Planting the seeds of good living in Ecuador

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Planting the seeds of good living in Ecuador

Juan Ponce, one of the young people working at ASOAM’s processing plant, holds a bunch of achiote fruits. ©IFAD/Juan Ignacio Cortés Carrasba

22 July 2016 – Achiote is a condiment made from the red seeds of the Bixa orellana shrub. Latin American people have long used it in traditional dishes and as a dye. Today it is sought after internationally as an industrial food colourant for cheeses, snacks and sausages.

The 24 de Mayo municipality in Ecuador’s Manabí Province was once a prolific producer of achiote, but yields declined over the years. Now, with support from the IFAD-supported Buen Vivir [Good Living] in Rural Territories Programme, the community is back in the achiote business.

Since 2014, the San Jacinto de la Mocora Grande Community Management Centre – a local producer association made up of 99 families – has trained ten young people as extension workers. These young people then started teaching smallholders how to use organic fertilizers and pest control methods to improve the quality and quantity of the achiote produced.

As a result, 400 households have improved their yields. Some have doubled their productivity from 15 to 30 quintals per hectare. Their average monthly income has increased from US$175 to over US$280.

In parallel, they created ASOAM – a commercial enterprise selling achiote and derived products – and built a processing plant. They set the price for a quintal (about 46 kilograms) of achiote at US$80, which gives farmers a 50 per cent profit.

Before, the farmers had been obliged to sell their product through intermediaries.

“The intermediaries used to cheat, not only with the price but also when weighing the product,” says Victor Bailes, an engineer with ASOAM.

“Farmers were not making a profit, which led to the decline in production. Thankfully, this is now history.”

The group now sells achiote to large companies like La Fabril, one of Ecuador’s major cooking oil and condiment producers.

The 99 families are just a small proportion of those benefiting from the support of Buen Vivir, which stretches across nine provinces. People engaged in over 160 smaller initiatives under the programme have set up irrigation systems, improved livestock pastures, and built processing plants for beans, maize and coffee. More than 12,000 families have benefited so far, just halfway through the programme.

This story was originally published in IFAD's 2015 Annual Report