For centuries Afro-descended communities made their living in Ecuador’s Chocó forest, located in one of the top ten biodiversity hotspots in the world. But in the 1990s, new road construction increased the vulnerability of communal lands to the sometimes violent effects of logging, shrimp farming and intensive palm oil cultivation. These developments had a profound impact upon the everyday economic well-being of community members, yet some have persevered and continue to aspire to earn a living through agriculture.
This project aimed to further enhance the structures of communal governance in San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas, Ecuador, as a means to strengthen sustainable livelihoods for community members. In so doing, it supported the initiatives of villagers working on communally-held land to earn a living in areas where they have historically resided but that now offer few employment opportunities and face considerable external pressures. Employing a participatory-based approach, the project worked directly with village leadership and governance committees to strengthen them, to address community divisions, to reverse the sale of community-based territory, and to enable agriculturally-based solutions.
Developed in close consultation with Afro-Ecuadorian communities themselves, and drawing on more than six years of participatory action research – including the work of AU international development graduate students – this project combined surveys, interviews, focus groups, and mapping techniques, to develop needs assessments and viable strategies to address communal village needs, giving particular attention to the potential of cacao cultivation. In addition to strengthening community capacity building, it offered training and micro-credit options to community members to support their sustainable goals.