By Nuria Segura
QUITO – Filling the city’s rooftops with vegetable gardens or small chicken-raising operations is one of the things that the city authorities of the Ecuadorian capital are doing to combat poverty and preserve food security.
The initiative was started in 2002 so that lower-income people could grow food at home or even organize with neighbors to create communal gardens, according to the coordinator of Urban Participative Agriculture, or Agrupar, Alexandra Rodriguez.
The project grew and in 2005 it passed into the hands of the municipal development agency, known as Conquito, which is pushing for the creation of more small urban producers who sell what they grow.
“The idea is to generate jobs, as well as improve the incomes and productive activity of small farmers so that they don’t depend on the ... government to subsist,” Rodriguez told Efe.
The project is directed particularly at single mothers, disabled people, the elderly, unemployed youth, alcoholics or recluses, whom Conquito helps with technical assistance, training and micro-loans.
Conquito practices what it preaches, at its downtown headquarters – an old metal shutter factory – and had 500 hectares (1,250 acres) on which the graduates of its courses cultivate assorted vegetables, including tomatoes, lettuce and cauliflower.
“This same garden is a demonstration of what urban agriculture really is. We still find bricks and stones in the subsoil,” Rodriguez said.
A graduate of the garden workshop, Aida Proayo, said that the course is designed to help people “practice organic agriculture without using chemicals or synthetics to create a healthy product.”
So far this year, some 1,900 people have passed through the Conquito classes, and they are also being taught to make jams and jellies or cookies, and even to raise poultry on their rooftops.
Proayo and Diana Duran, another student, sell their products from their homes or at a farmer’s market, where they also offer jam, pureed fruit or salted beans.
Duran learned how to grow food at home to provide healthier meals for her family because, in her opinion, the products one buys at the market “are contaminated.”
Rodriguez said that a person who wants to learn about this activity needs an initial investment of $100 per year for seeds and fertilizer, a sum that one can recover almost immediately.
According to Conquito figures, in just one month, a small producer saves $35 by consuming what he or she grows and earns $65 from the products they sell.
“In this way, they get themselves out of a vulnerable situation with their own hands,” emphasized Rodriguez, who added that one of the other objectives of the project is to improve eating habits.
“According to the World Health Organization, each day a person must consume 460 grams (1 pound) of fruits and vegetables, and in Ecuador they don’t even eat 100 (grams),” she said.
Another of the advantages of urban agriculture, Rodriguez said, is that it fosters better environmental management because it increases the biodiversity within the city, ensuring that it’s “not all asphalt” there.
The production of the urban farmers has been growing gradually and now they not only sell their products at food fairs or to their neighbors, but also to restaurants and supermarkets.
“They have been able to create local brands with their own identity and with the prestige of selling organic products,” Rodriguez emphasized.
Quito has wanted to foster urban gardens as an alternative to the current industrialized ways of life in the big city and now, Rodriguez says, the capital authorities want to expand the initiative to other cities around the country. EFE