UN-backed scheme boosts income, nutrition of poor Ecuadorian farmers

3 September 2009

Poor families in central Ecuador have received a boost in their income and food security thanks to an innovative initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in which they farm guinea pigs, a centuries-old delicacy for the people of the Andes.

Poor families in central Ecuador have received a boost in their income and food security thanks to an innovative initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in which they farm guinea pigs, a centuries-old delicacy for the people of the Andes.

The Cevallos district, where most people live off the land farming fruit, has been hit hard by the continuously falling ash from the nearby Tungurahua volcano which has destroyed crops and ruined the soil.

For the past three years, over 100 families have banded together to modernize the production of guinea pigs, in a move backed by UNDP.

“Raising small livestock can also be a very profitable business, especially for small farmers,” said Jeannette Fernandez, the agency’s director for risk management in Ecuador.

Farming guinea pigs has not only generated jobs for vulnerable groups such as women and disabled groups, but the animals – which have high nutritional value – also serve to significantly improve people’s everyday diets, she added.

Since 20 per cent of guinea pigs eaten in Ecuador are imported, raising them domestically has high-growth potential.

But 70 per cent of all guinea pig production in the country is in the hands of small and medium-sized farmers, most of whom lack the technology and resources needed to meet growing demand.

UNDP is supplying part of the seed money, with 22 producers’ associations set up to improve the genetic quality of livestock, properly handle and feed animals and market the guinea pigs to consumers.

“The guinea pigs develop better [and] I’ve seen the difference in just one month,” said Soledad Bayas, who runs one of the pilot operations. “Now even their weight has completely changed thanks to the improved way we are raising them.”

 

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