Presentation on Gender and the Environment

EkoRural’s work in the Central Highlands of Ecuador is mostly with women farmers. This past Women’s Day on March 8th, one of EkoRural’s interns, Ginette Walls, gave a presentation on Gender and the Environment. She discussed feminist theory, the difference between gender and sex, and between masculinity and femininity. Ginette presented a timeline of the theories and movements around gender and the environment. Prominent individuals and movements mentioned included Rachel Carson, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, and the Chipko movement. Also discussed was the treatment of gender within international environmental treaties and efforts such as the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Ginette presented three topics demonstrating the intersection of gender and environment, and the importance of doing gender analyses when looking at environmental and energy issues. One example was the gender and national disasters (which are being exacerbated by climate change) and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Some villages saw fatality rates of 69 – 80% for women. Many of the reasons for this high, gendered death toll is that many of the women were at home, many caring for children or elderly. Men, who were not at home and were not responsible for others during the time the tsunami hit, did not have such high death rates. Another example discussed was the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador, and the different needs based on gender post-disaster. Pregnant women were at risk of Zika, national disasters also increase rates of sexual and gender-based violence, and gender roles were challenged during rebuilding and reconstruction. An additional topic was land tenure; in 59% of countries, there are laws that guarantee women the same rights as men to own, use, and control the land, but they are not implemented. Traditional practices, customs, or religion determine this, and these discriminate against women from having these rights to land.

Regarding the status of the field today, Ginette mentioned UNEP’s focus on three priorities regarding gender: 1. Right to land, natural resources, and biodiversity, 2. Access to food, energy, water, and sanitation, and 3. Welfare: climate change, sustainable consumption and production, and health. She also noted how gender-disaggregated data (GDD) has become a priority, which is crucial. Without GDD, environmental analyzes remain inadequate and biased, while setting baselines, monitoring progress and evaluating results are almost impossible. There has been an increase in the use of intersectional gender analysis in the development world, and with environmental assessments. However, the representation of women in global formal policies, programs, and projects on gender and environment is slow and uneven. Within policymaking and development, there is still more focus on women – gender as synonymous for women, rather than an examination of the masculine / feminine and how the intersectionality of identities influence decisions and shape opportunities in life and relationships with the environment.

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Increasing agrobiodiversity in Basquitay

women with papasBasquitay, one of EkoRural’s partner communities located in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, has recently been working to start up a community seed bank to support the preservation of agrobiodiversity across the country’s Central Highlands region.

Unpredictable weather patterns, temperatures, and rainfall caused by climate change increase the vulnerability of Ecuador’s rural highlands communities, such as Basquitay. Though members of the community have emphasized that they feel fortunate to live in an area that has sufficient rainfall and fertile lands, soil degradation and climate change pose challenges to food production. From heavy rains to intense heat, it is hard for to plan crop plantings with unanticipated and sometimes extreme weather fluctuations. The new seed bank is one way that Basquitay and EkoRural are working together to build resilience to these threats. By increasing and preserving genetic diversity in the community, Basquitay will increase their protection against variable weather and other unexpected factors. With a diverse variety of food crops comes the assurance that, despite challenges posed by external factors, there will always be an available source of food.

Basquitay’s president, Francisco Lema, also the community promoter for EkoRural’s Chimborazo program, says, “During my time with EkoRural, I have worked with other communities to create seed banks and conserve and restore crop diversity, and I wanted to bring this to my own community as well.”

The seed bank initiative has already received much support in Basquitay. Community members have come together to convert an abandoned house into the home of the new seedbank; windows and doors have been replaced and plans to put on a new roof are under way. In October 2014, many people came together in a traditional  ‘minga’ (a collective work party) to plant a potato plot whose seeds will contribute to the bank. Twenty three different potato varieties were provided by EkoRural and INIAP, a governmental research institute that provides technical agricultural assistance in Ecuador, and Basquitay will continue spreading these seeds by participating in the 2 for 1 program. The 2 for 1 program is a process of exchange where for each seed that farmers take from the seedbank, they provide two seeds back. In this way, the overall stock increases over time and others can share in the growing abundance.

Francisco says that although Basquitay’s seed bank is still underway, local visitors have already begun to come in order to learn about the process, share their experiences, and take ideas back to their own communities. By providing a space for this sort of interaction and knowledge sharing, in addition to the sharing of valuable genetic material, banks like the one in Basquitay are truly offering seeds for positive change.

Below are some photos of the community workday and potato planting in Basquitay.

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Canastas Comunitarias, an Ecuadorian Alternative to Industrial Food Systems


Ecuadorian family with harvest

Ecuadorian family with bountiful harvest


In the Andes, there have been fundamental changes in production patterns as a result of the different processes of land reform in the region and “agricultural modernization”. Today, the environmental context and local culture are no longer the main determinants of production systems, but rather the habits of unknown consumers and their food demands are determining what farmers grow and when and how they grow it. This has shaped current production systems, usually characterized by monoculture, total farm mechanization and dependence on agrochemicals to offset their ecological ill effects.

The 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) questions common assumptions about the link between agricultural production and economic welfare and family nutrition, and provides evidence that externally driven systems – such as those that have increasingly displaced traditional systems in the Andes – often result in unfair prices, social inequality and environmental degradation. The report calls attention to proposals that allow us to overcome our conceptual barriers with respect to production and supply, consumers and producers, urban and rural populations, and the circulation and exchange of goods.

2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

Ekorural recently completed its own research on food systems in the Andes, which confirms the important influence consumers have on agricultural production systems and indirectly on the wellbeing of rural families. On account of these findings, Ekorural’s work now operates based on the underlying assumption: In order to transform Andean agricultural systems to be more productive, equitable and sustainable, we must not only look at rural areas and agriculture but also at urban areas, because consumers drive agricultural development.

During the past two years, Ekorural has identified, aligned itself with and committed to supporting unconventional initiatives, such as Canastas Comunitarias, that have developed around the theme of healthy food and people through the alternative circulation of agricultural products. The Canastas and other similar short-circuit food initiatives, under which you might find country fairs, CSAs, farm shops, community food baskets, etc., are a great opportunity to transform agriculture, heal the environment and live healthier lives.

People are the decisive factor for agriculture and represent an opportunity for change. What people buy and where they buy it strengthens different types of agricultural chains, and influences how healthy (or unhealthy) the agricultural system is. Follow Ekorural’s lead, support your local family farmers!