economy. According to the survey, an average of at least one family member lives outside the community. This would explain the reason why, although most of the families still consider agriculture an important source of income, remittances and other sources are also gaining importance. Figure 14.4 shows the number of households with at least some contribution from different sources of income, showing an important position for migration. It also shows a process of increased reliance on employment. For the region, the wages calculated for a farmer are lower than the wages of a construction worker. Only a handful of crops can generate enough income to compete with wages from other activities. However, the demand for the most profitable type of products is limited, forcing peasants to resort to wage income instead of farm income.73

L. Martinez, in a previous study of the area, showed the extent to which agriculture had declined in favor of other activities in which migration occupied a principal position. This study, which included twelve communities in the area, showed the extent to which migration was precipitated immediately after the process of dollarization, indicating its impact on farmers’ income. However, the study also indicated that migrants, usually males, were not the poorest. Families close to urban centers and with higher levels of income had a higher probability of migrating. The process has resulted in the transformation of the traditional networks and structures in the communities and new forms of identity.74 This process, confirmed by my field experience, is accompanied by a struggle for redefining forms of cultural capital in the community such as the employment of urban patterns of prestige. For instance, an increasing percentage of families (especially the families of migrants) prefer to pay fines instead of being part of the collective activities organized by the communities.

Migration and the need for other occupations are core determinants for pesticide use. Increasingly, due to the possibilities of other sources of income, farmers use agriculture for food security. In a study in the area, B. Jokisch describes the extent to which migration has not led to agricultural abandonment because semisubsistence agriculture remains important.75 Basically, they farm for self-consumption, while taking care of other occupations such as construction jobs. Contrary to what would be expected, this fact worsens the use of pesticides and their related problems. In fact,

294 Fabio Cabarcas

Figure 14.4 Percentage of households with at least some income from specific sources in communities A and B, 2007

Source: Household survey.

while maintaining the agricultural use of the land, the lack of human resources is one of the phenomena most closely related to the intense use of pesticides. Due to migration of young men, mostly elders and women (in their free time) take care of the crops and other multiple occupations. The integrated pest management and some rational pesticide use alternatives require a more intensive use of workforce. This means that a farmer with little time would prefer to apply pesticides three or five times every four months instead of having to do frequent visits to the crop.

The problem of human resources in the communities and the use of pesticides may have other undesired results. Two major unexpected health problems emerged in the field trip. First, accidental pesticide poisoning by an annual average of seven children younger than eleven years old was found in hospital discharge records from 1998 to 2006. Second, there is a marked increase in the adult rate of suicide by pesticides in the same period. According to the interviews, the rate of suicides may be related to family divisions, the economic crisis, and the easy access to pesticides. On the other hand, a plausible hypothesis for the cases in children is that traditional forms of child care are threatened by the fact that adults have migrated or are very busy with multiple obligations.

In summary, in the context of Washington Consensus policies, the scarcity of resources available in a community’s supporting networks has forced different organizations to compete in enhancing and maintaining their networks. Resources already available in the community are not used efficiently because community organizations are forced to compete with each other. Moreover, as trust in farmers’ community organizations declines, family strategies such as emigration and multiple employments in the urban centers seem to be the most important alternatives sought for maintaining the household economy. However, migration and multiple employments may also produce unexpected effects, such as accidental pesticide poisoning in children, depression, and further environmental destruction.

 
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