Climate change poses new challenges for farmers in central Ecuador

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Climate change poses new challenges for farmers in central Ecuador

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Francisco Don Pacho Garcés is a farmer from Ecuador and the president of the local small farmers’ association for Fray Mariano Benitez. He has seen first-hand how positive things can happen when farming communities have access to the water they need to plant and grow their crops. ©IFAD/Juan I. Cortés


Rome, 22 March – On the Andean hills of central Ecuador, arid land is a difficult obstacle for farmers to overcome. Without sufficient and readily available access to clean water, producing bountiful yields is extremely rare.

To address this problem, the Government of Ecuador installed an irrigation scheme a few years ago, but it did not have the capacity to address all the needs of the community. Smallholder farmers had only limited access to the local irrigation scheme, under which  only crops resistant to water scarcity such as maize and chochos could grow.

Francisco Don Pacho Garcés is a farmer and the president of the local small farmers’ association for Fray Mariano Benitez, a small community 3,000 meters about sea level located near the Tungurahua province's capital

He has lived in this region for 64 years and is very familiar with the environmental problems his community faces.

"Most crops cannot grow up these ways. Not at this high, in this sun. The land is good quality here, but the weather is just too dry," said Garcés.

“We were able to use the water of the irrigation scheme just once every two weeks. We would open the canal lock gate and let the water flood the land, but in a couple of days everything was dry again," he said.

This minimal amount of water and subsequent small crop yield was barely enough for farmers to survive, let alone make a living.

Members of the community often had to search for another source of income in other parts of Ecuador. Lately, migrations to Europe in search of work have become increasingly more common.

Rothman Jácome, an agronomist working for Ecuador's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fishery (MAGAP), saw the community's desperate need for water and that the irrigation system needed improvement.

Through the new drip irrigation system, water can be stored in pools for up to two weeks until a new supply of water is made available to farmers. ©IFAD/Juan I. Cortés

Farmers can now grow a diverse range of crops, like blackberries, tree tomatoes and alfalfa, and have discovered an additional way to supplement their income: fish.Thanks to the project, over a hundred families have seen their irrigation system improve and are expected to double their monthly income in the coming months.Now, excess water can be stored for up to two weeks in pools until a new supply of water is made available to farmers. The networks of sprinklers and drips allow farmers to ration out their water according to the weather and needs of their crops.

The pools where families store their excess water can double as fish nurseries. Trout, carp and tilapia keep the water clean of insects and then are sold alongside the crops at the local market.

The project has had some less-tangible results as well. The community has become much closer and is starting to see that their ideas can become a reality. Some members are going beyond the project, implementing further amenities such as greenhouses.

After some initial trepidation, Garcés is pleased with the results of this project. 

“Our families have already started feeling the benefits of the project, but there is still a long way to go," he said.

The new irrigation system is showing signs of contributing to reverse migration as well. Garcés' son moved to Spain for a few years because he was able to make a living there.

When his family shared the news of the project, he moved back home, cautiously optimistic that he could finally earn a sufficient income in his home.

Now, his son Segundo Garcés is a local promoter for the Buen Vivir Programme and receives gratification for acting as a liaison officer between the farming community and the programme officials.

“For us, it has been a sacrifice to get here, but it has been worth it,” said Garcés.