Raised vegetable beds in Ecuador

Strengthening the safety net for women miners in Ecuador

New agriculture ventures provide both pride and improved food security during tough times

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  • Carolina Moncayo
    Communication Specialist, Ecuador's National Program for the Environmental Sound Management and Live Cycle Management of Chemical Substances (planetGOLD Ecuador)

 

Woman and child work on vegetable beds in Ecuador family garden

 

Andrea grew up among rocks and quarries in Camilo Ponce Enríquez. She loves the countryside and comes from a family with an agricultural tradition.

For economic reasons, for more than 15 years she has been working in the dump of nearby large-scale gold mines, where she and other women sort through the ore discarded by the mines in search of small traces of gold they can process. For her and the rest of the women, who are known as jancheras or women mineral selectors, these gold processing activities are what demand most of their attention and work, because that is how they obtain what is needed to support their families in the sector.

However, the quantity and quality of janche, or coarse gold residue—which they spend hours searching for in large mountains of stones—is decreasing little by little as the internal processes in the mines are becoming more efficient, reducing the amount of gold-bearing residue in the dumps.

Jancheras - women miners

 

In addition to this impact on the profitability of the precarious productive activity, a year ago the world took a turn after the health emergency. As a result of this, Andrea says, “We realized that nothing is guaranteed. That health is really the basis and that the land is the most generous and safe space we can count on, no matter what happens.”

For Andrea, “The pandemic brought a clear message focused on the need to deploy actions to ensure the health of families and to contribute to the care of the environment.” Thus, together with Heifer International and the GEF-funded National Program for the Environmentally Appropriate Management of Chemical Substances in their Life Cycle (PNGQ)—the planetGOLD project in Ecuador—implemented by UNDP and the Ministry of Environment and Water, the family vegetable garden project was born, led by women mineral selectors.

Andrea and 20 other women take advantage of the fertility of the land to grow farm products. They continue with the tradition of the sector and plant short-cycle vegetables such as chard, basil, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, radishes, cilantro, carrots, and Chinese turnips on land granted by the Decentralized Autonomous Government of Camilo Ponce Enríquez, on which they have built 40 garden beds, a nursery, and a chicken farm.

Raised beds in family garden project in Ecuador

 

The most valuable aspect of the work has been the team’s commitment, says Andrea. As a first step, through a community volunteer effort, the site was cleaned and the soil was cared for, balancing the nutrients. Subsequently, nurseries were built for short-cycle crops and once the seeds were ready, planting began with technical support focused on strengthening knowledge related to the agricultural sector, but also in commercialization, marketing, accounting, and leadership.

Isabel Garzón, the PNGQ coordinator, says this initiative is not only a venture that allows families to generate additional income, but also an alternative source of food security in times of emergency such as those currently being experienced around the world.

Andrea Medieta with chickens at the farm

 

Andrea was the first to sell a batch of chickens. For her, to be part of this venture is a source of pride, she says with a smile.

“There is much work to do, but Camilo Ponce Enríquez is a supportive community. I am sure that we will succeed in creating a large distribution network of local products, such as vegetables and chickens, to supply restaurants and mining camps.”

 

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