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Look me in the eyes September 25th, 2022 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

In Ecuador recently, I saw some of the best extension work I have ever seen. Fernando Jácome, an agronomist with SWISSAID took us to meet farmers, almost all women, who have been working with him and his colleagues for over ten years. 85 smallholders from different communities of Pelileo, in Tungurahua, in the Andes, are organized into seven small associations. They have learned to produce an impressive assortment of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes to strawberries, cabbage, lettuce, avocadoes, lemons, blackberries and many more, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s all grown ecologically.

With Paul and Marcella, filming a video on agroecological fairs, we accompanied Ing. Alex Recalde, an agronomist working for the Pelileo municipality, as he inspected farms to make sure that they were really producing ecologically. Alex’s visits are largely about teaching and encouraging, with little policing, since the women all seem convinced about agroecology.

First, Alex registers what the farmers are growing. That way he knows what each one will harvest, to later verify in the fair that they are only selling their own produce, and in plausible amounts.

During the farm visits, often accompanied by leaders of the Agroecological Associations of Pelileo, Alex looks for signs of chemicals, such as discoloration on the leaves, or residues of synthetic fertilizer on the soil, or discarded chemical containers. He also looks at the insects on the farm. A diverse insect community with many beneficials and few pests is a sign that toxic chemicals have not been used.

If the farmer has any pests and diseases, Alex advises her on what to do. We were with him while he explained to farmer Korina Quille that the unsightly scabs on her avocados were not actually a disease at all, but they were simply scars formed because the wind had rubbed the tender fruits against a branch. Realizing that cosmetic damage is not caused by a pathogen can also reassure farmers that agroecology is working for them. It also helps them explain to customers that there is nothing wrong with their avocados.

Later that afternoon, we attended a meeting of the agroecological association. The organized women began by taking attendance (roll call). They had brought samples of their produce, for an exercise on displaying it attractively and in standard sized pots and baskets, so they could all sell the same measure at the same price, one that would be fair for farmers and consumers.

SWISSAID‚Äôs Mario Porres led a lively discussion, asking the audience: ‚ÄúHow can you have a standard measure, if the customers all insist on the yapa (a little bit extra)?‚ÄĚ He held up a basket of berries and said ‚Äúmeasure it, take a few out, and when the customer asks for the yapa, put them back in.‚ÄĚ The audience laughed in appreciation.

The meeting ended with a drama coach, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, who used theatrical exercises to build the women‚Äôs self-confidence. Poor, peasant and indigenous women can be afraid to be assertive, but Ver√≥nica was teaching them to be bold and to have fun at the same time. The women knew Ver√≥nica, and as soon as she took the floor, everyone stood up. ‚ÄúWalk angry!‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica shouted, ‚Äúyour husband has been telling you what to do!‚ÄĚ The women stomped around the courtyard, arms swinging, recalling their anger, over-acting and loving every minute of it.

‚ÄúNow, imagine that you bring that anger to the market, and you are angry with the customers. Will they want to buy from you?‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica asked.

In another exercise, on love, the women hugged each other, and they learned to walk happy, not angry. The drama coach also had the women shout, part of an exercise where they learned to speak loudly, but kindly, looking customers in the eye, to win them over.

This training, encouragement and organization has opened a space where indigenous women can sell their beautiful produce in the local, open-air markets, in small cities like Pelileo, and in big ones like Ambato.

Later, we found out how well the training had paid off. One morning before dawn, I was with Paul and Marcella in the wholesale market in Ambato. This is the biggest market in Ecuador, a sprawling complex of pavilions with roofs, but no walls, where trucks loaded and unloaded produce. Fernando J√°come, the extensionist had brought us here, to the heart of the country‚Äôs commercial food system, but he left us for a while with Anita Quille, one of the women leaders of the association. When a local official approached us to ask why we were there with a big camera, do√Īa Anita stepped forward, and looked him in the eye. She spoke gently but firmly, in a self-confident tone of voice, explaining who we were, and that we were there making a video on local farmers, and markets.

All of the organization, training and acting classes on assertiveness had paid off.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Watch the video

Creating agroecological markets


Thanks to Fernando J√°come and Paul Van Mele for their helpful comments on a previous version of this blog.


Jeff Bentley, 25 de septiembre del 2022

Hace poco, en Ecuador, vi uno de los mejores trabajos de extensi√≥n que he visto jam√°s. Fernando J√°come, agr√≥nomo de SWISSAID, nos llev√≥ a conocer a los agricultores, casi todas mujeres, que trabajan con √©l y sus colegas desde hace m√°s de diez a√Īos. 85 peque√Īas propietarias de diferentes comunidades de Pelileo, en Tungurahua, en los Andes, est√°n organizados en siete peque√Īas asociaciones. Han aprendido a producir un impresionante surtido de frutas y verduras, desde tomates a fresas, repollo, lechugas, aguacates, limones, moras y muchas m√°s, as√≠ como conejos y cuyes. Todo se cultiva de forma ecol√≥gica.

Con Paul y Marcella, filmando un video sobre ferias agroecol√≥gicas, acompa√Īamos al Ing. Alex Recalde, un agr√≥nomo que trabaja para el municipio de Pelileo, mientras inspeccionaba las granjas para asegurarse de que realmente produc√≠an de forma ecol√≥gica. Las visitas de Alex consisten en gran medida en ense√Īar y animar, no como polic√≠a sino como profesor, ya que todas las mujeres parecen convencidas de la agroecolog√≠a.

En primer lugar, Alex registra los cultivos que las agriculturas tienen en sus granjas. Así sabe lo que cada una va a cosechar, para luego verificar en la feria que solo se venda productos cultivados por ellas, y en cantidades creíbles.

En sus visitas, Alex a menudo es acompa√Īado por dirigentas de las Asociaciones Agroecol√≥gicas de Pelileo. Buscan signos de productos qu√≠micos, como decoloraci√≥n en las hojas, o residuos de fertilizantes sint√©ticos en el suelo, o envases de qu√≠micos desechados. Tambi√©n se fija en los insectos en la parcela. Una diversa comunidad de insectos, muchos ben√©ficos y pocas plagas, es se√Īal de que no se han usado qu√≠micos t√≥xicos.

Si la productora tiene alguna plaga o enfermedad, Alex le aconseja qu√© hacer. Estuvimos con √©l mientras explicaba a Korina Quille que las desagradables costras de sus aguacates no eran en realidad una enfermedad, sino que eran simplemente cicatrices formadas porque el viento hab√≠a rozado los tiernos frutos contra una rama. Darse cuenta de que los da√Īos est√©ticos no est√°n causados por un pat√≥geno tambi√©n puede tranquilizar a las agricultoras, y confirmar que las pr√°cticas agroecol√≥gicas les est√°n funcionando. Tambi√©n les ayuda a explicar a los clientes que no hay nada malo en sus aguacates.

Esa misma tarde, asistimos a una reuni√≥n de la asociaci√≥n agroecol√≥gica local. Las mujeres organizadas empezaron pasando lista. Hab√≠an tra√≠do muestras de sus productos, para hacer un ejercicio de exposici√≥n atractiva, en macetas y cestas de tama√Īo est√°ndar, de manera que todas pudieran vender la misma medida al mismo precio, uno que fuera justo para productoras y consumidores.

Mario Porres, de SWISSAID, dirigi√≥ un animado debate, preguntando a las asistentes: “¬ŅC√≥mo se puede tener una medida est√°ndar, si todos los clientes insisten en la yapa (un poco m√°s)?”. Levant√≥ una cesta de bayas y dijo: “m√≠dela, quita algunas y cuando el cliente pida la yapa, vuelve a ponerlas”. El p√ļblico se rio en se√Īal de empat√≠a.

La reuni√≥n termin√≥ con una lecci√≥n de una maestra de teatro, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, que us√≥ varios ejercicios para aumentar la confianza de las mujeres en s√≠ mismas. Las mujeres pobres, campesinas e ind√≠genas pueden tener miedo de ser asertivas, pero Ver√≥nica les ense√Īaba a ser audaces y a divertirse al mismo tiempo. Las se√Īoras conoc√≠an a Ver√≥nica y, en cuanto tomaba la palabra, todas se pusieron de pie. “¬°Caminen enfadadas!” grit√≥ Ver√≥nica, “¬°tu marido te ha dicho lo que tienes que hacer!”. Las mujeres caminaban por el patio, moviendo los brazos, recordando su enojo, sobreactuando y disfrutando de cada minuto.

“Ahora, imagina que llevas ese enfado al mercado y te enfadas con los clientes. ¬ŅQuerr√°n comprarte?” pregunt√≥ Ver√≥nica.

En otro ejercicio, sobre el amor, las mujeres se abrazaron y aprendieron a caminar felices, no enfadadas. La teatrera también hizo que las mujeres gritaran, parte de un ejercicio en el que aprendieron a hablar en voz alta, pero con amabilidad, mirando a los clientes a los ojos, para ganárselos.

Esta formaci√≥n, el est√≠mulo y la organizaci√≥n, han abierto un espacio en el que las mujeres campesinas pueden vender sus hermosos productos en los mercados locales al aire libre, en ciudades peque√Īas como Pelileo, y en las grandes como Ambato.

M√°s tarde, nos dimos cuenta de lo bien que hab√≠a dado resultado la formaci√≥n. Una ma√Īana, antes del amanecer, estaba con Paul y Marcella en el mercado mayorista de Ambato. Es el mercado m√°s grande de Ecuador, un complejo de pabellones con techo, pero sin paredes, donde los camiones cargan y descargan productos. Fernando J√°come, el extensionista, nos hab√≠a tra√≠do hasta aqu√≠, al coraz√≥n del sistema comercial de alimentos del pa√≠s, pero nos dej√≥ un rato con Anita Quille, una de las mujeres l√≠deres de la asociaci√≥n. Cuando un funcionario local se acerc√≥ a preguntarnos por qu√© est√°bamos all√≠ con una c√°mara grande, do√Īa Anita se adelant√≥ y le mir√≥ a los ojos. Habl√≥ con suavidad, pero con firmeza, con un tono de voz seguro de s√≠ misma, explicando qui√©nes √©ramos, y que est√°bamos all√≠ haciendo un video sobre los agricultores locales, y los mercados.

Toda la organización, el entrenamiento y las clases de actuación sobre asertividad habían dado sus frutos.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Vea el video

Creando ferias agroecológicas


Gracias a Fernando Jácome y Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog.

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