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'Cooperative values getting Ecuador through the COVID-19 crisis'
The contrast couldn't be any bigger: while health services are crumbling under corona in Guayaquil, farmers' cooperatives in the Andes are working together in solidarity.
In recent weeks, the world has been repeatedly shocked by images from Guayaquil. Responses from the healthcare sector and funeral businesses fell horribly short at the beginning of the corona crisis. Since then, public services have been reorganised, but the number of corona infections in Guayaquil remains frighteningly high.
Lieve Van Elsen, Trias' regional director, lives and works 200 kilometres from Guayaquil in Riobamba, a city in the Andes mountains. In this region, there have been no apocalyptic scenes so far. 'On the contrary, people have rediscovered values and notions such as solidarity, honesty and engagement. These were cherished by our ancestors and now they are getting a new lease of life through the corona crisis', explains Van Elsen.
In Ecuador, Trias strengthens the position of various farmers' cooperatives in the production chain. Through the cooperatives, the farmers focus on processing their harvest and fulfilling agreements made with links further up the chain. Another strategy is working together with other cooperatives. 'In the last few years, Trias Andes has invested a lot in partnership agreements between fruit, vegetable, potato and quinoa producers. Now everything is moving forward rapidly.'
In recent weeks, the farmers from cooperatives including Pacat, Agropapa, Unocace and Tejemujeres have sharply increased mutual buying and selling in order to provide consumers with basic foodstuffs during quarantine. 'The market is large, from rural areas in south-west Ecuador to cities such as Quido in the north. The supermarket chain Gran Sol supports the distribution of various nicely assembled and packaged food baskets. Other large players in the food chain have also reached out to the farmers' cooperatives so they can offer something similar to consumers,' continues Lieve Van Elsen.
Trias' regional director says that the crisis has raised awareness of healthy eating in Ecuador. 'Suddenly, consumers are now looking for healthy food that will strengthen their immune system. The organic products from the farmers cooperatives we support in the Andes perfectly align with this demand.'
Lorries laden with food and medicinal plants have been driving from the Andes down to Guayaquil. 'This is how people in the city are trying to get their families through the crisis. They are no longer counting on the government, and are taking their own initiative. Similarly, cooperatives are organising food packages for sick and vulnerable people in their own regions. It is also important that they monitor the quarantine rules to prevent coronavirus from being introduced in their own villages', adds Van Elsen.
Importance of family farming
Despite the great amount of suffering - thus far, Ecuador has reported 1,564 corona deaths - Van Elsen hopes that in the long term the crisis will also have positive consequences. 'Coronavirus underlines the importance of family farming and short chains between farmers and consumers. If policy-makers recognise this too, we will take a step towards a healthier and fairer food system in Ecuador', concludes Lieve Van Elsen (see photo).
In Ecuador, family farming accounts for 70 per cent of food production. Both in the Andes and in the Amazon, many families are still dependent on subsistence farming to meet their basic needs. Currently, the sector receives barely any economic support from the government.