CHANHASSEN, Minnesota — After severe economic troubles in the 1990s, food insecurity became a serious issue for citizens of Quito, Ecuador. Recognizing the need for organized farming in a growing city, the Metropolitan District Municipality of Quito established the Participatory Urban Agriculture Program (AGRUPAR) in 2002. AGRUPAR uplifts vulnerable groups and imparts the skills and knowledge they need to support themselves. The program’s emphasis on agricultural skills and entrepreneurship fosters economic independence, food security, social justice and sustainable practices through urban agriculture in Quito.
Origins of AGRUPAR
From 1980 to 2000, immigration from nearby countries and rural areas nearly doubled Quito’s population. In 2000, approximately 1.4 million people lived in Quito, yet almost 50% of the city’s residents were living in poverty. Subsistence farming became common as individuals attempted to cultivate their own food sources. However, many people still faced challenges associated with overpopulation and food insecurity.
In response, Quito’s government ratified the landmark Quito Declaration in 2000. The Declaration affirmed the government’s commitment to supporting urban agriculture in Quito. It accomplished this through the development of sustainable food programming, establishing the groundwork for AGRUPAR.
How AGRUPAR Helps Citizens of Quito
AGRUPAR was officially formed in 2002. It continues its operations under Quito’s Agency for Economic Promotion, ConQuito, to advance food security and socio-economic development through urban agriculture in Quito. The program aims to support historically marginalized groups such as women and refugees. It also works to support unemployed, elderly, disabled and indigenous persons. AGRUPAR’s projects support and empower these individuals through education in both agricultural and economic practices in an urban environment.
AGRUPAR’s initiatives center on four objectives: food production, market-oriented farming, environmental protection and consumer habits. The program provides resources such as seeds and livestock while also holding training sessions. This allows families and communities to form their own sustainable gardens. AGRUPAR also connects farmers to investors. It teaches them business skills such as accounting and marketing for the sale of surplus food.
As for distribution and consumption, AGRUPAR encourages participants to sell produce at farmers’ markets. This allows farmers to earn a profit while consumers can obtain healthy, organic foods. AGRUPAR facilitates this producer-consumer relationship by organizing bioferias (markets for organic products), which occur 15 times per week or biweekly. This initiative has had incredible success in connecting lower-income neighborhoods with affordable produce.
Since its inception, AGRUPAR has joined several international organizations such as RUAF and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. It has played a large role in initiating food security policies. The Quito Agri-Food Pact and the Quito Resilience Strategy and Vision 2040 both address the need for sustainable food systems and the importance of urban agriculture in Quito.
A Lasting Impact
The effectiveness of AGRUPAR’s initiatives is astounding. In an interview with The Borgen Project, program coordinator Alexandra Rodriguez reported that the urban gardens produce more than 1,350,000 kilograms of organic food per year. Participants generally consume 57% of this amount, but 43% of food products grown are sold, providing an extra economic benefit.
The program also promotes gender equality in Quito. Rodriguez stated that 84% of participants are women. The program provides a space where they can feel empowered and can improve their and their families’ conditions through agriculture and microentrepreneurship.
“The benefits for women extend far beyond agriculture,” Rodriguez said. “They acquire new knowledge and skills, extend their social networks, have more access and control over economic resources and more influence over the decision-making at home… They have the capacity to be active agents in their lives and to transform themselves, their families and their communities.”
Along with obtaining stable sources of nutritious food, participants of AGRUPAR gain a deeper understanding of food systems as a whole. Rodriguez emphasized the importance of developing a “sensitivity to better understand the processes that make food arrive at the table” as well as an understanding of the value of recycling materials, nutrition, healthy diets and relationships with other farmers.
As of 2018, AGRUPAR supported 4,500 farmers each year. The program helped more than 73,000 city residents while indirectly benefiting another 114,000 through its initiatives. AGRUPAR established almost 3,700 urban gardens for families and groups throughout the city.
Like many activities, AGRUPAR’s functions were greatly affected by the pandemic. Due to the risks of in-person functions, AGRUPAR hosted virtual agricultural skills workshops and provided technical assistance to farmers remotely. However, Rodriguez described the communication challenges as many participants did not possess adequate technology. This prevents interactions until in-person training could safely resume.
The biggest obstacle presented by COVID-19 was the closure of bioferias, which limited the sale and purchase of fresh produce. Fortunately, AGRUPAR formulated new strategies for farmers to sell their goods by “focusing more on the neighborhood scale” as “networks of urban farmers managed to overcome mobilization problems [through]home delivery of baskets.”
“The food generated and not commercialized through the regular channel of bioferias has played a fundamental role in the supply of food at the family and neighborhood scale, especially in vulnerable sectors that do not have a market or supermarket nearby to purchase food,” Rodriguez said. Bioferias have reopened at a limited scale as of April 2021.
Additionally, AGRUPAR faces challenges in retaining support from the government. Elections and government changes put the political priority of AGRUPAR at risk; however, budget reductions have led to partnerships with NGOs for more stable financing. Despite these obstacles, AGRUPAR continues to advocate for sustainable food policy, land ordinances and the longevity of urban agriculture in Quito.
The Future of AGRUPAR
With the success of the program thus far, program administrators believe that the AGRUPAR model could be implemented in other cities struggling with food insecurity. An urban agriculture program could provide countless social and economic benefits while also stimulating empowerment and responsible agricultural practices.
Though still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, AGRUPAR remains committed to sustaining urban agriculture in Quito and incorporating food strategies into city policy. The program’s emphasis on resilience, nutrition and equity makes AGRUPAR an innovative and essential resource for the citizens of Quito.
– Sarah Stolar