The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on 16 April 2016 affected 218,000 people. Hardest hit was the highly populated coastal province of Manabí, where communities are heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing.
In Charapoto, the province’s oldest town, a group had only just inaugurated an agricultural association to better position their crops into new markets. When the earthquake hit a few months later, they were determined not to give up.
With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Manabí Decentralized Autonomous Government (GAD, its Spanish acronym), Charapoto swiftly rehabilitated its productive infrastructure using the ‘early recovery approach’, boosting the population’s livelihoods. As a result, 300 rice producers and their families benefited from the repair of an irrigation canal.
Working hand in hand with local authorities, UNDP and Manabí partners were determined to build back better.
More than 64 percent of Ecuador's agricultural production comes from small farmers, but their average income is less than US$193 per month. This is the reality for many people in Charapoto, who cultivate rice, cocoa, onion and other crops.
Many farmers sell their products through intermediaries, who have connections to large conglomerates and access to transportation and storage. Small producers can become dependent on these middlemen, who generally also control prices.
"What we want as an association is to market our products directly. And we want to do away with the intermediary, who is the one who takes all the benefits," says community leader Francisco, adding that farmers need knowledge and tools to improve their competitiveness.
Aware of the large development gaps small producers face, but also of the enormous potential they possess, UNDP - with the financial support of $807,874 donated by the local Football Club Independiente del Valle - is working with quake-affected rural populations to help them get back on their feet. At the same time, the initiative aims to improve their long-term development opportunities, equipping them with the tools to write their own success stories.
In these rural areas, 32 agricultural producers’ associations are working with UNDP to establish long-term supplier partnerships with medium and large-scale enterprises and to establish direct access to consumer markets. The initiative directly benefits 2,000 families.
In urban areas of Ecuador such as Manta and Portoviejo, UNDP and partners are boosting entrepreneurship through business model innovation, equipment, inventory and improving business practices and partnerships. The football club-backed programme “En Marcha” is implemented in collaboration with the municipal GADs.
Don Fulgencio was born on a cocoa plantation. Like previous generations, he has worked in these plantations all his life, in the quake-affected coastal area of Manabí, bordering Charapotó. Although his products are well known and recognised throughout the region, the lack of access to credit and training has often made him dependent on intermediaries to take his produce to larger markets.
Thanks to the En Marcha programme, Don Fulgencio has gained the skills to take his family business to the next level and sell their improved products at a fair price.
“For the first time, I am finding a way to achieve this,” he says.
The same determination is seen in the "Esperanza del Mañana" (Tomorrow’s Hope) foundation, led by 22 women from Rocafuerte, another district of Manabí. The women realized that solely trading bananas - the largest production crop in Ecuador - did not generate enough revenues. But with the help of the GAD-UNDP initiative, they now market different products under a new brand.
They coordinate the whole production process – from raising crops to packaging and marketing – adding value to products such as plantain chips, corn flour, and others. Today, they are ready to engage with bigger companies in larger cities following a joint UNDP-backed assessment that enabled them to gauge demand and directly link producers and marketers.
As in the quake-affected towns of Charopotó and Rocafuerte, hundreds of families in rural areas have gained skills in quality, organic, and sustainable agricultural production.
The experiences of these 32 associations will encourage the recovery of a province that was deeply affected by the earthquake, but whose people are determined to build back better.