“Due to the health emergency that we are experiencing, the State must take measures to suspend the payment of credits, not only for agricultural activity but for all economic activities in Ecuador,” Leónidas Iza, here during a conversation in Loja. (Diego Vaca / MICC Communication)
FROM THE EDITORS: In the face of the pandemic, indigenous peoples and nationalities strive to maintain food production, essential for collective survival, to defend their food sovereignty, while taking care of the equilibrium of Mother Earth. Governments must listen, attend and contribute to this fundamental task.
Originally published by: La Línea de Fuego, Ecuador.
Leónidas Iza Salazar, president of the Cotopaxi Indigenous and Peasant Movement, talks about the health emergency in indigenoues and peasant communities, the role of the State regarding agricultural production, and the importance of suspending debt payments for all citizens.
The health crisis caused by COVID19 also affects farmers in Ecuador. Leónidas Iza Salazar is especially concerned about food price market speculation. “That is why we are asking the government to install a health emergency fund,” indicates the president of the Cotopaxi Indigenous and Peasant Movement (MICC). According to Iza, this would facilitate the arrival of provisions for people who have the least, regardless of their location in the country.
How is coronavirus affecting indigenous communities?
Coronavirus affects our communities in three fundamental ways. First, rural, indigenous, and peasant communities do not have coverage from the public health system. On many occasions we cannot cure even a common flu or an infection. For this reason we have strengthened our internal system of ancestral health, we have ancestral doctors. However, there are complicated diseases such as the coronavirus.
Why do you consider coronavirus particularly complicated?
Because if there were an outbreak in our communities, this would provoke a collective panic, since our practice in all activities is carried out collectively, jointly. For this reason, the prevention mechanism promoted by the World Health Organization and the Ecuadorian State has received our support. We have decided to stay in rural areas, on the field, in the farm, to avoid generating a contagion.
What are the two other issue affecting your communities?
The second aspect is the economic issue which has affected us a lot, because we cannot move farm products to large cities. Until now there is no mechanism from the State to resolve the transfer of products. And the third point is that many members of our communities are not working in the fields, but work in big cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. Currently, there is no medical evaluation mechanism so that they can enter their communities.
The markets that provide basic necessities for the rest of the population remain open. How is it being marketed from the countryside to the city?
Cities depend on the supply of agricultural products from the countryside. We have ratified the decision to stay in the fields and on the farms because we need to guarantee agricultural production. But there must be a program, a public policy to face this crisis. For this we propose: those who have salaries from the State or from private activities will be able to contain this emergency and will be able to purchase produce. But there are families who live day by day, from informal commerce, from daily sales, from piecework. None of the policies or programs at the national level are designed for this sector, which includes approximately one million people.
Do you have a proposal to counteract this situation?
The ecuadorian state should purchase produce directly from the peasants.
How would that work?
Through a health emergency fund. The State should buy the production of goods from the peasants directly and transfer the produce for free to the sector of the population that will not be able to buy them. For example, families who live day by day. We believe that this emergency fund in the next two months would not exceed one hundred to one hundred and fifty million, which would guarantee the direct purchase from the peasants and the transfer of produce to the cities. This would allow production in the field ro continue, at low prices. In fact, we have already lowered our prices, but intermediaries have not. And right there is where speculation is born.
This measure would help the farmers to survive, but what about the farm debts that farmers must pay?
Beyond making banking regulations more flexible, it is absolutely necessary right now to suspend debt payments. Many farmers depend on them. Due to the health emergency that we are experiencing, the State must take measures to suspend debt payments, not only for agricultural activity but for all economic activities in Ecuador: be they from private or public banks, cooperatives and credit unions. Even communal banks must suspend the collection of monthly credits. With this we could give people peace of mind that they can continue to carry on with their economic activities to support their families and the agricultural production of the country.
What do you suggest we do in the face of the growing pandemia in Ecuador?
It is important we return to the principles of peoples such as solidarity, reciprocity, randi randi, because we all need each other.
Self-isolation inside homes is necessary to overcome this crisis. If we do not succeed, this will represent the shortage of agricultural products everywhere. For this reason, rural production needs to be further strengthened. We make an appeal to the Ecuadorian State because it has been demonstrated globally that the only thing that can sustain in this type of crisis is agricultural production. It’s not right for the National Government to only guarantee the profit of big food companies, while small farmers cannot bring our products into the city.
Text: Patricia Yallico
Collaboration: Mayra Caiza y Emilio Bermeo
English translation: Awasqa.org
A collaborative work between: