In the Napo province of Ecuador, the Kichwa people have been cultivating naranjilla—a citrus fruit that looks like a tomato but tastes like a blend of lime and rhubarb—and selling it informally in markets across the country for many years. In fact, naranjilla production has been the primary cash crop for indigenous Kichwa communities in the Hatun Sumaco parish.
Unfortunately, naranjilla has also been the primary driver of deforestation in the area. Without direct access to markets, the Kichwa have traditionally sold their harvests to middlemen, who promoted dangerous quantities of highly toxic, red-listed pesticides to stimulate short-term production increases and then deducted the cost of the pesticides from the farmers’ profits. This mode of production depleted soils, forcing farmers to clear more forest for crops; it kept farmers entrenched in a cycle of poverty; and adversely impacted public health by contaminating local ecosystems with high levels of residual pesticides that have been linked to suicides and illness.
That’s why the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Landscapes team worked with Kichwa communities to implement a long-term forest conservation strategy to cultivate naranjilla using methods that protect the nearby forest; we also worked to connect them to government programs and buyers. This approach strengthens opportunities for communities to earn a sustainable living from the forest and defines a powerful incentive for defending it. This strategy was developed as part the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon (ICAA), a long-term regional program created by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that has brought together more than 30 local and international partner organizations for the conservation of the Amazon biome in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
“We are reforesting and restoring the land so that our grandchildren and our children have a future,” says Claudio Shiguango, president of ASOCOSAKAWA, an organization of young leaders helping the community to implement its vision for conserving the forest.