The Amazon, justifiably referred to as the “Lungs of the Earth,” is responsible for 20% of the world’s oxygen, home to 47 million people (including more than 2 million indigenous people), and home to an estimated 10% of known species on earth.
In spite of its significance, more than 185 million acres of the Amazon Rainforest were lost between 1978 and 2020, mainly due to agriculture and cattle ranching. This extreme deforestation is a leading cause of climate change and ALIADOS is dedicated to stopping it.
Founded in 2018, ALIADOS is an Ecuador-based nonprofit connecting small and indigenous farmers to responsible markets. By supporting these farmers to implement regenerative agriculture in the Amazon and Andes regions of South America, ALIADOS strengthens local leadership, bolsters livelihoods, and protects vulnerable ecosystems. We connected with the Executive Director of ALIADOS, Wain Collen, to learn more about their work and the goals they have in mind for the upcoming year.
How does ALIADOS help create tailored solutions for the different agricultural regions with which it works?
Wain: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address complex rural development problems. At ALIADOS, we apply a systematic learning-through-doing approach and prioritize relationships with our community and farming partners. We co-create work objectives and adapt together. Local people are best equipped to solve local problems, and our role at ALIADOS is to provide local people with better access to the tools and resources they need to pursue their own aspirations.
What are some of the critical differences between farming in a tropical rainforest and a cloud forest?
Wain: Firstly, the type of family and culture is different. In the lower Amazon, ALIADOS works with Kichwa families, and in the Andes-Amazon cloud forest, we work with Mestizo families. The Kichwa are an indigenous group who has lived in the Amazon for generations. They practice traditional agroforestry farming, known as the chakra system. Crops include jungle peanuts, manioc, banana, guayusa, and many others in this diverse naturally organic farming system. The chakra system is ecologically resilient, but productivity can be lower because its traditional purpose is subsistence, and aggregating smaller volumes of production between many families can be challenging.
In the cloud forest, the Mestizo families arrived mainly during the agricultural reform in Ecuador in the 1960s seeking economic opportunities from farming. Mestizo families do not live in community structures and their farming systems are more tailored to market opportunities like cattle and chicken, although they often still struggle to make a meaningful livelihood from farming as their production volumes are still quite small.
Another important difference is in the soil: The soils of the lower tropical forest are old, washed soils of low fertility. In the cloud forests, we find soils of medium fertility.
Why is it so important to support women working in the agricultural industry?
Wain: In our experience, it is usually indigenous women who work on the farms and men often seek paid work outside the community. Women are in charge of making sure that farms are productive and that there is food on the table at the end of the day. These women literally are on the frontlines of land-use change in the Amazon.
Given this, it is essential that women get all the support they need to make their farms productive and sustainable. In terms of enterprise leadership, rural women have often invested more time in their education and given the chance, make responsible and inspiring leaders. We make every effort to ensure that women are given equal opportunity to participate in the ALIADOS training and incubation programs.
How does regenerative agriculture help mitigate climate change and improve people’s lives in the Amazon?
Wain: Industrial-era agriculture and food have become a major source of gas emissions tied to global warming and other forms of environmental decline. One of the best long-term solutions to re-stabilizing food production lies in ecological restoration, particularly by better managing and rehabilitating what ultimately brought forth terrestrial life on earth: the “soil carbon sponge.” Today, the soil’s contribution to the terrestrial-atmospheric carbon cycle—building on a balance of carbon inputs through photosynthesis and outputs through plant and animal respiration—is a fundamental feature of life and renewal.
Alternative agriculture and food offer a largely untapped opportunity to reduce emissions, while increasing carbon sequestration.
How many farmers have you reached to date? How many are you hoping to reach within the next 3 years?
Wain: Our work has benefitted close to 3,000 farming families in the Amazon, Andes, and cloud forest. Over the next three years, our primary goal is to deepen our impact with farmers who we are already working with to drive systems change at the landscape level. So, although the number of families who benefit from our work is important, we are currently developing more sophisticated indicators to measure change and impact at depth, not just breadth. That said, we do expect that over the next three years, our work will reach another 1,000-2,000 families.
What are some of the biggest challenges you anticipate in continuing to help farmers scale and bring products to market?
Wain: I’d say that over the next three years, the main challenges are helping community enterprises maintain product quality and volumes to meet client requirements consistently. This requires strengthening local business management and food processing capacity and infrastructure.
Please share a story or two about an ALIADOS project and how it made a meaningful difference in a farmer’s life.
Wain: When ALIADOS arrived in San José de Minas with the goal to support farmers in overcoming the mancha morada plague, Daniel Valle was first in line to offer his farm as a demonstration plot. Daniel is the definition of a pioneer farmer who lives in the beautiful, secluded Andean town of San José de Minas, where he has farmed a variety of crops, including avocado, grains, and corn. However, it is organic goldenberry that has been his focus for the last four years because it had been very profitable until the plague.
Daniel has incorporated new forms of organic fertilizer and pest management into his goldenberry and has implemented new farming methods to combat the plague. Now Daniel’s curious and hard-working nature is starting to pay off–his latest goldenberry crop has yields that are 50% higher than last year. He is also an inspiration to other farmers, who are eagerly applying his learnings to their crops in the hopes of having the same results.
Another farmer we work with, Glenda Andy, is a long-time member of the Ally Guayusa Farmer Association and is perhaps the jolliest of the lot! Always laughing and smiling, she will offer you a cup of lemongrass tea, hibiscus ice cream, or a handful of candied peanuts as soon as you walk in the front door–all made by hand.
Glenda has a passion for trying new things, a trait that comes in handy as the Head of Processing for the association. Through trial and error, Glenda and the team produced six unique batches of lemongrass tea in order to satisfy two different customers’ needs. As soon as the first order came through, Glenda recognized the growing opportunity and took it upon herself to expand her lemongrass parcel from 20 to 100 plants.
How can people help support ALIADOS and its mission?
Wain: As a nonprofit, we rely on institutional grants and donations to support our work. We are grateful for any support, and anyone can donate through our website.
If you’re an organization and would like to learn more about our work or discuss a potential collaboration, please reach out to email@example.com.