After we visited the agroecology market in Loja, Ecuador, we went to visit the farm of one of the vendors participating in the project. Maria and Rafael Paccha had a very diverse peri-urban farm with vegetables, fruit trees and an entire greenhouse of strawberries.
Maria Paccha in her vegetable plot.
Part of Heifer's work with the Paccha family and others has been to help local organizations, like the Agroecological Network, establish and maintain farmers markets such as the one in Loja. In the past, the practice was largely for farmers to sell their produce to an intermediary (this was a common theme throughout our entire visit in Ecuador). Doing so, however, gives the farmers a much lower profit margin than what they can earn by selling directly to consumers in the market.
Another piece of the work is connecting these agroecological producers with the fishing communities to allow for the cross-selling of goods, thereby diversifying the diets of both groups.
Using inter-cropping and drip-tape irrigation helps make the most of the small farm's land.
There seems to be a common belief that you can't grow good strawberries without chemicals. This basket would like to argue otherwise.
It was interesting talking with the farmers, asking them what they needed to succeed. Out of this group, the most common answer was more land. More land so they could grow, sell and earn more. The Paccha family raises their produce on about .15 acres. What they'd like is to have six acres or so, which would not only allow them to raise more produce for the market, but also to have a cow and other small livestock. Another serious need is more water for irrigation. A significant hurdle to owning more land and building a higher capacity irrigation system is access to credit through traditional banks. Currently, financial institutions in this area do not recognize a diversified family farm as an investment opportunity. Were the Paccha family raising a mono-crop of corn or wheat, for example, they would be more likely to secure a loan to purchase additional land. The irony here is that an agroecological farm is much less vulnerable to external risks than a monoculture farm (pests, disease, etc).