Poor soils, pests, and seasonal rains made it hard for Ramón Alcívar to grow his crops in Ambuqui, a village in the semi-arid highlands of northern Ecuador. Like many struggling farmers in the area, he drenched his crops with chemical fertilizers and pesticides to try to increase the productivity of his farm. The chemical inputs were expensive and helped a little in the short term while actually undermining the soils fertility for future planting seasons. Beyond that, Ramón had no way to deal with the increasingly erratic seasonal rains where he lived; Ambuqui and many other villages in Ibarra Province receive just 24 inches of rainfall annually, and most of this falls during a three-month wet season, with little to no rainfall during the nine months that follow.
After many years suffering at the mercy of the elements, Ramón decided he wanted to do things differently. He went looking for change, and his search brought him to a Farmer Field School sponsored by EkoRural, Groundswell’s partner in Ecuador, where he learned water harvesting and irrigation from another farmer who had implemented a water management system under similar conditions. Ramón has since implemented his own water management plan, which included increasing his water harvesting capacity using innovative, low-cost techniques. Once connected to a highly efficient drip irrigation system, the precious water he was saving allowed him to grow more mangoes and vegetables well into what other farmers considered the dry season.
Ramón’s mangoes are now the best around, easily distinguished from those produced using conventional methods. He receives a higher price than other farmers and always sells everything he brings to market. Ramón and his family also have a large vegetable garden that produces healthy food and saves them money throughout the year.
In addition to learning to utilize water management techniques to improve his farm’s productivity and extend his growing season, with EkoRural’s help, Ramón has learned to use organic manures as fertilizers, intercropping methods, and natural systems for pest management. He has slowly been improving his degraded land and soil, increasing productivity, and diversifying his crops. Combining all these techniques allows Ramón to produce at least some crops year-round, even during the worst stretch of the dry season.
Ramón has become an inspiration for many farmers in his region and throughout Ecuador. People come from far away to see his farm, which in many respects is an oasis in the desert.