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General information about Ecuador
Ecuador is well-known for its biodiversity, but it’s also very ethnically diverse (Walrod et al., 2018; Jolly et al., 2021). The country is separated into four regions by the Andes mountain range. Firstly, the coastal region “La costa », the mountainous region “La Sierra », and the Amazon region “El oriente”, and the Galapagos Islands, located off the coast in the Pacific Ocean. The country has a population of 17.5 million and one-third of these live in rural areas (Jolly et al., 2021; Intriago et al., 2017). In December 2021, in the most recent census, the INEC (National Institute of Statistics and Censuses) estimated urban poverty rate up to 20.8 percent, meanwhile in rural areas it is exceeding 42.4 percent. This makes the national rate of poverty a total of 27.7 percent estimated against the poverty level at 85.60 US dollars per month per capita (Inec, 2021).
The most important sectors for the country are the oil-related industry and the food industry. Ecuador is a large exporter of bananas and oil. However, because of the traditional dependency of these raw materials Ecuador is highly vulnerable to price changes in the global market. Coffee, cacao, prawns, different kinds of fruits, rice and sugarcanes are also important for exporters. The extensive forests are also valuable due to the kinds of trees found there. Ecuador is one of the world’s largest exporters of balsa wood, but economically the forest industry plays little role (Landguiden, 2021).
Farmers in Ecuador have experienced a lot of challenges throughout history. Earlier on when the industrialization of agriculture was meant to make a big change in the agricultural development, things became more complex in reality. The increased production was generated by the model called the “Green revolution” (Salazar et al., 2018). The green revolution started back in the early years of the 90s. It’s a model on how to maximise profits mainly by increasing yields, homogenising and concentrating the production by having large-scale production, being export-oriented and using intensive use of chemical inputs. However, the model is inefficient in ecological and social terms (Pengue, 2004). The green revolution was meant to support small-scale farmers and safeguard livelihoods, meanwhile in reality, the revolution could not manage with an increased population and therefore did not make a change to rural poverty. A decrease in food production did not meet the needs of a growing community (Salazar et al., 2018).
Even in modern times, the rural areas of Ecuador have not experienced the same development as the urban areas. This is especially notable for small-scale farmers that experience inequalities in social capital and access to resources, which in turn affects the declining productivity in the daily agricultural practices and an unequal involvement in globalisation (Cole et al., 2011). Many small-scale farmers are struggling with feeding their families, mostly because of limited resources, including capital, markets or effective farming techniques and infrastructure. There are also other factors worth mentioning, such as lack of information about climate-related threats, inadequate quality of infrastructure and construction materials combined with fragile locations of homes (Adaptation Fund, 2011).
Focusing on Alluriquin
In the mountain region “La Sierra”, nearly half of the communities are affected by chronic malnutrition. Health problems and poor nutrition practices contribute to high malnutrition rates and a large number of small-scale farmers are struggling with feeding their families, mostly because of limited resources (Adaptation fund, 2011). Located in “La Sierra” is the smaller village of Alluriquin found with a total population of 9,725 inhabitants. The majority of them are younger people, where the inhabitants between 15 and 34 years represent 38 percent of the population, making 28 the average age in the village. There is a lack of information on the demographic of Alluriquin, but overall in the region of Santo Domingo, the majority consider themselves as “Mestizos” (81 percent), referring to a person having Spanish and indigenous descent with Spanish as their common language. The second biggest group is Afro-Ecuadorians (7.7 percent), while other groups, such as the indigenous communities (1.7 percent), are not as present (Inec, n.d.).
Alluriquin has a vision of becoming a community which primarily focuses on tourism and different byproducts of sugar cane. Its main identity is therefore linked to environmental conservation and the production of sweets. The town has an important role to play, where it connects “La sierra » with the coastal part called “La costa » and this position makes the commercial activity of Alluriquin especially high (Gad, n.d.).
The agricultural produce in Alluriquin is one of the lowest in the province, one of the reasons is the limited availability of suitable soil. Overall, the main activities in Alluriquin are within the primary sector (57.57 percent), including activities such as agriculture, forestry, fishing and cattle raising. Even in Ecuador’s national economy, the primary sector is one of the most important industries, even though it brings its challenges, especially in Alluriquin where the agricultural frontier is expanding each day. This rapid development has also brought frequent landslides and an intense erosion in the ground due to fewer trees and roots holding the soil together (Gad, n.d.).
The local farmers and the agricultural activities
Small-scale farmers in Alluriquin often have access to land between 5 and 20 hectares in size, with common crops being bambu trees, sugarcanes, bananas, different kinds of citruses and corn. There is also a small section that raises pigs and chickens for self-consumption or selling for money. Additionally, the production of sugarcanes is also considered to have a cultural value in the village, where the extracted sugar from the sugarcanes makes sweets (marshmallows, panela, honeys etc.) and alcoholic beverages. This traditional production attracts families from neighbouring outskirts, making Alluriquin a special meeting point and has given the village a name worth remembering (Gad, n.d.).
The farmers in Alluriquin are now facing challenges such as the fact that supply cannot meet the demand, in particular for the produce of sugarcanes, because of limited and low maintenance of the produce. Even so, the sugarcanes no longer reach the quality needed to make the candy, so buying them from the nearby province Imbabura continuously happens. However, the sugarcanes are still used for production of alcohol, even though a large part of the production also goes to feeding livestock. There have also been soil samples in the village showing that the soil is not well suited for agriculture, however, the main products perform well for small-scale production (Gad, n.d.).
The results mentioned from Gad (n.d.) differ from the observations that have been made in this study that has shown that the common crops produced also include yucca, cacao and plantain. Additionally, the study showed more kinds of different produce such as avocado, coffee, panela, potatoes, sweet potatoes and papaya, as well as chickens, something the farmers are using for consumption of both eggs and for the meat. There is also a big interest in both cattle raising and dairy farming in Alluriquin, where they not only raise the cows for self-consumption, but they are also butchers, focusing on selling the meat for profit.
Sustainable Development Goals
The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to achieve universal encouragement to together end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity. There are seventeen SDGs all together, even though they all are interlinked and connected to each other. Two of the seventeen goals are presented below. Focusing on SDG 1: No poverty and SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production (UNDP, n.d-a).
SDG 1: No poverty
The goal is to eradicate poverty in all its forms by 2030. This involves targeting the most vulnerable, supporting communities affected by climate-related disasters and areas of conflict as well as increasing basic resources and services (UNDP, n.d-b). The challenges mentioned reflect the reality of many farmers, especially because many depend on their daily agricultural produce to make a living. Unfortunately, the farmers are now facing challenges that contribute to a high vulnerability, both socially and economically. The risk of environmental hazards is also especially high (Gad, n.d).
SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
The goal focuses on achieving economic growth in a sustainable way, this by urgently reducing the ecological footprint by changing the way production and consumption are being handled (UNDP, n.d-c). Focusing extra on of the target (12.7): Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities (UN, n.d.), could make a real change for the local farmers. The challenges they are facing is the paradox with limited resources but at the same time being expected to produce in a responsible way, where the problem lies in not having the opportunity to make this choice. The SDG target is relevant to the results presented, which will be further looked into in the analysis (6:1). The limited resources takes away the choice of being responsible and makes it harder to be the changer of something, when there is no opportunity for it. That is why support from the local government and the municipality are extra important to promote sustainable practices and through national policies support the small-scale farmers into making responsible choices, mainly of their production but also their consumption.
Previous research and theory
This section starts with presenting previous research, where different challenges and opportunities for farmers are outlined to highlight perspectives from different authors, which is presented by the division “The eternal struggle between socio-economics and natural resources” and “Challenges and opportunities for farmers.” Following the presentation of the theory relevant to this study, explaining the important pillars that have been a part of building this study. Finally, demonstrating the head concepts to show how both previous research and theory will serve as the framework of this study.
The eternal struggle between socio-economics and natural resources Starting from a wider perspective, according to Chappell et al. (2013) 52 percent of the rural population in South America still remain in poverty. The authors are discussing the overall contradiction between improving the socio-economic wellbeing for small-scale farmers without overexploiting land or resources. However, the study presents evidence that small-scale agro-ecological1 farms can contribute to both improved socio-economic and conservation of biodiversity (Chappell et al., 2013). This is also shown in a research article by Intriago et al. (2017) about agroecology from an Ecuadorian perspective. The researchers are saying that there is a generalised agreement among farmers and consumers in Ecuador that ecological agriculture is the best alternative for some of the challenges that the farmers are facing, among these being climate change, rural poverty and especially the current and future food crises. The large number of self-sufficient families, who serve primarily to provide food for their own consumption, need solutions for these challenges (Intriago et al., 2017). Small-scale farmers are left in a difficult position where poverty is common, even though they are still expected to improve their socio-economic wellbeing, but at the same time not overexploit land or resources. This contradiction, that was just mentioned, will be further discussed and analysed together with “Challenges and opportunities for farmers” in the analysis section, bringing in new ideas from authors and highlighting their perspectives and solutions.
Challenges and opportunities for farmers
A national challenge for Ecuador, that several authors agree with, is the high vulnerability for small-scale farmers. This includes vulnerabilities such as social resources and food insecurity (Salazara et al., 2018; Intriago et al., 2017; Lopez-Ridaura et al., 2019; Adaptation fund, 2011; Bathfield et al., 2015; Audate et al., 2021; Cole at al., 2011). Even the great inequalities between the rural- and the urban areas is a challenge, where the rural areas with a high percentage of agriculture and its inhabitants always end up behind because of limited resources (Cole et al., 2011).
Commercial agriculture is also a national challenge in Ecuador, mostly because the newly established monocultures belong to private firms, bringing challenges for both the biodiversity and the small-scale farmers. The growing competitive land use activities sets pressure on the fragile ecosystems and challenges are also shown where there is non-cooperation between farmers. This is the new national ultimatum against established monocultures, where it both has its downsides but also its upsides, depending on the perspective looked at (Salazara et al., 2018; Bathfield et al., 2015).
April-Lalonde et al. (2020) brings another perspective for challenges and solutions for small-scale farmers. The researchers have seen a social inequality in access to healthy food because of the modern food system, but there are some families that avoid industrialised food for different reasons. Instead these families focus on buying fresh food from the markets or on consuming agroecological produce. This brings ways for small-scale farmers to not end up competing with industrialised agriculture, for example by reaching out to other groups of consumers, especially those who value good quality food and locally produced food (April-Lalonde et al., 2020). Another possibility for farmers is to focus on improved methods, such as better models for agriculture, changed land use by switching crops, or improving product commercialization (Salazara et al., 2018). Farmers’ vulnerability is a continuous issue mentioned by different authors, however, studies about opportunities are included to be aware of the possibilities of improving their socio-economic wellbeing. Additionally, the different authors illustrate various challenges that will be further discussed in this study. The challenges are highly relevant in order to achieve the aim of this study, where sustainable livelihood does not come without its challenges, however, it’s about resilience, where one is able to handle life’s setbacks.
Measurement of poverty
The selected theory of this study was created by Amartya Sen, who did not enjoy the idea of anyone being defined as living below an imaginary poverty line and instead suggested a new way of measuring poverty (Sen, 1982, p. 5-30). To help understand the theory, two definitions must be looked at, starting with the term Absolute poverty, which refers to “Condition where household income is insufficient to afford basic necessities of life. (food, shelter, clothing)” (Economicshelp, 2019). Continuing with the second main classification of poverty where the term Relative poverty is defined as “When households receive 50% less income than average median incomes” (Economicshelp, 2019). To put this into context: The international poverty line of extreme poverty was measured at less than $1.90 per day, however, as of fall 2022, the new global line will be updated to $2.15 a day (Worldbank, 2022).
These terms are essential to the theory of Amartya Sen. The theory “Measurement of poverty,” according to which it is not about living below an imaginary poverty line, instead, refers to an individual that does not have the possibility of fulfilling basic needs, taking into account the circumstances this individual actually has. Instead, Sen presented two fundamental steps that must be faced to measure poverty 1) Determining who is poor (identification) and 2) Building an index of their poverty characteristics to reflect the extent of poverty (aggregation), something referred to as the “direct method” (Sen, 1982, p. 5-30).
The direct method identifies human deprivation in terms of minimum levels of basic needs per se, instead of using income as an intermediary of basic needs satisfaction, relying on the argument that an increase in power of the individual allows the poor to better achieve their basic needs. This connects to Sen’s statement “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough food to eat. While the latter can be the cause of the former, it is but one of many possible causes” (Sen, 1991), referring to the imperfect way of understanding deprivations and socio-economic conditions of the poor. One significant point of view is the freedom one has to achieve well-being, however, this freedom must be understood in terms of people with capabilities, in other words, taking into account an individual’s possibilities (Sen, 1982, p. 5-30). In the context of the study, the theory will contribute to not categorising people as only one thing, without an explanation, instead being aware of the different characteristics of one group or an individual. This will provide a deeper understanding of when a person is being identified as “being poor,” to contribute to the understanding that every individual has different opportunities, support or risks to be aware of. As mentioned, it does depend on the capabilities, as in this case, the farmers’ capabilities. Sen’s theory helps us to understand that poverty is intimately connected to the ability people have to make changes to improve their lives, but also that “poverty” to some extent, is a social construction and must be seen in its context.
Table of contents :
1.1 Aim and research questions
2.1 General information about Ecuador
2.2 Focusing on Alluriquin
2.3 The local farmers and the agricultural activities
2.4 Sustainable Development Goals
2.4.1 SDG 1: No poverty
2.4.2 SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
3. Previous research and theory
3.1 Previous research
3.1.1 The eternal struggle between socio-economics and natural resources
3.1.2 Challenges and opportunities for farmers
3.2.1 Measurement of poverty
4.1 Research design
4.2 Semi-structured interviews
4.3 Selection of respondents
4.4 Motivation of the method
4.5 Methodological concerns
4.6 Ethical considerations
4.7 Thematic analysis
4.8 Positionality and reflexivity
4.8.1 Reflections of when one cultural meets another
5.1 Description of the farm
5.2 Working conditions
5.3 Local produce and self-sufficiency
5.6 A sustainable agriculture and general inputs
6.1 In what way can local small-scale farming contribute to sustainable livelihoods?
6.2 What economic and environmental possibilities and challenges are the local small-scale farmers in Alluriquin facing?
6.3 Can sustainable livelihoods contribute to poverty reduction and food security? And if so, how?
7. Discussion and conclusion
7.1 Future research
Appendix one- Interview guide
Figures and tables
Table one: Presentation of respondents
Table two: Access to hectares