Sustainable Livelihood Development in the Andes: Local Institutions and Regional Resource Use in Ecuador

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Poverty alleviation has not been achieved through rural development efforts in the Andean region of South America. The social and environmental crisis can be addressed by engaging the rural poor with their considerable skills in resource management in the development effort. Efforts need to be coordinated both within and outside the immediate peasant situation. For example, the origins of the biased spatial organization of resource use, (the best lands are dominated by large farmers and more fragile lands are in the hands of small farmers) need to be addressed in any viable strategy of sustainable development. Obstacles need to be overcome at the field, farm, community, region, and national level in technological, institutional, political, and economic ways. This article focuses on the regional and institutional level and technology as instrumental to change at the local level. The structure of the discussion centered on the main ideas of "sustainable thinking," the application of this thinking within a case study in Chimborazo conducted from 1988 to the present in the Ecuadoran Andes, and a description of how resource use has changed over time within the context of regional economic, social, and demographic change. There is an analysis of how peasants have struggled to sustain their social systems through changes in resource and labor use systems. Future efforts might be better coordinated based on the unsuccessful experiences exposed in the case study. The article further develops the ideas proposed by Gow on sustainable use of the land and the need for political commitment, institutional strengthening, improved local organization, environmental education, and economic development. Peasants constructed their own ideas about desirable livelihoods. This thinking led to the attacks on the hacienda as a way of coping with integration into the national economy. The peasant federations were not changing the basic structures underlying this incorporation. The local level could only do so much toward changing regional and national political strategies. These federations need support, because they are part of a weak and limited process of dealing with underdevelopment.

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Development Policy Review

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