Food systems in Ecuador have increasingly become dependent on supermarkets that require high levels of homogeneity and agrochemical inputs, often bypass small farmers, and have multiple layers of intermediaries over which small producers have limited bargaining power. At the same time, many low-income consumers cannot afford to purchase food from supermarkets, and experience recurrent crises in terms of poor quality, price volatility and unpredictability of supply if they rely on traditional markets. In 2010, with CCRP funding, Ekorural joined forces with another NGO (Utopía) to create, study, and document a local food system to commercialize products directly from producers to urban consumers, enhance economic opportunities for both parties, and establish a partnership, beyond purely monetary concerns. Small producers would benefit from stable prices and respectful and transparent relationships with buyers. They would engage in agroecologically-based agriculture and, as a result, consumers would have access to affordable, healthy, and reliable food. The initiative matched prevailing political support for local food systems, while the government promoted food sovereignty.
Outputs and Outcomes:
A key actor mapping exercise related to developing direct, agroecological markets and alternative food systems in two small cities with large rural catchments in central Ecuador revealed that few organizations are against supporting local food initiatives, but they don’t know much about the topic or what they can do. Organizations with high interest and high power to change the system include local and provincial governments, churches and supermarkets. However, only one organization with relatively little power has taken an actual action in linking producers and consumers. (method: all organizations listed in the municipal govt were gathered and then sorted by potential interest in food systems, 80 emerged, all were contacted, 40 responded and were visited).A semi-intentional sample of 187 (half women, half men between roughly balanced between low and high incomes defined by using 50% or more of income on food purchases) urban consumers in the Central Ecuadorian city of Riobamba were surveyed at 9 points where a transect of the public gathers (hospital, phone company) in order to collect information on consumer preferences and behavior in relation to food purchasing and consumption. The main finding is that 20% of consumers surveyed consumed little fresh fruits and vegetable (FFV — FFVs are the products that are most easily sourced directly from farmer associations) although 30% report they consume high amounts of FFV. 75% get their fruits and vegetable from open urban markets, not supermarkets. Surprisingly almost 30% receive fruits and vegetables from relatives in the countryside. 40% wish FFV were agro-ecological (produced without agro-chemicals), but everyone wanted direct access to farmers closer to their houses. A similar survey was done with 100 natural resource students at the state university in Riobamba, which revealed that only 5% were eating the recommended amount of FFV, they also seemed to have no awareness of the environmental aspects of their food choices, which was unexpected since they are studying natural resources.According to over three years of price monitoring of three spaces (wholesale, retail, direct to consumer) for selling fresh fruits and vegetables in two Ecuadorian mid size cities — direct to consumer always provides prices above cost of production and above wholesale prizes. In one city it was also higher than retail, in another it wasn’t. The products that sell the best and are most profitable for farmers (n-36) tend to change annually and maybe even seasonally, but the reasons for this are not well understood and have not been explored. The participating farmers did have better return on investment than if they had sold to intermediaries.A survey to assess consumer perceptions, knowledge and practice concerning agroecological consumption was carried out in the Ecuadorian city of Salcedo (pop. 80,000). 20 out of 40 neighborhoods were surveyed based on intentional sampling to get a variety of types of neighborhoods both in terms of geographic centrality and socio-economic characteristics. 10 people were surveyed in their houses based on a convenience sample that yielded roughly representative characteristics of the population in terms of gender and age. Results showed that 90% of the surveyed population bought their fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV) in open air markets and almost 45% received some type of FFV from farmer family members at least once a month. 63% said they eat agroecological products (defined as without synthetic chemicals, conservative and not ultra-processed), the rest said they didn’t because they didn’t have time to look for them. 60% said they would buy AE products if they were available in their neighborhood, even if they had to pay more. These results suggest that future activities should focus on accessibility more than attitude or knowledge.