Earthworm Foundation’s Rurality programme, in partnership with its members Nestlé, La Fabril and other partners, is working with palm oil farmers in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, Ecuador, to preserve and restore riverbanks.
"We hope this conservation project can be a pilot, and serve as an example for other communities in the surrounding area," explained Magaly Alcívar, a palm oil farmer from San Francisco de Chila village.
Palm oil smallholders like Magaly recently came together at a workshop in their village in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. How to conserve valuable waterways on farmers' land was the the main topic on the agenda.
"The idea was to foster a spirit of conservation amongst farmers and the surrounding community, explained Bruno Montesinos, a Rurality field officer. "We've already seen that to an extent in some farmers. Many have told us they are actively conserving forest or that they believe the environment is not only useful, but important to protect. We want to support them turn that into action."
Better livelihoods for a better environment
According to the National Secretariat for Water, the Tsáchila province has 31 hydographic basins, three sub-basins and 87 micro-basins, through which 257 rivers flow. This means water is a vital source for farmers. Healthy rivers could mean better living conditions and improved health for farmers and their families. Planting native trees at the borders of rivers contributes to the preservation of basins, and new trees attract beneficial insects and animals, improving the ecosystem. Preserving forest patches on farms eventually means the suitable conditions for new farm products like honey and organic cacao are created, which may bring economic diversification to farmers.
At the end of March, 21 participants – among them independent suppliers of the La Fabril-owned Rio Manso mill – including men, women and children from local communities, joined the workshop. They had all expressed a strong interest in learning how maintenance of forest plants can be used to preserve and protect waterways on their property. As well as learning why conservation is important, Rurality staff also assisted in the formation of the Reforestation Committee at Chila. Collaboratively, assistants built an initial plan, identifying main sectors for riverbank restoration, and kickstarted it with a tree nursery at the community school.
"Going forward, we'll continue supporting farmers on their farms. This workshop is just the first step in a much longer process that we hope will boost farmers' resilience in the long run," Bruno said.
"Rio Manso is always concerned, not only for the wellbeing of their fruit suppliers, but also for their communities and their resources, that's why we are supporting this programme," explained a member of Rio Manso's staff.
Through workshops, one-to-one training and other support, Rurality and its partners plan to empower farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to turn their aspirations into reality. That way, they can better their livelihoods and improve their natural environment at the same time. An action plan, that includes steps towards the restoration of river banks, is also being developed.
"Collaborative efforts like this are part of our three-part plan with La Fabril to support smallholders in their supply chain," Richard Vaca, a Rurality project manager, explained. "It includes strengthening connections within the supply chain, improving livelihoods and social conditions, and, of course, working with them to protect the natural environment on and around their farms. We envision independent, resilient farmers who are caring for themselves, their families and the environment."
"Giving life to life is a benefit for our children and future generations," said Euclides Cedeño, a community leader from San Francisco de Chila village.
"I congratulate Earthworm Foundation for this initiative, we are keen to keep working together on my other projects," added Henry Moreira, a specialist from the Santo Domingo Prefecture.
This workshop was part of Earthworm Foundation's Rurality project in Ecuador, which aims to boost the resilience of farmers in supply chains. Since last year, the project has worked closely with La Fabril, Nestlé and palm oil mills in the area, like Rio Manso, to better conditions for smallholders. The two-day workshop was co-organised by the Provincial Training Centre of the province who invited experts on the topic; Rio Manso mill which implements their sustainability policy in the community, and supported with the logistics and materials for a tree nursery; community leader Euclides Cedeño whose story inspired the community to better their living conditions; and Rurality field staff who are leading the programme.