March 2, 2012

Community Action for Food Security and Resilience

Deborah Hines, World Food Programme Catherine Zanev, World Food Programme

Nearly half of the communities in the Pichincha Province of Ecuador are affected by chronic malnutrition. One example is the Olmedo community, in which 90% of the residents live below the poverty line, and 40% are malnourished. Many small-scale farmers cannot feed their families adequately, as they have little or no access to capital, markets or effective farming techniques and infrastructure. At the same time, increasing pressure for land has forced people to overexploit forests and to plant their crops on land with high erosion rates.

The soils are already tired

“The soils are already tired”, says Fidel Acero, a farmer and community leader from Olmedo. “And the days of rains are now less, but the sky rains stronger”. Indeed, Ecuador’s ecosystems and communities are increasingly suffering the effects of warming. Recurrent droughts and glacial retreat already affect water supply and food production. Current climate models project that precipitation is likely to decrease while temperatures are set to rise. At present predictions, Ecuador’s glaciers below 5,000 meters will most likely disappear over the course of the next ten years. This is a serious threat to the ability of the surrounding ecosystems to regulate water supply. And it will have major consequences for agricultural productivity and people’s food and nutrition security.

“The soils are already tired. And the days of rains are now less, but the sky rains stronger.”

In response to these growing challenges, three months ago the Ministry of Environment and the World Food Programme (WFP) initiated a five-year project to strengthen the resilience and food security of 120 food insecure and vulnerable communities located in the Pichincha province and the Jubones river basin.

Connecting agriculture and environment

The project is a primer in many ways. It is one of the first projects to be financed by the Adaptation Fund. It also uses an integrated approach to achieving food and nutrition security by connecting the fields of agriculture and the environment – which are too often dealt with in isolation. Making this link was possible in part because the project brings together the Ministry of Environment, which hosts the Secretariat for Climate Change, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries. Together, these Ministries and WFP work in partnership with local governments and communities.

Photo by Catherine Zanev/World Food Programme.

Photo by Catherine Zanev/World Food Programme.

Guillermo Saraguro is one of the community leaders who have been participating in the meetings of the Jubones River Basin Consortium, together with representatives of universities, municipalities, national government, WFP and other stakeholders. Community concerns have been at the centre of discussions in these meetings. “The water levels are decreasing, the rains are changing, crops suffer, our animals get sick”, says Guillermo, and adds: “We, the farmers, united, must do something, hand in hand with the institutions and the government, so that we won’t suffer later the effects of having mistreated nature; we must work with intelligence and be organized.”

Building on traditional knowledge

Based on WFP’s food security assessments, and a detailed participatory analysis of the current climate vulnerabilities and future climate risks, workshop participants decided which activities should be implemented in which provinces and cantons. The adaptation actions build on traditional knowledge, as Segundo Cedillo, a farmer, underlines: “We have been adapting to the land we live in since the time of our ancestors. Now we would like a little help to do it better and not keep destroying the land.” At the institutional level, arrangements have been made between national and local governments that allow for the implementation of activities at the watershed level, across communities and administrative borders.

“We, the farmers, united, must do something, hand in hand with the institutions and the government, so that we won’t suffer later the effects of having mistreated nature; we must work with intelligence and be organized.”

Under the project, communities will focus on constructing and rehabilitating infrastructure that will build resilience and help both the people and ecosystems to adapt. These activities will focus on building concrete assets that are of immediate benefit to the communities, such as water harvesting and storage measures, irrigation and drainage systems, and flood defenses. A range of landscape-based activities to restore the ecosystems will also be implemented, such as the reforestation of degraded lands, along with the identification of strategies to implement Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).

Looking after Pacha Mama

The first step for the communities, however, will be to increase their awareness of climate change risks and their ability to prioritize and manage adaptation measures. Anita de Cango, a community representative from the Paquishapa micro-basin, summarizes what the communities expect from this project: “We want to be united in our micro-basin and have a clear idea so that we can look after the Pacha Mama (mother Earth), know where to grow our food, where to conserve resources, how to prepare ourselves for the future climate, protect our water sources, and ensure the well-being of our families”.

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Deborah Hines is a representative of the UN World Food Programme in Ecuador.

Catherine Zanev is Policy Officer, Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction Office, at the World Food Programme in Rome, Italy.

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  • Chris
    March 5, 2012 at 9:52am

    I write to congratulate you on the important work you are doing with local communities to improve their Food Security.

    I would also like to suggest you consider including Ecological Sanitation (in particular Urine-diverting Dry Toilets) in your strategies, as this allows nutrients to be recycled by the soil, instead of contaminating rivers. EcoSan also helps to combat and adapt to Global Climate Disruption:

    –Excrement in dry, aerobic conditions does not ferment to produce methane (a very potent Greenhouse Gas), as happens in water-based systems.
    –Plants are fertilized and thus absorb more CO2.
    –Carbon is sequestered into the soil as organic matter.
    –Reduced dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers that generate a great deal of Greenhouse Gases.
    –Reduced demand for water.
    –The water-holding capacity of the soil is improved, thus improving production in the face of increasing droughts.
    –Keeping human excrement out of wastewater makes both easier to treat, and facilitates use of greywater in irrigation.

    You can see more info on my blog,, as well as at and

    It would be an honor to help you apply this in your project.

    Best wishes,