According to the latest census, Ecuadorian consumers spend more than $5 billion on food through direct purchases inmarkets and at restaurants, which represents more than 10 times the amount of international development cooperation invested in the country. Via the Canastas Comunitarias y Solidarias movement, this market could transform much of Ecuador’s food system into a positive force that dramatically improves the health of millions of marginalized people as well as much of the country’s ailing landscape.
Canastas Comunitarias is a national network of urban, low-income families who have crafted an alternative market that saves them money while providing access to quality foods and paying small-scale farmers a fair price. Already, the Canastas movement includes 50 neighborhood groups of buyers (more than 1,500 families) in six cities. The movement was initially motivated by the economic advantages of purchasing commodities in large quantities, which usually results in savings on the order of 30 to 50 percent; however, creation of these groups and linking them with producers has also improved community organization, collective autonomy, food security and nutrition. It has also provided access to and encouraged the production of chemical-free produce, and helped preserve traditional crops and dishes. As an indication of their success, the municipalities of Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Ibarra have recently expressed interest in investing in Canastas Comunitarias.
Ekorural and its partners are seeking to identify and strengthen mechanisms of reciprocity among poor consumers (rural and urban) and small producers in favor of “healthy food systems.” We are focusing on women and children (considered the most vulnerable population in the country) from 150 urban families in Riobamba and 100 rural families in four communities in the province of Chimborazo: Galte (Guamote), and Tixán and Totoras (Alausí) and Tepealto (Colta). These cantons have the highest poverty rates in the nation (between 77 and 93%).
Consumers’ habits are the main factor influencing production systems and, indirectly, the welfare of rural families.
The general hypothesis is that if we want to transform Andean farming into more productive, equitable and sustainable systems, we must look to the driver of agricultural development: the consumer.
More specifically, we seek to:
- Understand the factors that enable interaction between urban movements and the financial and social organizations of small farmers (considering their different agronomic, economic, nutritional and socio-organizational motivations).
- Promote changes in consumption patterns among urban and rural people in favor of Andean crops.
- Establish new relationships between rural and urban community organizations that generate new ways of thinking, acting and organizing around healthy food systems.
- Help small producers transform their production systems according to new demand for traditional products, social equity and environmental sustainability.
- Train human resources in process-learning approaches, such as Participatory Four Cell Analysis, Nutrisurvey, Most Significant Change and Positive Deviance.
Local Food Systems: Tzimbuto and Canasta Utopía (Lema, F., Oyarzun, P., Borja, R., Zambrano, S. 2013. Local Food Systems: Tzimbuto and Canasta Utopía. Farming Matters. 29(2):38-40).