Quito & Manabí, Ecuador
We needed to create spaces for connections, spaces for different knowledges to meet, it wasn’t just about ‘let’s sit here and talk about the water problem’, but it was, let’s sit here and get to know each other
Carolina Salazar, Fork to Farm Dialogue Facilitator, Ecuador
Two Fork to Farm Dialogues were held in Ecuador; one in Zámbiza, a rural community in the city of Quito and the other in Manabí, a coastal province. The dialogues were facilitated and coordinated by Carolina Salazar, a consultant from Rikolto, an international NGO that works with smallholders and agroecological regenerative production. In these dialogues Carolina and Rikolto decided to work with agroecological producers who face economical instability due to a lack of government support and the impact of COVID-19. For Carolina, the Fork to Farm dialogues were a way of “valuing and recognising their work which cares for the health of people and the environment”.
Compañeras: a group of female friends, co-workers
In Zámbiza, the dialogue was held with a group of compañeras who, due to the pandemic, had started to produce food as a livelihood. Supported by local agronomists, they formed an association, La Yunta Zambiceña. Among other activities, they sell their products every Saturday in a farmers’ market. La Yunta Zambiceña approached Rikolto for seed capital for water installations and Rikolto took this opportunity to invite them to take part in the Fork to Farm dialogues.
Due to COVID-19 the dialogue was restricted to online meetings. This presented three challenges: access to WIFI; access to devices; and the challenge of building meaningful relationships in an online environment. Carolina ensured that funding was allocated to tech support. Nevertheless, the women who did not own a device opted to borrow one, usually from a younger family member
For Carolina, collectively deciding on a topic for the dialogue was imperative for participants to “feel that it was a space that belonged to, and was guided by, them”. She issued a WhatsApp survey with suggestions, including access to water; use of ancestral seeds; agroecological tools and approaches; social organising; and ‘other’. Access to water received the most votes.
The compañeras agreed to meet in May as they were already planning to meet to discuss how to deal with heavy rains in the region. They agreed on two one-and-a-half-hour online sessions that accommodated the compañeras’ domestic duties in addition to their work as farmers. In the dialogue, they each shared their experiences to form a collective understanding of the situation and search for solutions and next steps. The group were keen to meet the local government to share their concerns.
“Our problem is that we do not have irrigation water and we are having to water our crops with drinking water, and it is expensive. We are paying approximately sixty dollars a month for water. This is not viable in the context of what we earn through our food production. We want to propose a reduction in the price of water as was done for the community next to us that sells plants. We propose that farming families get this reduced tariff so we can keep producing and we would also compromise on our part to take care of this resource”
Quito was going through a political crisis, which made it impossible to engage them in conversation, so this was put on hold. However, Rikolto was able to help find a solution. Together with La Yunta Zambiceña they set up a drip-irrigation system, supported by both partners. This system was set up through mingas, a practice where friends and neighbours come together in solidarity to work together, and a meal is usually shared afterwards . For Carolina, the mingas were crucial moments for relationship-building between the producers themselves, and between Rikolto and the producers.
Another outcome of the process was the creation of an intergenerational space. The women were borrowing devices from younger family members, some of whom had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and had to return home to work the land. This younger generation was listening to the conversations with “older producers telling them that in this same place there used to be water for irrigation and that when they were young girls, water went through the river instead of the tap, and in that moment, it ‘clicks’ that it’s important to sit down to chat about this”.
The dialogue in Manabí was held with food growers who have experience of social organising as they are part of a political school. This was also an intergenerational group where “it’s not just the mother and father who are there but the grandfather who is also a farmer and the young people who have a theatre group, where through art, they share the reasons behind their agroecological practices”.
The same tech support was offered, yet those who did not have access to devices or WIFI decided to group with those who had. This group was used to meeting in online settings and decided to hold a three-hour long conversation. Using the same WhatsApp survey, the group decided to focus on learning how agroecology can be promoted through public policy. This was important for them as the area where they live is dedicated to industrial production of rice, corn and banana while small-scale production is financially insecure. The group “felt like they could do 1000 small things individually but that they needed governmental support for them to be feasible”.
Relationship and trust-building
The dialogues were opportunities for people to get to know each other beyond their identity as food producers. Carolina aimed “ ... for it to be a horizontal relationship, knowing that there are always these hierarchical ways of relating with each other so it was about trying to break away from those ideas and become more familiar and close with each other”. To do this, Carolina used creative approaches:
“Not everyone could turn on their computer because of connectivity, so instead we all turned off our cameras. One of the activities was like ‘imitate the movement’ so you say your name and you make a movement, the next person repeats your name and your movement and then says their name and makes their movement, but what we did instead of using movements, was to make sounds, so you had to listen and be present and also play”.
One piece of advice:
“Hold the dialogue in person whenever possible, conversation is much richer in person, the times that we met in the mingas, spaces of exchange where created where other things come out, things that won’t come out through the computer and the phone”.
“Choose who you willl work with according to your interests, make sure it’s people who are also interested in sitting down to have conversations and have the time and disposition to do it, to not make it a forced space”.
“Be very realistic about what you are going to achieve with these dialogues. People can say ‘we will do these dialogues, and this will change the world’…but instead say ‘we are creating a space to have conversations and there will be moments throughout where there will opportunities to send things to other places and have conversations with people in other places, but the important things is to have these conversations between ourselves”.