The agricultural production in Ecuador has shifted towards an export-focused one: meaning there is a significant decrease in the amount of farm land destined for domestic consumption. Due to this, the variety and availability of local foods has been decreasing since the 1970’s, wheat production has decreased more than 60% barley and corn 50% and root crops 12%. The rise in mono crops, an idea sold to small scale farmers as a way out of poverty, is posing a threat to biodiversity and to their own national food security.
Many cacao farmers have cut down their trees and any other crops which they normally plant around their cacao as an additional source of income (as cacao alone is not enough) to switch to palm oil. Ecuador has become the 5th largest palm oil producer in the world and its government favours it because of an apparent increase in wealth, which off course is only shared by a few, employment and well-being, however, the expansion of this crop has always been linked to social, territorial and environmental conflicts and the Amazon region of Ecuador is no exception.
There are 300,000 ha of palm oil plantations across Ecuador; and 61% of its yearly production is exported, with the E.U. being one of their main markets. An Ecuadorian policy stating that the development of biofuels is of national priority implies an expansion and concentration of the crop accelerating therefore the growth in palm oil plantations. Such expansion is the greatest cause of deforestation of primary forest in Ecuador, erosion and the intensive use of toxic pesticides contaminating river waters which are vital to the survival of biodiversity and the communities of the rainforest.
Being on the ground gave us the opportunity to listen to and research more about people’s experiences on issues we wouldn’t have normally come across, understanding a little bit more about the country’s trade history and the impact on its people and the environment. For us to be able to help small scale cacao farmers we don’t only need to buy their cacao but also to fully understand the threats their livelihoods face in order to empower them to become more self sufficient and more importantly to educate them on their rights and join them in raising their voices against injustice