Traditional tubers and innovative marmalades in Ecuador
Chimborazo, Ecuador: Ecuadorian women looking to improve their livelihoods and food security have benefited from the business expertise of Italian volunteers working with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.
Chimborazo province in Ecuador is badly affected by agricultural over-exploitation, which diminishes soil productivity and biodiversity. The resulting lack of natural resources leads to poverty, migration and family disintegration. The 'Nueva Vida' Indigenous Women's Association has looked for innovative ways to guarantee the food security of their families.
Luigi Fogliani, an agricultural expert, and Paolo Faberi, a business administration expert, are members of the 'Seniores Italia' NGO in Rome, which works with UNV to send expert volunteers to aid development work. Their mission was to help the 'Nueva Vida' Indigenous Women's Association find ways to improve its agricultural production process, as well as a way to commercialize its products through a business plan and a sales strategy for marmalades and sweets based on indigenous tubers.
The volunteers visited the crops in one of the communities, confirming the high quality of the tubers and their year-round availability. They also confirmed that the marmalade was produced following appropriate technical procedures, in terms of both security and hygiene; and they contributed additional knowledge which was incorporated into the production process.
The project can be tracked back to 2002-2004, when 'Nueva Vida' worked with UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP). The objective was to recuperate several varieties of native tubers and cereals in order to guarantee the food security of families and communities.
'Nueva Vida' continued to plant Andean tubers and cereals after 2004 and wanted to generate additional income by turning certain tubers ('mashua', 'oco' and 'melloco') into the marmalade products they now produce.
In 2007 the Association was one of five organizations to be awarded the global 'Seed Award' by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNDP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This award recognizes and supports initiatives that foster sustainable development through innovative, local partnership-based solutions.
However, there is still work to be done. "There is room for improvement in the area of marketing and sales," explains Mr. Faberi. "This is why we assisted in the elaboration of a business plan and with specific marketing actions, such as: cost calculation, pricing and sales techniques, and designing leaflets to describe the Association as well as the various tubers and marmalades."
He thinks that the results have been positive, and the women are determined to improve sales and marketing. Their products are grown without chemical fertilizers and produced without additives so the next step could be to enter the 'organic' market, which may prove very profitable.
Mr. Fogliani and Mr. Faberi carried out a market research study in Riobamba, concluding that neither tuber nor organic marmalades were yet available. This could be an opportunity for the Association to obtain a bigger return on the marmalades, at the same time contributing to sustainability through traditional cereal and tuber crops. The Italian volunteers' advice is thus helping the Ecuadorian women to guarantee long-term food security.
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