With nearly 35 percent of the population or close to four million people living in poverty, poverty in Ecuador is extremely pervasive. According to The World Bank, “one and a half million Ecuadorians live in extreme poverty and cannot meet their nutritional requirements, even if they spend everything they have on food.”
Rural and urban poverty in Ecuador tend to have markedly different characteristics. The rural poor tend to have little access to land, lack education, have no integration into the market and have little employment opportunities. The indigenous population, included in the rural poor, is among the poorest of the poor.
The urban poor, on the other hand, face a lack of safe water and sewage, have to rent housing, have low job participation and, as with the rural poor, possess little education.
The World Factbook states that “Ecuador’s high poverty and income inequality most affect indigenous, mixed race, and rural populations.” The government has set up social services that are based on the poor sending their children to school and getting them medical check-ups. This has helped with advancing the education of rural poor children.
Oil and Agriculture: Profits and Challenges
Oil is the biggest export for Ecuador. Oil accounts for half of Ecuador’s export income. But falling oil prices and some other issues, including climate change, caused a financial crisis in 1999/2000. In 2000 the government approved new structural changes, including the adoption of the U.S. dollar as legal tender. This move, along with increasing oil prices, has helped improve the Ecuadorian economy and poverty levels.
Although oil is the largest export, the principal employer in rural Ecuador is agriculture. But, according to Rural Poverty Portal, the percentage of the total workforce that farming employs declined from 26.2 percent in 2001 to 20.8 percent in 2010. Small farmers also face disadvantages such as lack of access to land, lack of access to markets, lack of credit, soil degradation and climate change.
Labor, Land and Housing
The World Bank suggests that the main assets of the rural poor in Ecuador are “labor, land and housing.” Utilizing and growing these assets can lead to not only lower poverty levels but improved standards of living.
Education is the most powerful key to the labor force, and secondary education and allowing women access to jobs empowers the workforce. Keeping small, rural farmers on their land through access to credit and markets keeps them empowered and fed. Helping the poor use their homes to open businesses and other ventures could help generate income and help improve poverty in Ecuador.
The Price of Production? Deforestation
Unfortunately, the expansion of agriculture and oil production leads to deforestation. With expanded deforestation, other environmental and economic problems arise. The loss of forest not only changes the ecosystem, but it also brings the challenge for local owners to retain their land, especially indigenous land owners who are the hardest hit by poverty in Ecuador.
The country has been a member of the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) Program since 2009. In this program, incentives are given to landowners to keep the trees standing.
World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states that the United Nations Environmental Program calls Ecuador one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world. WWF believes that the worst threats to biodiversity within the country are the ways the economy has developed since the 1970s.
The economic measures taken has caused a loss of sustainability of natural resources and over-industrialization. By helping maintain biodiversity and improving sustainability, poverty in Ecuador can be greatly improved.
– Rhonda Marrone