Food Systems in Ecuador
In 2020, 930,000 tons of food went to waste in Ecuador, according to The Global FoodBanking Network. Much of this waste is due to the inefficiency of food systems in Ecuador. However, there are programs making efforts to decrease this waste and much of these efforts have proven to be very successful. Much of the produce in Ecuador comes from small-scale farms that families run.

According to the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, families or smallholder farms occupy 75% of the world’s agricultural land and many of these individuals live in poverty. Without an abundance of employees and a lack of training on commercialization for these small producers, it is difficult for farmers to make a profit suitable for the size of their families. The Joint Programme took notice of this issue and is working to increase access to nutritious foods in the province of Imbabura.

The Joint Programme

The Joint Programme began in September 2020 and helped increase the production of vital foods such as quinoa and lupine. It educated farmers on sustainability and good production practices to get the most benefit from their crops. The initiative also supports the National Plan For Good Living 2013-2017, as reported by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. The Joint Programme strives to reduce poverty and undernutrition in the cities of Ecuador.

According to the Sustainable Development Goals Fund, this effort helped 716 families to grow agro-diverse plots and increased their access to markets and fairs to sell their produce. The efforts also helped 118 producers of chocho, a high-protein legume, and gave assistance to 112 quinoa farmers to diversify their crops. Out of the 483 families in the program, 60.1% diversified their diets to include more fruits, vegetables and legumes.

The Future of Food Program

After the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, more concerns arose about the ability of food systems in Ecuador to adequately provide for citizens. Only supermarkets were able to sell produce, whereas, before the pandemic hit, producers could sell their food at fairs and marketplaces. This was a necessary option for many farmers due to the small number of collection centers in Ecuador, making it difficult to sell products to supermarkets. It was also more difficult for people to access produce at markets due to stay-at-home orders.

The Future of Food program started in 2019, according to the Diplomatic Courier. The program members deliver baskets of produce from small-scale farmers directly to families in need after the baskets pass a sanitation check. This ensures no produce from farmers goes to waste and provides a source of food to families so that they can stay home during the pandemic. The program has reached more than 9,300 families in Ecuador and has inspired the first farmer-owned online marketplace.

Programs that address the shortcomings of food systems in Ecuador are helping the nation inch closer to food security and sustainability. Implementing these programs in more cities may be helpful to small-scale producers in making a liveable wage and will increase families’ access to healthy foods.

– Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Quito
COVID-19 has ravaged the entire world, and each country has experienced the pandemic and suffered losses in its own way. However, the pandemic has a very unique impact on under-resourced countries than it does on developed countries. The New York Times reported that the death toll in Ecuador from the novel coronavirus is among the worst in the world, and the nation became an epicenter in Latin America for the deadly disease. By August 12, 2021, Ecuador recorded 493,767 cases and 31,870 deaths due to COVID-19. Many people suspect that the actual numbers of cases and deaths are much higher. Because Ecuador is a small country with a population of around 17 million people, these figures are extremely high. Here is some information about COVID-19 in Quito, Ecuador, a community that has faced significant challenges due to the pandemic, as well as the teacher who is making a difference.

Health care System in Quito

The health care system in Quito was extremely limited before the pandemic. The public health system in Ecuador lacked capabilities to facilitate contact tracing, appropriate screening and isolation measures and early detection measures. A lack of emergency response preparation and PPE equipment added to the inability of public hospitals to maintain safe conditions and keep up with the influx of patients. Additionally, Ecuador did not receive sufficient supplies of vaccines, and therefore, struggled to roll out vaccines to frontline workers and vulnerable populations in a timely manner. When the virus hit Quito, hospitals became quickly overwhelmed, forcing most people to seek care in tents outside them.

This was the case for Pilar Salazar, a middle-aged teacher from Comite del Pueblo, an impoverished neighborhood in Northern Quito, who shared her story in an interview with The Borgen Project. When her mother fell sick with the flu, Pilar took her to the hospital, where she received treatment in a tent in the cold outside, without space to distance from other patients. Her mother contracted COVID-19 at the hospital and subsequently gave it to Pilar, her primary caretaker.

Pilar then spent the next two months quarantined in her bedroom with pneumonia developed from COVID-19, unable to go to the hospital because of overcrowding. Her husband passed her oxygen tanks and food through her window while she recovered, unsure if she would survive. This story is not unique during the period of COVID-19 in Quito. Due to a lack of education and infrastructure, COVID-19 ravaged Quito and other Ecuadorian cities. Many of Pilar’s friends and her entire immediate family contracted the virus at some point in 2021, and she still feels damage in her lungs.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Ecuador

COVID-19 also deeply impacted Quito economically. The GDP in Ecuador was at risk of dropping 11% from the year 2019 to the year 2020. As one of the more underserved neighborhoods in Quito, Comite del Pueblo was particularly vulnerable to economic decline. When the after-school tutoring foundation that Pilar taught at closed down due to COVID-19, she had deep concern for the 40+ students she taught.

In March 2020, the Ecuadorian government implemented a national school closure. This mandate, still in effect today, affected around 4.5 million Ecuadorian school-aged children.

Pilar explained that without somewhere to go during school hours and after school, children are susceptible to abuse at home and drug trafficking in the area. When the foundation closed, some of her students lost their only place to catch up in school and receive direct homework help, while others lost their only meal of the day. This is the reality of the economic downturn and school shutdowns in an underdeveloped neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic in Quito.

Pilar’s Solution

In response to these immense challenges, Pilar has begun renovating a building in her neighborhood on her own to open a foundation for the children in her neighborhood. She is one example of many ways in which people have responded to COVID-19 in Quito with resilience. She said that she wants them to have a safe space to go, to study and succeed away from home and the traumas of daily life.

– Abigail Meyer
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EcuadorEcuador is a South American country with a population of more than 17 million. The country relies heavily on oil exports and was battling a global oil crisis when the first COVID-19 case broke out there in February 2020. Since then, the combined effects of the oil crisis and COVID-19 have created many problems for Ecuador. However, there are many sources offering aid to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador.

The Impact of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, Ecuador was one of the hardest-hit countries. Not only was it the first Latin American country affected but it also ranks ninth worldwide in confirmed deaths per million, according to the World Health Organization. The impact of COVID-19 combined with the effects of a global oil crisis could cause up to an 11% decrease in GDP for the nation.

Organizations Offering Aid

Despite the negative effects people across the world have felt and the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador, organizations are helping the country recover.

  • U.S. Department of State – The Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development sent almost $18 million in aid to Ecuador. This will fund improvements to the medical system, purchase rapid test kits and provide medical and personal protective equipment.
  • International Monetary Fund – On Sept. 30, 2020, the Executive Board of the IMF approved a “$6.5 billion Extended Fund Facility arrangement” with the goal of helping Ecuador recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. By providing these additional funds, the Ecuadorian government will be able to spend more on health and education services. The government can also give cash transfers to Ecuadorians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
  • The World Bank – The World Bank provided a line of credit of $500 million to help the Ecuadorian government support families affected by COVID-19. In addition to this, it approved “$14.1 million in nonreimbursable resources from the Global Concessional Financing Mechanism” to provide additional support to the government for its admittance of a large number of refugees.
  • UNICEF – UNICEF reallocated $2.7 million in funds to help with the COVID-19 response. These funds were used to provide PPE, handwashing stations, nutritional supplements, hygiene materials and teachers to help distribute supplies and educate the population on proper sanitation techniques. In addition, UNICEF also provided funds to help cash transfers to Venezuelan refugees who have been unable to receive any from the Ecuadorian government.

There are also other non-governmental and international organizations that are providing aid to the people of Ecuador. The services provided range from telemedicine and hospital care to assisting with sanitation efforts. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador has a list of organizations that are active in Ecuador. It is working to help with the recovery.

Next Steps

As the country faces a difficult recovery, international support is vital to jumpstart the economy and support Ecuadorians. The government will need help to continue providing the necessary equipment, testing and social safety nets for the impacted population. Donating to organizations or urging representatives to continue supporting these forms of aid are great ways to help.

Despite this large impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador, aid increases recovery efforts. International organizations, foreign governments and non-governmental organizations are working hard to provide funding and supplies to help Ecuador.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

Womens Rights in Ecuador
Through the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maria Amor Foundation, a nonprofit domestic violence shelter, has housed more than 80 women and 120 children as protection from the threat of domestic and sexual violence. The Borgen Project spoke with the director of the Maria Amor Foundation, Blanca Pacheco Lupercio, to learn more about the fight for women’s rights in Ecuador.

Violence Against Women in Ecuador

More than 40% of Ecuadorian women are victims of domestic and sexual violence and 70%  have experienced interpersonal violence in their lifetimes. Women’s rights in Ecuador were making steady progress until the COVID-19 pandemic when unemployment peaked in July 2020 at 16.8%. Despite the subsequent trend toward pre-pandemic rates and a new conservative president focused on economic prosperity, many women still lack the resources to leave violent situations in a nation where machismo, or traditional gender roles, are the status quo. “Violence is structural and systemic,” says Pacheco Lupercio. “We can’t say that all violence ends for women once they enter the shelter.”

The Maria Amor Foundation’s Services

The Maria Amor Foundation offers three major services to abuse victims: a 24-hour emergency hotline, two domestic violence shelters for women and children and a support program to help survivors create a new and independent life according to their dreams and aspirations.

The Foundation created its first domestic violence shelter in 2004 to provide women with a safe and resourceful space to stay. In 2005, the Foundation created a crisis hotline for victims and reprioritized community outreach to rural areas where victims may lack access to technology. By 2014, the Foundation had also opened an alternative shelter in the outskirts of the city to better serve rural women.

When someone calls the hotline, the Foundation interviews the caller and collects facts to identify a victim. After a risk assessment, the Foundation invites the individual to stay at the Casa Maria Amor, where the individual and their children receive psychological, emotional and medical assistance. The Foundation then provides victims with technical training to sustain an independent lifestyle once they leave the shelter. It offers entrepreneurial skills, legal advice and holistic skills like sewing.

Children exposed to violent situations can also be a casualty in the cycle of domestic and sexual violence. Pacheco says the Foundation’s aid programs for children are vital to those who may carry trauma. Child care services and Zoom learning classes for children help survivors build a new life.

How Victims of Violence Regain Independence

When victims leave the shelter, they receive social and legal support to help them form a plan to live independently and without fear of their abusers. The Foundation then connects them with other organizations and support groups like Mujeres Con Exito to assist them as they rediscover independence. “Our job is to… support these women so that one day they can leave independently,” says Pacheco.

More than 80 women stay in one of the Foundation’s shelters over the course of a year. Pacheco says approximately 15 women and their children live at the Casa Maria Amor for about five to six months at a time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, women are staying in shelters for longer. Pacheco says the pandemic worsened conditions on the ground. As healthcare facilities were overwhelmed and quarantine was underway, mothers struggled to care for and educate children during the workday.

Women’s rights in Ecuador experience violation at all social strata, so the Casa Maria Amor accepts survivors from every walk of life. Pachecho says that although survivors of greater means may have the ability to more easily create a new and independent life, the Casa Maria Amor will not turn away a person in need. In order to keep women out of violent situations, the nation needs to create concrete economic opportunities, Pacheco explains.

Poverty and Women’s Rights in Ecuador

Instilled gender roles and a meager education, particularly in rural regions, typically yield low employment prospects for women. Dr. Bernardo Vega, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of Cuenca, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that women in Ecuador tend to conform to the expectations of the rigid patriarchal system.

Rigid gender roles affect women in tangible ways such as increasing women’s likelihood of discontinuing their education. Vega says the average education for an Ecuadorian woman is approximately nine years. He says patriarchal gender roles expect women to forgo schooling and instead get married, have children and work in the home.

Vega says poverty, especially in rural areas, drives the inequality and marginalization of Ecuadorian women. He explains that poorly educated and poverty-stricken women tend to be economically dependent on their husbands. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer domestic and sexual violence. Vega says the social stigma women face for leaving their husbands also motivates them to stay silent in their suffering.

Early Pregnancy in Ecuador

Access to reproductive health and information is not equal across Ecuador. Only recently have educational institutions like high schools begun to provide sexual education. Vega says only 40% of adolescents have a general understanding of sexual and reproductive health and 80% of adolescents do not know where to access a sexual healthcare facility. Furthermore, only 5% of adolescents have ever visited healthcare facilities for information or treatment.

“Early pregnancy is like a door into poverty,” says Vega. “Violence and insecurity lead to poverty, like a circle.” According to Vega, Ecuador has the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate of all Latin American countries, trailing behind only Venezuela. He says that approximately 52,000 adolescents become pregnant each year in Ecuador, meaning that two out of 10 mothers are adolescents, a number that has risen in recent decades.

Political Involvement and Education Impacts Women’s Rights

While the push for women’s rights in Ecuador is a long way from guaranteeing egalitarianism, the feminist movement has galvanized women to empower themselves by entering the political sphere. Vega believes a new wave of women politicians can have tangible results in curbing inequity.

Furthermore, a push for educational programs in high schools, like the Plan Nacional de Salud Sexual y Salud Reproductiva, seeks to teach gender roles and sexual reproductive health in order to deconstruct conservative machismo and create a more egalitarian, educated population. This program received a renewal in 2017 and is continuing into 2021.

Andre Silva
Photo: Flickr

the Oil IndustryIn the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous communities have fought a decades-long legal battle against the oil industry polluting their environment. In January 2021, a provincial Ecuadorian court overturned a previously held court ruling and ordered major oil companies to cease the use of gas flares. This environmentally degrading act has been practiced since the late 1960s when Chevron-Texaco began drilling prospects in the region. Within the affected areas of Sucumbios and Orellana, residents blame gas flares for the increasing cancer rates within their communities as well as other health complications that have led to the deaths of multiple community members, dating back to the beginning of the practice.

The Dangers of Gas Flaring

The burning of natural gas releases fine particulate matter into the airspace. Over time, exposure to these particulates leads to the onset of serious health problems. A group of Amazonian girls from an affected Ecuadorian community filed a lawsuit in an Ecuadorian court in February 2020. Their case claimed that members of their community live within a few hundred meters of gas flares and have documented more than 200 cancer cases associated with gas flaring in the area. Nearly three-quarters of the cases involved women.

The girls also claimed that the use of flares affected other environmental resources, aside from the air. The flares also contaminated the rainwater, which is the primary source of water for these communities, affecting drinking water, sanitation and the irrigation of crops. The legal action hoped to shut down 447 flares in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at first, until January 2021, when a court ruled in favor of the girls and ordered an end to gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Oil Spill Contamination

However, other legal battles are still ongoing. In April 2021, hundreds of indigenous activists took to the streets on the anniversary of a devastating oil spill that unleashed nearly 16,000 barrels of crude oil when two pipeline ruptured in 2020. The oil polluted two essential rivers and affected the water security of nearly 30,000 people. Protesters demanded both recognition and action from their elected leaders. Litigants seeking reparations from the oil industry are still struggling against the bureaucratic framework of the nation’s court system.

The 2020 oil spill severely contaminated the Coca and Napo rivers, both in the Amazon region. Pipeline operators failed to decontaminate these rivers after abandoning an ineffective clean-up attempt. The tens of thousands of Amazonians who depend on these rivers come in frequent contact with the contaminated water, leading to various health consequences. The oil spill has without a doubt increased regional poverty and illness. Members of these communities claim that such flagrant contaminations of vital waterways violate their constitutional rights as indigenous people of Ecuador. While the court system weighs the legal authority of these claims, the pollutant’s negative social impact in the region cannot be denied.

The Road Ahead

The Ecuadorian court’s ruling to end the practice of gas flaring by the oil industry brings relief to communities whose voices have gone unheard for decades. The court distinctly acknowledged violations in terms of constitutionally enshrined rights to health, a safe environment and sustainable development, further recognizing the state’s obligation to take measures to avoid negative environmental consequences. The ruling is a major victory for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Providing Meal Kits
After Ecuador rounded its first full year in the coronavirus pandemic, citizens found themselves struggling to survive. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, the Ecuadorian government has repeatedly failed to protect and care for its citizens. It has been neglecting the sick and dead, spreading rampant misinformation, severely underreporting coronavirus cases, and most recently, allowing corruption to occur in the vaccine rollout. As a result, reports have determined the existence of more than 320,000 coronavirus cases along with nearly 17,000 deaths. Health care facilities have become overrun with desperate families and patients seeking care. As a response, the organization Kahre Org is providing meal kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Ecuador to help alleviate the suffering of its citizens.

COVID-19 in Ecuador

The pandemic and the blunt of the Ecuadorian government’s lack of responsibility has fallen upon its citizens, most notably, those living in rural areas. The pandemic has upended rural society and displaced many citizens. Communities lack basic necessities such as meal kits, PPE and education. The government has failed to provide citizens with information about the virus. Moreover, rural Ecuadorians, who are typically farmers, have faced an economic crash. This is because their typical markets and routes have closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Many rural Ecuadorians have had to face a harsh economic situation as they are no longer able to sustain their livelihood.

Kahre Org is providing Meal Kits and PPE in Ecuador

When the initiatives of Kahre Org, a nonprofit organization located in Ecuador, came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic, they had to readjust their scope of work to suit the new needs that arose. Before the pandemic, Kahre Org offered community outreach. This included providing communities with access to legal services, shelters, education and provisions. The organization has adapted and refocused its efforts to now provide meal kits and PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization started with those in rural Ecuador and continued its efforts to frontline workers and the medical community. Consequently, the Kahre Org minimized food insecurity while also creating additional jobs for impoverished and unemployed individuals.

How it Works

By partnering with the Ecuadorian armed forces, Kahre Org was able to deliver more than 100,000 meal kits across Ecuador. These meal kits offer stability to vulnerable individuals. It meant they could focus on finding employment, recovering from the pandemic or taking care of their families rather than worrying about where their next meals would come from. Along with these meal kits came important medical supplies. This included sanitization products and PPE to further help Ecuadorians stay fed and healthy. As many of these rural communities are far from hospitals and medical care, such protective equipment is extremely important.

Moreover, the Kahre Org saw an opportunity with the pandemic to expand their preexisting Child Food Programme. This initiative provides more than 100 Ecuadorian children with two meals a day. It was able to travel to small, local communities and offer children food to minimize their food insecurity. This simultaneously creates more job opportunities for Ecuadorians who wish to work with the organization.

To further the hard work of the Kahre Org in Ecuadorian communities, the local organization extended its helping hand past rural communities to the frontline workers. The organization managed to provide hundreds of Red Cross workers, government corps, doctors and other health care providers with meal kits.

Looking Ahead

By amassing donations and formulating a thorough response plan, the Kahre Org mobilized and inspired Ecuadorians to give back to their communities. In the process, the organization was able to educate rural Ecuadorians of the dangers of the virus and how to minimize the spread and stay healthy. Through providing meal kits and PPE, thousands of Ecuadorians are receiving the resources they need to fight the pandemic.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Ecuador
Human Trafficking has become a global and commonplace issue that hampers the needs and will of millions of people around the world. Human trafficking rings have become commonplace in Ecuador, a South American country with a population of more than 17 million people and 4 million in poverty. Criminal organizations have targeted people in Ecuador so they can attain wealth and power in a place full of unemployment and economic struggles. However, many new programs have emerged to combat human trafficking in Ecuador including a joint campaign between the Ecuadorian government, the U.N. and the U.S. government.

The History Behind Trafficking

Researchers at the University of New Mexico reported that 5,000 yearly cases of child kidnappings have occurred related to human trafficking in Ecuador since the beginning of the early 21st century. The researchers also found that 80% of all cases involved women and girls. Ecuador’s human trafficking situation began as a serious issue that consumed the country of Ecuador starting in the early 1980s but has picked up steam in the last five years.

The crumbling economics of South American countries like Ecuador and neighboring Venezuela has created an influx of migration, mainly between Venezuela and Ecuador. These individuals have become susceptible to trafficking rings that use them for illegal activity such as child labor or domestic service upon plantations, fishing plants and mines to name just a few. Although many trafficking rings have operated without interaction, Ecuador has started a change within the country, stemming from outside help, to establish a better protective wall against illegal human trafficking. As mentioned in the article from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “According to the 2018 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 72 per cent of detected human trafficking victims are women and girls. Ecuador fits this trend, but groups such as people with disabilities, returned migrants, indigenous communities, and youth with access to the Internet are also vulnerable.”

The Reasons for Human Trafficking in Ecuador

Human trafficking in Ecuador has become a commonplace issue due to its weak monetary and social infrastructure. Many people are out of jobs and live off dangerous side hustles, resulting in them being a target for many trafficking groups. A recent profile of human trafficking in different regions of Ecuador from scholars at The University of New Mexico found that traffickers are likely to target certain individuals. Many of these individuals are immigrants who come from neighboring countries like Venezuela, which has been suffering financially for the last decade. Discriminated groups like the LGBTQ community are also likely to fall into human trafficking in Ecuador.

Solutions

Although human trafficking has become a growing epidemic in Ecuador, various measures and movements have emerged to dictate a change from within Ecuador, a country that had a poverty rate of higher than 24% in 2017. One of those changes was the introduction of increased international support from the U.S. The U.S. Department of State has recommended stronger prosecution laws regarding the criminalization of labor traffickers. As a result, Ecuador’s laws prescribe penalties from 13 to 16 years of imprisonment as opposed to the previous penalties of an average of 8 years.

The Ecuadorian government has also dictated a new code of ways to prevent human trafficking in Ecuador. With the U.S. government, it created a campaign named #AQUIESTOY with the intention of creating an awareness of human trafficking in the country. The campaign reached over 88 million people by April 2019. Ecuador also established a hotline that people can use to counter human trafficking situations.

Along with a stronger force of prosecution and prevention, protections have emerged for human trafficking victims. Units such as the Office of the Prosecutor General’s formal witness protection program (SPAVT) provide aid to victims of human trafficking by granting them medical care, legal provisions, aid in garnering employment or accessing education and more. Reports determined that investigative and financial support of up to $400,000 went towards helping victims and potential victims.

Concluding Thoughts

Ecuador is an ever-developing country that kidnappings and trafficking have hit. However, the situation should be able to improve with help from the Ecuadorian government as well as outside sources. With more time and support, human trafficking in the country can become an unlikely tragedy rather than an everyday situation.

– Mario Perales
Photo: Flickr

gas flaringSince the area’s first oil well was drilled into the Ecuadoran Amazon in 1967, the surrounding population has been plagued with pollution and has suffered various health risks. This is primarily due to the gas flaring that has been ongoing for decades. It is impossible to reverse the harmful effects of the oil industry, but the situation is being addressed as Ecuador fights to eradicate gas flaring.

What is Gas Flaring?

Gas flaring is the controlled process of burning excess natural gasses for more efficient fuel extraction and production. Although in some cases it can be more cost-effective, the process of gas flaring is ultimately more harmful than advantageous. The issue with gas flaring relates to the harmful pollutants it emits. There is currently no standard chemical composition of flare gas. Almost all flare stacks release methane and black carbon into the air. The emission of black carbon, in particular, has negative impacts on human health and contributes to more than seven million deaths a year.

Today, there are 447 gas flares in the Ecuadoran Amazon. These flares have been in operation for decades and impact the health of the local population. These flares burn at a dangerous 750 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 hours a day, all year round. The surrounding communities lack proper protection against dangerous pollutants. The most destructive effects include not only cancer but miscarriages and severe genetic deformities.

Poverty in Ecuador

A majority of communities affected by the gas flare stacks are based in rural regions of Ecuador. These areas are more affected by poverty. In trying to develop protection from the harmful pollutants that gas flares emit, the communities are unable to progress economically. The poverty rate of Ecuador, last documented at around 24% in 2018, only continues to increase as gas flaring creates health impacts that further stress the country’s financial situation. The burning of natural gas results in significant losses in potential revenue.

Eradicating Gas Flaring

The path to first recognizing and finally beginning to assess the situation began with the uprise of cases involving the violation of basic human rights that gas flaring creates. Several gas flares are located within residential communities with effects spanning more than 180 miles. Local citizens sued the state-owned oil company, PetroAmazonas, and other relevant parties, for the use of gas flaring and the damages it has caused. The court ruled that the action violates constitutional rights to health, a healthy environment and sustainable development. Furthermore, the court expressed that the state has an obligation to implement policies that protect people against negative environmental impacts. The case builds upon the 26-year lawsuit against oil giant, Texaco-Chevron, to demand reparation in the same region for what is deemed the “Amazon Chernobyl,” one of the most severe oil-related disasters globally.

Looking Ahead

Ecuador is addressing the situation with the first step being a court order to end gas flaring in the Ecuadorian oil industry. Compensation and reparation to those affected are also essential parts of achieving justice. The ruling is a victory not just for the victims but the country as a whole. The decision shows Ecuador’s commitment to protecting the health of its people and its environment while upholding the human rights of Ecuadorians.

– Caroline Kratz
Photo:Flickr

Technology in the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest in Ecuador is an extremely biodiverse ecosystem vital to the survival of more than 70 indigenous communities. Alianza Ceibo is an organization that unites these communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Four different indigenous groups run it with the purpose of improving their people’s livelihoods and protecting over 20,000 square kilometers of the rainforest from environmental degradation. This article will examine how technology in the Amazon empowers these indigenous communities.

About Alianza Ceibo

The Alliance received the 2020 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Equator Prize for its efforts to support women entrepreneurs and connect remote communities with solar energy and clean drinking water. The Alliance also provides lawyers to represent the individual communities in land rights cases. As for the use of technology in the Amazon, the Alliance advocates for mapping systems to document indigenous stewardship of the rainforest, and monitoring systems to hold illegal trespassers accountable. The specific technology Alianza Ceibo and other organizations are using includes mapping technology, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), drones, satellites and blockchain.

Mapping Technology

In the Amazon rainforest in northern Ecuador, the four indigenous ethnic groups that founded the Alianza Ceibo — the Siona, Waorani, Kofan and Secoya — use mapping technology to fight illegal development on their land. Mapping applications can document native plants, important cultural sites, near-extinct animals and geographical spots vital to the community’s well-being. The use of mapping technology in the Amazon’s indigenous communities demonstrates how the indigenous people’s culture, land and livelihoods inextricably link.

The Counter-Mapping Project

The Waorani indigenous group uses mapping technology for its counter-mapping project in the village Amisacho. Digital Democracy, a nonprofit based in California, supports this technology. The work of the counter-mapping project aims to provide an alternative map to the typical government maps only showing square footage and natural resources. The Waorani’s map documents the rich history and cultural significance of the rainforest that they and other indigenous ethnic groups call home. Indigenous leaders of the Waorani, leaders of the Kofan, Secoya and Siona and international activists have all worked together to provide the most accurate representation of the link between people and land.

In a Sierra magazine article, the counter-mapping project’s leader Opi Nenquimo said “Our map shows all of the things that don’t have a price…Building it we also build our communities.” The Waorani do not just use maps to show outsiders the significance of their land. They also use it to teach their younger generations to honor and steward land which their ancestors have defended since the Inca. Using technology in the Amazon’s remote communities can be very useful and empowering, but it is not a replacement for indigenous knowledge and practices that members of the indigenous community passed down through generations.

In 2018, the Waorani used data gathered on Digital Democracy’s mapping application Mapeo, to sue the Ecuadorian government for not asking consent to begin a drilling project. The Waorani, with support from Digital Democracy and Amazon Frontlines, won the case in April 2019. It set an important precedent for future land rights cases in Ecuador and around the world.

Drones and Satellites

Drones that can take satellite images or videos illustrate another effective type of technology being employed in the Amazon rainforest. Drone technology allows people to monitor vast swaths of land in a short amount of time, and to hover over areas that may be difficult to reach on foot. Technicians monitor footage derived from the drones and then contact the relevant indigenous group. With their knowledge, understanding and presence in the forest, indigenous people can make the best decision on how to deal with a potential threat.

Indigenous groups protect nearly a quarter of the Amazon and deforestation affects most of them, which is why it is so important that they are at the forefront of environmental efforts. Speaking to the importance of supporting the communities that live in the rainforest, Suzanne Pelletier, director of the Rainforest Foundation U.S. (RFUS) said, “These are not just trees, these are not just lands, it’s such a virtual part of their culture, it’s how they maintain their health and wellbeing.” To destroy the rainforest is to destroy indigenous people’s livelihood.

RFUS is another nonprofit supporting the use of technology in the Amazon. The organization works directly with indigenous communities, focused in Panama, Guayana, Peru and Brazil. RFUS employs drones and, most recently, blockchain technology.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain is a public digital registry that timestamps and records transactions, providing the opportunity to make real-time financial transactions without having to go through banks or other institutions. At this point, many still consider blockchain experimental, but the promise of transparency, complete digitization and worldwide access are driving its implementation. This form of technology in the Amazon is new, but for RFUS, it is full of promise.

RFUS uses a blockchain that the Regen Network, a computing and technology development group, developed. RFUS’s pilot program is in the indigenous Ticuna community of Buen Jardin de Callarú in Peru, but the organization hopes to expand the use of this registry across the Amazon. The pilot group agreed to protect 1,000 hectares of forest. In the first year, it plans to save 70 hectares and plant at least 7,000 trees. The group will receive compensation for its work using blockchain technology.

A big problem in forest conservation has been how to support the people actually doing the work on the ground, the same people deforestation most harms. Blockchain offers a possible solution and RFUS has been successful in utilizing it in Peru. In June 2020, RUFUS reported that the Buen Jardin De Callarú community and others working with it were able to reduce the deforestation rate from 10% annually to zero between 2018 and 2020, and obtained pay for their work with blockchain.

These three different technological innovations have demonstrated how indigenous communities in the Amazon are able to fight modern threats with modern technology. The Amazon rainforest and indigenous communities link together, dependent on each other for a healthy and long life. The use of technology in the Amazon empowers indigenous groups to effectively protect the rainforest and thereby also their livelihoods.

– Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr