Written by Kate Oviatt –
In the summer of 2013, I had the good fortune to travel to Ecuador to visit some of the country’s urban agriculture projects. I was introduced to a number of different approaches to urban agriculture and it was inspiring to witness the ingenuity, expertise, and dedication people had for it.
Quito is Ecuador’s capital city and it is home to one of the largest and most comprehensive urban agriculture programs I have come across. Called AGRUPAR (Agricultura Urbana Participative– participatory urban agriculture), the program provides training and extension services for farmers throughout the city. It has helped develop over 900 gardens/farms (!) in Quito and has assisted in the construction of over 220 greenhouses.
The program began in 2000 as part of an effort by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to explore how urban agriculture could be supported and facilitated by municipal governments. The program is now part of CONQUITO, (Corporación de Promoción Económica– economic promotion corporation), and is a central part of their effort to generate employment and foster entrepreneurship in order to address un/underemployment in the city.
AGRUPAR works primarily in Quito’s low-income neighborhoods to facilitate employment/income and food security among residents. Participants in the program go through an extensive ten-month training program. Other activities and services include constructing greenhouses, installing drip irrigation, providing microcredit options, assisting with organic certification, helping farmers gain access to food processing services and markets, and providing ongoing extension services. The program supports the entire chain of production, from growing crops, to processing and selling produce.
As indicated by their name, a primary goal of the program is participation, social integration, and inclusiveness. They engage with farmers to understand the barriers they face and to identify their needs. They also work to improve communication between farmers and other local groups, such as politicians, food processors, and vendors.
The program emphasizes sustainability and trains farmers in ecological growing methods. In addition to encouraging the environmentally friendly production and the recycling of urban organic wastes, organic production offers an opportunity for urban farmers to access a niche in the local market where competition may be limited.
A primary outcome of AGRUPAR’s program is that participants experience a significant increase in their income; on average, participants earn about $55 of extra income a month. Furthermore, by consuming their own produce, families save approximately $67 on food purchases. By both increasing their monthly income and saving money on food, families experience roughly a $122 increase in earnings, a significant economic benefit for participants.
Beyond just being a vehicle for economic development, AGRUPAR also has a strong social emphasis. The program is extremely inclusionary and works to engage a variety of people and institutions, including women, the elderly, migrant families, schools, hospitals, women’s shelters, orphanages, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. While in Quito, I was able to visit a number of AGRUPAR’s growing sites, including three different school gardens, and was incredibly impressed with their efforts to get kids engaged with farming. At one school the kids were growing vegetables in containers nestled in every open space throughout the schoolyard. At a another school, the children were actually assigned their own row to care for and were given an hour or two during school each week tend to their vegetables.
Needless to say, my visit with AGRUPAR was inspiring. Their comprehensive approach demonstrates how urban agriculture can be used as a means for addressing some of the environmental, economic, and social issues faced by cities. It is a great example of how municipal governments can be key actors in facilitating urban agriculture.
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