Sonia Zambrano, the EkoRural coordinator for the Central Sierra Region of the Ecuadorian Andes, informed me that usually the community of Tzimbuto was much more beautiful. The irrigation canal was undergoing repairs, so the land lacked water and the lush greenness that often characterizes the Andean hillsides. But it was a perfect day and, in spite of Sonia’s insistence to the contrary, the view was breathtaking.
The community of Tzimbuto is already involved in the Canastas Comunitarias in Riobamba, a market in which farmers agree to use organic practices to cultivate food and, rather than dealing with wholesale middlemen, sell directly to low-income consumers, who pay a fair price for the healthy produce. However in this past year, the community has gone a step further towards increasing biodiversity and securing reliable income from their farmland. After three years of planning, the community-run seed bank, Nueva Vida (New Life), is now in full operation and highly functional.
On a very practical level, the seed bank purchases seeds used for animal feed and soil building, such as oatmeal and alfalfa, in bulk so that farmers do not have to make the long, bumpy journey into the city. This has allowed the seedbank to grow its capital. Meanwhile, certain potato, bean and corn species that are native to the area (and quickly disappearing as farmers buy commercial seed) are making a reappearance. Farmers can take a certain quantitiy of heirloom seed at the beginning of the growing season, but they must return two times that amount of seed in order to be permitted to utilize the seed bank for the following season. In this cash-poor region, a bartering system is the perfect method for recuperating the seeds and plants that best grow in the area. It also makes the community a perfect experimental site for organizations like the Centro Internacional de Papas (International Potato Center) – who connect to such projects through EkoRural.
Unlike many “development projects” that are executed by an external organization and lose their utility when the organization or funding disappears, the Nueva Vida seed bank was conceived and implemented by local community members with minimal facilitation by EkoRural. Every month, a different community member is in charge of keeping careful records of transactions. 52 farmers from the surrounding communities already utilize this start-up venture. The small amount of seed money ($500) provided by has quickly grown to ($2,500 – combined cash and materials) through conscientious team management and strategic partnerships with seed and plant material providers.
Take a moment to view the slideshow below and learn more about yet another community initiative that EkoRural has helped to grow: