Guest post by Iván M. García, FUNDER Executive Director in Ecuador.
Ecuador is a rich country, full of poor people.
With a surface area of 260,000 km2 and more than 16,000,000 inhabitants, Ecuador is a country with a wide variety and abundance of natural resources: thousands of hectares of land dedicated or available for agricultural activity (it is the first exporting country in bananas worldwide), access to the sea for fishing, large reserves of oil and minerals for exploitation, and abundant and varied scenic and artistic attractions for tourism. Despite its abundant resources, more than 30% of Ecuador’s population lives below the poverty line. And in the rural and more remote areas, these indicators are even more dramatic.
Faced with this situation, the Ecuadorian population has developed different survival strategies. Despite the informal economy, which allows some level of accumulation, emigration has increased. In the last 20 years 250,000 Ecuadorians have left the country. In Europe it is estimated that there are almost 700,000 Ecuadorians – mainly in Spain and Italy. Remittances from emigrants in 2016 reached 2,600 million dollars, becoming the second source of income for the country after oil.
Many are the people who leave in search of a better life. Others stay. The Ecuadorian Populorum Progressio Fund (FEPP), a non-profit organization founded in 1970, puts its efforts and resources at the disposal of peasant, indigenous, and Afro-Ecuadorian groups that want to improve their living conditions in the country. The FEPP is present in 20 of the 22 provinces of Ecuador and, with more than 500 technicians and promoters, they support about 140,000 rural families, grouped into 2,000 grassroots organizations.
Community Tourism, a model beyond responsible tourism
Ecuador is one of the eight countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world and the greatest biological diversity in South America. The general wealth of our country in animal and plant biodiversity, landscapes, culture and art, and its great ethnic and cultural diversity are some of its most attractive characteristics for a growing tourist market.
However, the traditional tourism model benefits the large and medium-sized operators that are becoming specialized in a specific market niche: alternative and experiences-based tourism.
At FEPP and FUNDER we know that beyond the high potential for economic benefits of the alternative tourism niche, this market offers us the opportunity to promote a responsible and alternative community-based tourism model, with the capacity to create wealth in the rural sector while respecting the environmental resources and the cultural heritage of local communities.
With our dynamic and comprehensive proposal for rural development, focused on the human person (man and woman), considered not in isolation but as part of a family and a community, or any other form of collective organization, it is possible to promote a model of responsible and community-based tourism.
At FEPP, we have had the opportunity to work with several of the many rural organizations with a tourist focus that provide services that include food and lodging to domestic and foreign tourists using private homes or larger structures (eco-friendly hotels, mountain huts, cabins, restaurants and dining rooms, etc.), offering local guides and their animals for the transport of tourists and their luggage, building small, local archaeological, ethnographic or historical museums, etc.
We have supported initiatives in several fragile areas of the country, like in Mindo, in the Yasuní National Park and in the Cuyabeno Faunistic Protection Reserve in San Clemente-Imbabura. We have focused on developing intensive work with communities that are in the process of improving their life conditions and the dignity of their families, strengthening their community organizations, contributing to the improvement and socioeconomic development of their region, accessing employment opportunities, and guaranteeing the environmental conservation of their area.
In our experience, the promotion of a model of community and responsible tourism does not require large investments in infrastructure. It is necessary to adapt the facilities already owned by the community to make them attractive to visitors and, above all, to take care of the fragile ecosystem that surrounds these communities.
To carry out our development proposal around community tourism, we use several interrelated mechanisms and instruments that are linked to what we identify as a concept of integral development. Some of the key processes that are part of our interventions are: the promotion of local organizational, financial, and productive structures; the development of local capacities; support for complementary and comprehensive production processes; the promotion of rural financial markets; the conservation and management of natural resources; the construction of infrastructure; the enhancement of local culture and knowledge; and of course, the development of responsible, community-based tourism. During our intervention, all these processes are related and developed simultaneously, little by little, without neglecting any of them.
From this point of view, we put three tools into the hands of the indigenous, black, and peasant populations that seek to undertake community tourism projects:
- Credit through our Bank (Bancodesarrollo) to adapt the spaces that will serve for tourism.
- The professional training of tourist guides, the design of tourist packages and the efficient administration of the whole experiential tourism community system, through the Educational Foundation Mons. Cándido Rada FUNDER.
- The sustained technical assistance for the development of the touristic activity, offered by FEPP’s staff.
We are currently developing a training proposal for a community tourism project in Sigchos, in collaboration with our Canadian partner Community Evolution Foundation (CEF), an international non-profit organization that finances and promotes community economic development projects in the area and with whom we have shared a meaningful work partnership in the last two years.
At FEPP, FUNDER and CEF we know that supporting rural people through these sustainable initiatives means protecting our cultures and our natural resources, improving the quality of life of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Ecuador, and helping them achieve more human living conditions.
And we are happy to continue adding successful experiences in the promotion of development models that not only promote prosperity and dignity for the most disadvantaged communities of the country, but also provide them with tools to build a future of their own in their country.
Iván M. García
FUNDER Executive Director