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The rural communities of the coast in Ecuador, have suffered from ongoing economic hardship and unsustainable poverty-driven extraction of natural resources. There is a need to generate sustainable, equitable, locally-based economic activities to enhance economic prosperity and preserve valuable natural resources.
Beginning in 2020, with the assistance of funding from the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), we have worked with the communities of Agua Blanca, Ayangue, Libertador Bolívar, and Olón to strengthen the local economies by improving touristic services. These communities are located in and near national reserves and depend heavily on tourism. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdowns hit the coastal communities very hard. We have worked with them to improve the production of artisanal goods, lead workshops focusing on tourist services, nature guide services, and sustainability. Additional projects have included creating a live museum to demonstrate the crafting of artisanal goods, placing interpretive signs, and improving town aesthetics to help draw in more tourists.
Since 2009, Ceiba has worked to offer alternatives and the training needed to pursue them. We began with two local women’s groups, to promote sustainable entrepreneurship and female empowerment in rural communities. In the village of Camarones, one group dedicated themselves to developing a natural soap from the oil extracted from the seed of the local piñon plant (Jatropha curcas). In the nearby town of Tabuga, another cooperative began producing fabric bags to replace plastic, and swiftly branched into production of school uniforms and other clothing, and to provide packaging for coffee and other local products.
The hope is to elevate some members of the community beyond subsistence-based living, maintain a harmonious interaction with the environment, and help women gain some degree of economic independence and opportunity. The production of a traditional soap can help supplant modern commercial soaps that are damaging local waterways, and the re-usable bags aim to reduce pollution of the land and ocean by plastic bags. The products can also provide a source of revenue through sale to tourists, and distribution to local shops and hotels.