Ecuador's on-going political, economic, and social crisis has resulted in an increase in poverty, particularly among the rural indigenous communities of the high Andes. These communities have received little support for education, health, infrastructure, agriculture, technical assistance, credit, etc., and many families have been displaced to areas where the climate and soil conditions are marginal. Informal flow of foods into Ecuador from neighboring countries has led to diets that have become overly dependent on inexpensive, imported carbohydrates (rice, noodles) and indicators of child malnutrition have increased. Cotopaxi, the province targeted by this project, has a high incidence of poverty (80.1%) and chronic child malnutrition (60.6%).
Enhancing the production and utilization of nutritious and ecologically-beneficial Andean crops can help Ecuadorian families to improve their nutrition and livelihoods and to enhance the sustainability of their soil resources. This project will focus on improving the production systems of two such crops: quinoa, a highly nutritious Andean grain that is related to spinach and beet and lupin or chocho, a hardy and nutritious legume; sometimes spelled "lupine."
Ancestral technologies such as rotation and crop association, low-tillage (traditional sowing of lupin); and new agricultural practice, such as green manures and varieties with characteristics of adaptation to marginal conditions of climate and soil (low precipitation, frosts, low fertility etc.), water harvesting, among others, will be fundamental to confronting the growing food insecurity due to the unpredictable effects of global warming and the energy crisis. For this reason we can no longer postpone the strengthening of research activities and agriculture development centered on the search for sustainability of production systems, applying research focused on participation, gender, equality, agro-ecology and food sovereignty.
The bromatological and nutritional analysis of quinua and lupin shows the high value of these foods, which could be very important for the country and the region within the strategies for food security and sovereignty, since the conditions and knowledge that drive their production and amplify their consumption already exist. Moreover, these crops contain characteristics that can be used in agro-industrial processes that facilitate the diversification of their consumption and, at the same time, drive the rural and urban economy. There is already ample knowledge and various technologies that have been developed, however very little has been done in terms of diffusion and the transference of these technologies, especially at the level of small and medium sized businesses. The formation of value chains for these crops could allow for the diffusion of information and knowledge and, at the same time, the equitable distribution of the earnings among all of the actors in these chains.
Access to good quality seed is one of the important limiting factors to the spread of cultivated area and the improvement in crop productivity in general and Andean grains in particular. One of the objectives of this project is to promote the establishment of an innovative system of production and distribution of good quality seeds in the associated communities. However, this issue has not been advanced very much because the process of participative selection of the best varieties in the different communities has concluded, with the exception of the community of Ninín Cachipata, where they already have the minimum infrastructure and basic equipment needed to process good quality seed and they have successfully begun the production and distribution of seeds of the INIAP 450-Andino variety of lupin. In this last year of the project it is expected, based on the experience of the CIAL in Ninín Cachipata, to at least set up the base for production of good quality seed in the other communities.
The different promotion strategies (participative workshops, exchange of experiences among farmers, accompaniment of local promoters, publicity spots on the radio, conferences at different events, press and television reports, folding signs etc.) have been very effective. There has been a rise and diversification in the consumption in the communities demonstrated by food frequency surveys and a permanent rise in the demand of urban markets as shown by the stable price of bulk quinua and lupin). To maintain interest, it is important to continue with the informative campaigns on the nutritional, agricultural and social value of these important Andean crops (quinua and lupin).
An important action will also be the diffusion of experiences and lessons learned by the farmers that have participated in the different activities, which should be realized at the community level and with others who show interest in these issues. One efficient strategy for these activities is Farmer Field Schools (FFS), we hope to complete at least one cycle of FFS in each community.
The project team will identify varieties of quinoa and lupin that are adapted to the particular climatic conditions of the target area and offer training in environmentally sound crop production practices, utilization for improved human nutrition, agro-industry and marketing surplus production for income generation, all with a participative focus.