Women of the Cayrillo Community and the Market in Salcedo

The energy and bustle of the Thursday market in Salcedo makes you feel as if you are in a much larger town. Blocks surrounding the main marketplace are full of people hawking wares of all sorts – shoes, fútbols, toys, clothes, popcorn, grilled meat, and chawarminski (a Kichwa juice made of agave). A few blocks away you can buy seeds, calves or grown cows and bulls, pigs, chickens, or sheep. You can even bring clothes to be sewn or repaired, the whirring of the Singer sewing machines competing with vendors’ voices for space in the umbrella of echoes under the main produce market awning.

It was a long struggle for the women farmers of the Cayrillo Community in Cotopaxi, some members of the community-based organization Association of Compañía Baja, to gain a place to sell their produce at the market in Salcedo. In February, I went with Guadalupe and Elenita to the market to see how the women of this community sell their agroecological produce. We spoke with Doña Clarita and Doña Concha, two leaders within the group, to learn how they got here. In the midst of selling their agroecological produce, they told me their story.

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In the past, Doña Clarita and Doña Concha tell me that they were only subsistence farmers – growing enough produce to feed their families and using the money their husbands earned to buy other necessities. After working with EkoRural they realized that they were capable of growing their own agroecological food – and of selling the rest. Securing a space within the market in which to sell their goods, however, was more difficult than they had anticipated. After long days working in the fields, members of the Association met for hours to figure out how to get a space. When the women first came to sell their produce in Salcedo, they were forced to sell in the local coliseum, which was inconvenient (no spaces for parking for example) and lacked shoppers. They also endured mistreatment from other vendors who accused them of coming to the feria, buying produce, and then reselling it, instead of farming themselves and bringing their produce to market. Vendors from within their canton discriminated against them and insulted them, calling them dirty and lazy.

This situation was unsustainable, and the Association, with support from EkoRural’s team, arranged meetings with the mayor to garner support for their presence in the market proper. He was supportive of their efforts, and guaranteed a space for them in the produce market. Once settled there, they still had to deal with other vendors claiming that they were not the farmers, or that their produce was not agroecologically produced. But over time those lies have dissipated, as the women have defended themselves and their products.

Every week the women travel via bus or truck, bringing their produce with them, from Cayrillo to their spot in the market in Salcedo. Other days they go to other markets in the area. Now the issues they face are not harassment from other vendors, but negotiating with consumers on prices. Many shoppers are not aware of the value of agroecologically-produced vegetables, preferring cheaper, industrial produce grown with chemicals, or produce being resold by intermediaries instead of farmers themselves. Vegetables grown agroecologically take more effort and thus are being sold at prices slightly higher than monocultivated crops. However, more and more consumers are beginning to realize the value in buying healthier, organic produce sold by farmers. The efforts of the women of Cayrillo have been successful. They are generating incomes that go towards clothing and school supplies, and returning to their chakras with less produce. In addition to supporting their families, they have also learned negotiating skills, which has given them the confidence to bargain and educate their consumers.

Saving the Seeds of the Past for the Future

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:

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Euler Fueltala, an Inspiring Local Leader in the Highlands of Ecuador

P1040411Euler Fueltala lives with his wife and three children in the northern highlands of Ecuador in a small rural-community called San-Francisco de La Libertad. He  works as community promoter and field technician for Ekorural and has been involved in several other initiatives as well. This small story is an introduction to how local leaders like Euler make a change in the lives of local producers in rural-communities.

Euler grew up in San-Francisco de la Libertad where he met his wife Elena Fueltala at 21 years of age. In his youth Euler has had some disturbing years and did not enjoy an education. Because many of the youth living in rural-areas find it hard to see the benefit of living there, many of them migrate from rural to urban areas where they hope to find better opportunities in life (ECLAC/HABITAT, 2000). Luckily, Euler found a great example in his brother, who also remained in the community, and, when he married Elena, his vision of and mission in life really started to change for the better.

Some of the problems that small local producers such as Euler have to deal with is difficulty in getting access to well-paid markets and competition with large-scale farms  that are able to sell their products in bulk and at low prices.  Euler is not just concerned about the livelihood of small local producers, but also about the negative environmental impact of indutrial agriculture. By rescuing and investigating in traditional seeds, Euler is working to bring back the lost cultivars and seeds that once used to provide food and livelihood his community’s ancestors. As Euler explains, the hybrid seeds used this century require more chemical assistance to grow, which damages our health and the environment (Gibson, A; S.O.S: Save our Seeds, 2009).  Additionally, Euler would like to alleviate the market-access issue by strengthening the exchange and interaction between the producers and consumers from different communities in order to share knowledge and local products.  Someday, he hopes this does not just occur between highland communities, but also between communities in different ecological regions, such as the coast and the highlands.

Apart from his work with EkoRural, Euler is involved in a micro-credit group, which he helped found.   He also founded a Farmer Field School, in which the participants are experimenting with different types of grasses and learning to execute an Agro-Ecosystem Analysis.

Please take a moment to watch this video to learn more about Euler Fueltala and how he is helping to transform the agricultural systems in his community.

References

Anne Gibson. (2009). S.O.S=Save our Seeds. Why it’s so important to be Seed Savers & Plant Breeders. 26 (11), 26.

ECLAC/HABITAT. (2000). Based on CEPAL, División de Población – Centro Latinoamericano y Caribeño de Demografía (CELADE), América Latina: Proyecciones de población urbana y rural: 1970-2025 , Boletín demográfico, año 23, No 63 (LC/G.2052; LC/DEM/G.183), Santiago de Chile, enero de 1999.