Extractive activities in northwestern Ecuador

Material Information

Extractive activities in northwestern Ecuador the case of the Commune Río Santiago-Cayapas
Argüello Argüello, María, 1966-
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xiv, 154 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Ivory-nut -- Economic aspects -- Case studies -- Ecuador ( lcsh )
Latin American Studies thesis M.A
Dissertations, Academic -- Latin American Studies -- UF
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 1995.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 147-153)
General Note:
General Note:
Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
Statement of Responsibility:
by María Argüello Argüello.

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33838923 ( OCLC )
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To my beloved family, Dora, Angel, Augusto, Vicenta,

Patricia, Erlinda, Elena, John and Luis


I am very thankful with the people from the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas and will always be indebted for their

willingness to participate in this research, for their

patience to answer my never ending surveys and for their

generosity to share their experiences and home with me.

Without their help this study would not have been possible.

I would like to express my profound gratitude to Dr.

Marianne Schmink, chairperson of my supervisory committee,

who provided substantial contributions to the design of the

study and the preparation of this thesis. Her critical

reading and thoughtful comments improved the quality of my

work. Dr. Peter Hildebrand patiently taught me how to unveil

the mysteries behind Linear Programming. Dr. Richard Bodmer

provided encouragement and stimulating comments.

I gratefully acknowledge the support of the US Agency

for International Development (USAID), the Tropical

Conservation and Development Program (TCD), Fundaci6n para

la Investigaci6n y Desarrollo Socio-ambiental (CIDESA) and

Fundaci6n Ecuatoriana de Estudios Ecol6gicos (EcoCiencia)

that made this study possible.

I also wish to express my gratitude to the US Agency

for International Development for the grants that allowed my


enrollment in the Graduate School of the University of


I must also thank Rodrigo Calero from CIDESA and Luis

Suarez from EcoCiencia who provided interesting comments and

suggestions for the design of this research. Sincere thanks

also go to Holly Payne who reviewed the English version of

this thesis.

I would like to thank all my friends whose love has

been a source of joy and support during this project and my

studies, especially Galo Medina, Luis Suarez, Lorena Pastor,

Consuelo Fernandez, Holly Payne, Michael and Gabriela

Valqui, Cristina Dockx and Cristina Espinoza.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . .... .. iii

LIST OF TABLES. . . . ... .. .viii

LIST OF FIGURES . . .. . .. x

ABSTRACT. . . . . ... . xi

1 INTRODUCTION . . . . 1

Theorethical Background . . 6
Extractive Activities in the Ecuadorian
Context . . . . 12
Political Ecology of the Region . .. 15
Tagua Initiative Project . . .. 20

Location of Study Site . ...... 23
Socioeconomic Description of The Commune Rio
Santiago Cayapas . . ... .. 23
Biophysical Description of Commune Rio
Santiago Cayapas . . ... 27
Hydrology . . . ... 27
Climate . . . ... 27
Soils . . . . 28
Vegetation . . . 29
Research Design . . .... 31
The survey .............. 32
Focus group discussions ....... 33
In-depth interviews . ... 33
Markets . ........... 35
Linear programming . . ... 35

Introduction . . . ... 36
Population Structure . . .. 38
Land Uses . . . . 40
Household Activities . . . 42
Age and Gender Roles in Household
Activities . . ... 47
Income from Economic Activities . .. 49
Expenditures . . . ... 53

Dynamics of Household Activities . 56
Spatial and temporal patterns in
household activities . ... 56
Seasonality of gender roles in household
activities . 61
Comparison among four Case Studies with
Different Ecological Settings and
Access to Market .. .. 62
Cayapas River Basin ...... .... 62
Santiago River Basin . . 64
A Comparison of Typical Farms in the
four Villages Studied ........ 66
Conclusion . . . . 71

Introduction . . . .... 79
Local Market ..... . .. 80
Non-timber Forest Products Extracted in the
Region ............ .. 80
Vegetable ivory: Phytelephas
aequatorialis . . 80
Rubber: Castilla elastica . 88
Palm heart: Euterpe chaunostachys 91
Markets for Potential Extraction of other
NTFPs . . .. . 93
Conclusion .. .... . ... 96

Introduction ............ .. 100
Linear Programming ............ 100
Characterization of one "Tagua Extractor"
Small Farm in the Commune Rio Santiago
Cayapas: The Mina Family . . 102
Linear Programming Simulation of The Mina
Family's Farm .. . 105
Alternatives for Improving the Family's
Revenue . . 111
Non-timber forest products extraction
(focus on tagua) . 111
Agroforestry production (focus on
cacao) . .... 112
Linear Programming to Test Alternatives for
Improving Mina Family's Income .. 112
Linear Programming for the Mina Family
with a Long Term Management of Timber 114
Conclusion ..... . 123


QUESTIONNAIRE . . . .. 129

REFERENCE LIST . . . . 147



Table Page

1 Background Information of the
Heads-of-household. . . . ... 38

2.1 Demographic Information of Sample Population. . .

2.2 Characteristics of the Households Interviewed. 40

3 Land Distribution and Uses ..... .. 42

4 Household Activities. ............ 44

5 Fruit Tree Species in Agroforestry Systems and Home
Gardens. .......... .. ... 45

6 Age and Gender Roles by Activities . 48

7.1 Income Distribution per Household .. . 50

7.2 Income Distribution per Activity .. . 50

8 Tree Species Exploited for Timber. .. 51

9 Expenditures per Household per Category . 55

10 Comparison of 4 Household Economies Regarding.
Different Ecological Settings and Access
to Market. . . . .. 69

11 Linear Programming for Mina family's Farm (with
family labor). . . . 107

12 Linear Programming for Mina Family's Farm (with
"prestamanos"). . . . 110

13 Linear Programming for Mina Family's Farm (with
fertilizer and running for cacao) . .. 110

14 Linear Programming for Mina Family's Farm
(testing TI) .......... .... ... 113

15 Linear Programming for Mina Family's Farm (with
fertilizer and running for cacao and TI) ... 113


16 Net present value (NPV) of the total income stream
generated in the four systems over a period
of 40 years with different rates of timber
depletion. . . . .. . 122

Figure Page

1 Location of the study site . . ... 25

2 Activities Calendar . . . .. 58

3 Tagua Export from Ecuador 1925-1992 . .. 85

4 Income stream, for selected years and various timber
extraction rates with a 40 year timber growth cycle;
with "prestamanos" . . . . 116

5 Income stream, for selected years and various timber
extraction rates with 40 years timber growth cycle.
Fertilizer and pruning for cacao . ... 117

6 Income stream, for selected years and various timber
extraction rates with 40 year timber growth cycle.
Tagua Initiative approach. . . ... 119

7 Income stream, for selected years and various
timber extraction rates with 40 year timber growth
cycle. Fertilizer and pruning for cacao and Tagua
Initiative approach. .... . . 120

Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts



Maria Arguello Arguello

August 1995

Chairperson: Marianne Schmink
Major Department: Center for Latin American Studies

Extraction of many non-timber forest products (NTFPs)

from tropical rain forests has been recognized as a

promising alternative to deforestation. This study

evaluates the validity of extractivism as a development and

conservation strategy in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas

through a comprehensive understanding of the extractive

economies at the community and household levels and the role

that non-timber forest product extraction plays in these


Since 1990, the Commune Rio Santiago Cayapas has been

involved in the Tagua Initiative (TI) project. The

underlying assumption of this project is that an increment

in the income derived from the extraction of "tagua" or

vegetable ivory, the palm nut of Phytelephas aequatorialis,

through an improvement in the terms of trade, will encourage

people to maintain forests.

There are three NTFPs that are sold to obtain cash

income: vegetable ivory, rubber Castilla elastic and palm

hearts, Euterpe chaunostachys. Together they represent 13

percent of the community's income. Among these, the

gathering of vegetable ivory was the.most important one,

generating 12.5 percent of income. At the community level

extraction of tagua was the third most important income

generating activity while at the household level it occupied

the eighth place among all activities. Palm hearts were the

only product extracted from natural forests while the others

were obtained from agroforestry plots. Variation of the

economic importance of extractive activities was related to

the availability of other types of more profitable

activities, to the distance of the villages to the main

market, to the history of the settlement, to the

specialization in resource use and to the abundance of


Market conditions have favored extraction of vegetable

ivory. The commercialization for the rest of NTFPs has been

very constrained by lack of markets or by competition. The

behavior of a tagua extractor's farm model simulated through

Linear Programming (LP) has shown that extraction of

vegetable ivory is not the best alternative for forest

dwellers in this region to avoid timber extraction.


Resumen de Tesis para la Escuela de Postgrado de la
Universidad de Florida en Cumplimiento Parcial de los
Requisitos para el Grado de Maestria de Artes



Maria Arguello Arguello

Agosto 1995

Chairperson: Marianne Schmink
Departamento: Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos

La extracci6n de products forestales no maderables

(PFNMs) ha sido identificada como una alternative

prometedora para evitar la deforestaci6n. Esta

investigaci6n evalta la validez de la extracci6n como una

estrategia para el desarrollo y la conservaci6n en la Comuna

Rio Santiago-Cayapas, a trav6s del studio integral de las

economias extractivas a nivel de la communidad y del

hogar. La Comuna Rio Santiago-Cayapas ha estado

involucrada en el proyecto Iniciativa Tagua desde 1990. La

idea bAsica de este proyecto consiste en que un incremento

en el ingreso obtenido por la extracci6n de "tagua" o marfil

vegetal (el fruto de la palma Phytelephas aequatorialis),

mediante una mejora en los terminos de comercio, impulsard a

la gente a mantener sus bosques.


Tres PFNMs eran vendidos por la poblaci6n con el fin de

obtener un ingreso monetario: marfil vegetal, caucho

Castilla elastica y palmito Euterpe chaunostachys, los

cuales conjuntamente representaron el 13 por ciento del

ingreso total comunitario. De 6stos, la recolecci6n de

marfil vegetal fue la actividad que gener6 el mayor

porcentaje del ingreso, el 12.5 por ciento. A nivel

comunitario, la extracci6n de tagua ocup6 tercer puesto en

la generaci6n del ingreso, en cambio, a nivel del hogar se

coloc6 en octavo lugar entire todas las actividades

econ6micas. El palmito fue extraido de bosques naturales

mientras que el caucho y la tagua se obtuvieron de sistemas

agroforestales. La importancia de las actividades

extractivas en la economic de la comunidad y de los hogares,

dependi6 de la existencia de otras alternatives generadoras

de ingresos, de la distancia entire los poblados y los

mercados, de la historic del asentamiento, de la

especializaci6n en el uso de los recursos y de la abundancia

de los mismos. Las condiciones de mercado han favorecido la

extracci6n de marfil vegetal mientras que la

comercializaci6n del resto de PFNMs estuvo restringida por

la falta de mercados o por la competencia con otros

products. La simulaci6n del comportamiento de un modelo de

una finca de un extractivista a trav6s del Programa Lineal

(PL) ha demostrado que la extracci6n de tagua no es la mejor

alternative econ6mica para los moradores de este bosque.



Forest dwellers have traditionally used many forest

products to meet subsistence needs and to supplement income.

The broad range of non-timber forest products (NTFPs)

harvested by local dwellers includes fruits, medicinal

plants, fodder, fuelwood and building and industrial

materials. In conditions of limited access to other

resources, difficulties in trading agricultural products and

poor wage opportunities, local dwellers depend more on

extractive resources for their livelihoods.

Current rates of deforestation driven by economic and

political forces have destroyed resources of global and

local importance. Environmental concern has focused on the

development of strategies that allow forest dwellers to

maintain forest resources as well as to improve their

livelihoods. Extraction of many NTFPs from tropical rain

forests has been recognized as a promising alternative to

deforestation. Extraction activity values standing forests

and may be an economically viable option for avoiding the

conversion of forests.

Because of the enthusiasm created for this approach,

Conservation International (CI), an international NGO, and



CIDESA, an Ecuadorean NGO, launched in 1990, the Tagua

Initiative Project (TI) with the people from the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas, in northwestern Ecuador. The underlying

assumption of this project is that an increment in the

income derived from the extraction of "tagua" or vegetable

ivory, the palm nut of Phytelephas aequatorialis, through an

improvement in the terms of trade, will encourage people to

maintain forests. In addition,. this project tries to

diversify the resource base for extraction in the household


The suitability of extractivism to meet development and

conservation goals has been debated in the last 10 years.

However, lack of research on extraction has impeded a

complete evaluation of this approach. From the controversy

generated about extractivism, it is agreed that the

replicability of this strategy is constrained by ecological,

social and economic factors.

In this study I evaluate the validity of extractivism

as a development and conservation strategy in the Commune

Rio Santiago-Cayapas through a comprehensive understanding

of the extractive economies at community and household

levels. The purpose of this study is to determine if the

goals of this approach, improving living conditions of

forest dwellers while maintaining the forests portrayed in

TI project, have been meet; and to assess the factors that


have impeded these achievements and; the potential of this

strategy in the region.

In chapter 2, I contextualize this research in the

debate on extractivism as an approach for the tropics, in

Ecuador and in the region of the Commune Rio Santiago-

Cayapas. First, I review the controversy about this

strategy. Second, I analyze the history of extractivism in

Ecuador. Then, I describe the political ecology and current

scenario where extractivism has been implemented and the

features of TI. In chapter 3, I provide background

information--social, economic and biophysical--of the

research site and describe the methodology utilized for this


In chapter 4, I characterize the community of tagua

extractors by describing its demographic features, land

uses, subsistence and market oriented activities, gender and

age roles in the household economy, income and expenditures.

In chapter 5, I describe the local and regional market for

NTFPs to determine the current and potential constraints to

develop extraction in the region.

In chapter 6, I test the approach of extractivism in a

linear programming (LP) model built on a local system of

production where extraction takes place: a tagua extractor's

farm. I use LP to compare the present and future behavior

of this system under TI intervention and other promising

land use alternatives.


Finally, in chapter 7, I conclude the study analyzing

the overall approach of extractivism and the viability of

this strategy in the context of the Commune Rio Santiago-




Extractivism has been identified as a promising

alternative to simultaneously promote forest conservation

and rural development. Based on the fact that most forest

dwellers around the tropics have been involved in the

commercial exploitation of NTFPs to earn supplementary

income, this strategy is intended to improve the income

generated from this activity. However, the degree of rural

people's involvement in extraction is as diverse as are the

tropics. Forest dwellers are embedded in a particular

matrix where ecological, social and economic factors are


In this chapter I analyze the debate about the validity

of extractivism as a conservation and development strategy

showing the relevant points to this research. Then, I put

this study in the Ecuadorean context at two levels: first,

at national level, describing the status of the commercial

exploitation of NTFPs in the country. Second, at the local

level, depicting the history of resource use and the most

important driving forces of this process in the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas. Finally, I describe how extractivism is

portrayed in the TI project.

Theoretical Background

Defenders and developers of tropical forests became

aware of the potential of the ancient practice--variably

termed as "NTFP extraction", "extractivism" or extractivee

exploitation"--as a conservation and development strategy

when in the late 1980s the Brazilian government granted the

rubber tapper movement the continuity of their harvest of

forest products in extractivee reserves" (Nepstad and

Schwartzman 1992).

The relevance of NTFP extraction in tropical regions

has been debated by defenders and developers of forests.

However, the lack of basic research has hindered a

systematic evaluation of this strategy (Hecht 1991, Nepstad

and Schwartzman 1992). The gathering of rubber, nuts, palm

fruits, medicinal and fiber plants has been little studied

in comparison with other uses of tropical forests, such as

timber harvest, slash and burn agriculture, permanent

agriculture and pasture production.

Initially, discussions on the economic value of

tropical forest focused mainly on the issue of the economic

viability of sustainable extraction of NTFPs. Some

researchers maintain that extraction generates higher

financial returns than most conventional and destructive

land uses (Anderson 1990, Anderson and loris 1992, Hecht et

al. 1988, Peters et al. 1989a, 1989b, Pinedo-Vasquez et al.

1990, Prance et al. 1987). Others argue that for most

tropical forests, extractive activities require high

economic returns to capital and labor invested, heavily

favoring predatory exploitation (Browder 1992). Still

others maintain that the historical record of extractive

economies shows inviability for persisting over the long

term because of the domestication of forest products and the

development of synthetic substitutes (Homma 1992).

From the controversy around this issue, even the

defenders of extractivism acknowledged the limitations of

this strategy. Extraction as a conservation and development

strategy still may be suitable in certain ecological, social

and economic contexts. The model of extractive reserves

based on the NTFP extraction system emerged in particular

circumstances that may be difficult to find in other

settings. The ecological constraints on extractive

activities are, first, the density at which the desired

species occurs. Density tends to be inversely related to

the diversity of the ecosystem as a whole. When the density

of a given product decreases, the search, travel and

carrying time increases and thus, the overall return from

the product decreases (Charnov 1976). A second factor is

the productivity of edible fruits. In a comparison between

"terra firme" forests and palm-rich swamps, it was found

that wild fruits, as a measure of the relative quantity of

food produced per area, are inferior to all forms of

traditional and commercial agriculture in the neotropics,

with the one clear exception of cattle ranching (Phillips

1993). Substantial food production through extraction is

found mainly in palm-rich swamps and frequently inundated

floodplains where agriculture is difficult or even

impossible (Peters et al. 1989a, 1989b). Only in these

relatively rare forest types, is forest fruit collecting

clearly a productive land use option on an area basis, and

indeed most commercial forest fruit collection for local

markets depends on such forest types (Peters et al. 1989b).

The availability of a forest product throughout the year

limits the maintenance of an extractive system. Ideally it

should be based on a mix of products whose demand and

availability occur throughout the year (Salafsky et al.


Finally, extractive systems are most likely to fail if

harvesting results in killing individuals of a species and

depressing its regeneration rate. In addition, the removal

of a certain product might upset delicate balances in the

ecosystem (Terborgh 1988). Many non-timber products contain

substantial concentrations of limiting nutrients, and over

the long term it is possible that the export of these

nutrients may be unsustainable (Jordan 1985).

Among social factors, a critical problem regarding the

extraction activity is the lack of incentives to maintain

the availability of the resources in the long term. This

lack is mainly related to unclear land rights over resources

that forest dwellers exploit. They are not willing to

conserve forests that they do not own or to which they are

not legally granted access. Local inhabitants extract

forest products mainly from publicly owned forests where

forest products are regarded as open-access resources; thus,

their use often is not governed by formal or even informal

rules (Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop 1975). The market

stimulates overexploitation, so "when a large demand is

generated for a particular fruit, harvesting practices

change" (Vasquez and Gentry 1989, 362). In their private

plots, local inhabitants will probably collect fallen fruits

instead of felling palms. In contrast, fruit for sale will

be collected from state-owned forests where harvesters are

more likely to cut palms (Bodmer and Moya 1990).

The availability of physical infrastructure is also a

major requirement in the extraction activity. Harvesters

need to be able to transport forest products from the source

to consumption or market places. For market-oriented forest

products, a social infrastructure, that is a well-

established chain of middlemen and export companies, is also

required (Padoch 1987, Salafsky 1993). Perhaps the major

constraint for extractive systems is the lack of local and

international markets for non-timber forest products. Even

when a market is established, it could fall sharply due to

synthetics or agricultural substitutes, when demand

originates from fads, or when new sources are introduced in

the market (Pendelton 1992, Salafsky et al. 1993).

Most of the discussion has focused on extractive

activities as an isolated system, overlooking the fact that

there are few rural households that derive their entire cash

income from the extraction of natural forest products. The

extractive approach has failed to recognize the historical

linkage between extractive activities and the other

activities carried out by forest dwellers. Furthermore, the

discussion generated about the constraints to extractivism

reveals that forest dwellers are immersed in a matrix of

ecological, social and economic forces for which they have

developed a localized system of production and that the

importance of extraction changes as these factors vary.

In this sense, extractivism is a specific approach for

a very particular situation. No extraction activity by

itself has allowed forest dwellers to meet all subsistence

needs in the long term. Moreover, many NTFPs are cultivated

rather than collected solely from native forest. In general,

local inhabitants make their living through several

activities such as agriculture, livestock raising, hunting,

fishing and extraction of timber and non-timber forest

products (Hecht et al. 1988, Hiroaka 1992, May 1990).

Therefore the term "extractor" is itself debatable (Hecht

1991). The links between forest extraction and conservation

of natural forests are more complex than what has usually

been assumed.

The roles that native vegetative formations and

extractive products play in the reproduction of rural and

agricultural systems has been neglected until just a few

years ago (Hecht et al. 1988). A major impediment to the

development of a replicable model of extractive systems is

the lack of a single role model of extraction among rural

households (Browder 1992). An incipient body of research is

emerging to understand the multiple arrangements inside the

households and the role that extraction activities place in

it. Some researchers argue that extraction is among the

less remunerative uses of forest land (Browder 1992). In

contrast Hecht et al. (1991) maintain that these activities

are very important to extremely impoverished households in

rural areas of tropical Brazil and that the income generated

by small-scale extraction might be roughly equivalent to

wage labor and to agriculture in its contribution to

household income. Arnold and Falconer (1989) have shown

that forest foods are critical to people, particularly

during lean seasons. Because the forest serves as an

insurance policy to poor people, it yields a value even when

not in use. The lack of comprehension of the diversity of

forms extraction can take has restricted the range of


possible initiatives for conservation and development


This research intends to add more information about the

rural economies involved in extractive activities and the

role that extraction of a variety of NTFPs plays in them. A

better understanding of these economies will provide a more

realistic basis to evaluate the potential of this strategy

in the forest dweller household economies and the possible

changes in the household economy when facing political,

social and economic forces. Therefore this thesis will

serve as an information tool for the development of

strategies that include the conservation of forests

resources and the improvement of living conditions of local


Extractive Activities in the Ecuadorean Context

The commercial exploitation of plants in Ecuador has a

long but not particularly strong tradition. From Colonial

times, there are records of several palm products of

commercial value. Wax from Ceroxylon spp. was used to make

candles, a practice that ended recently. The fruits or

seeds of Iriartea deltoidea were sent to Lima where it was

"a custom to have it embedded in gold, just because of the

beauty of it." Seeds of vegetable ivory, Phytelephas

aequatorialis, were used to make fine figurines, carvings


and saints which are presently very valuable as antiques

(Velasco 1789).

Among indigenous people, forest products were and still

are traded between different tribes. Blowguns made from

Bactris gasipaes and Iriartea deltoidea and blowgun darts

from Maximiliana maripa were traded among Achuar, Shuar-

Canelos and the Shuar Indians (Karsten 1935 cited in

Borgtoft Pedersen and Balslev 1992).

In the past, vegetable ivory or tagua was one of the

most commercially important forest products. Beginning in

1870, tagua export increased, reaching its highest level by

1909 when it ranked as the country's second most important

exported product. "Panama hats" made from the leaves of

Carludovica palmata were the third most exported product.

The export of vegetable ivory decreased dramatically during

World War II and became almost non-existent after the war,

as synthetic materials came into use for making buttons, the

main use of tagua (Acosta Solis 1944, Barfod 1989, 1991).

Currently, strangely enough, the tradition for

extractivism in Ecuador seems to be much weaker than in

other South American countries. A palm such as Mauritia

flexuosa is exploited commercially on a large scale in

nearby Iquitos, Peru, for its edible fruit, and in Brazil

fibers from the same palm are marketed. However, in

Ecuador, despite the fact that the palm is very common in

the eastern lowland, no commercial use of this palm has been


observed (Borgtoft Pedersen 1994). The same seems to be

true for many other forest products. If the potential for

extractivism in the Ecuadorean forests is to be exploited,

this land use form needs much more attention from the

Ecuadorean government (Borgtoft Pedersen 1994).

Among the relatively few examples of extractivism in

Ecuador, palms play an important role. At present 12 native

palms from 10 genera are known to be commercially exploited

and increasingly important in the cash economy of Ecuador.

Euterpe chaunostachys from the coastal lowlands and Prestoea

trichoclata from the western slopes of the Andes are

harvested for their palm hearts, which are canned and sold

on both Ecuadorean and international markets. Beverages and

ice cream made from the fruits of Euterpe chaunostachys are

sold in the Esmeraldas province. Vegetable ivory, 'tagua',

from seeds of Phytelephas aequatorialis furnish the raw

material for the booming button industry in Manta and

souvenir-workshops in Quito, Riobamba, Guayaquil and

Salinas. Aphandra natalia, from eastern Ecuador, provides

the fibers used in most Ecuadorean broom producing

factories. This palm also produces edible fruits which are

marketed locally. The seeds of Atalea colenda, from the

coastal plains, are used to extract oil in Manta. Oil is

also extracted from the mesocarp of Jessenia batahua, and

the oil as well as its fruits are occasionally sold in the

lowlands. Hammocks and nets are made from Astrocaryum


chambira and are sold in the towns in eastern Ecuador and in

the souvenir shops in Quito. Young leaves, harvested from

Astrocaryum standleyanum in the province of Esmeraldas, are

used for making hats. Small baskets and other types of

handicraft are made of the young leaves from Ceroxylon spp.

and sold in the highlands at Easter time for the celebration

of Palm Sunday. The trunks of Iriartea deltoidea are cut

and sold to plantations to be used as support for banana

plants. The hard black wood of this palm is also used in

small furniture industries.

Political Ecology of the Region

The marginality of the Esmeraldas Provinces during the

Tahuantinsuyo Empire and under the Colonial period explains

its current status as the last remanent of tropical rain

forest in the western part of Ecuador. Given its remoteness

and harshness, it was not considered a suitable place for

settlements or economic expansion (Rivera 1986).

During the Colonial period, there were two factors that

hindered the integration of Esmeraldas to the national

economy. First, the closeness of ports in Panama and

Guayaquil, in Ecuador, limited the creation of a new port in

Esmeraldas even though there were many attempts to open a

road to this region. Second, after the Spanish conquest,

new inhabitants arrived in Esmeraldas. They were liberated

slaves who saw Esmeraldas as a territory of freedom, from


which they could not be removed. While Esmeraldas remained

marginal and basically untouched, the rest of western

Ecuador faced the beginning of the conversion of tropical

rain forest through farming and urban settlements in the

Guayas River basin and the dry region of Manabi, as the

northernmost front of expansion.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the

Republican period, most of the region was still sparsely

populated and access was normally by waterway following the

routes of major rivers. Political conflicts among powerful

economic groups delayed again the integration of Esmeraldas

to the incipient Republic. The interest of elites from

Guayaquil in controlling the maritime trade impeded the

creation of a new port in Esmeraldas, which due to its

geographic position would have favored elites from Quito,

the capital.

Deforestation in western Ecuador accelerated rapidly in

the 1960s, when a dense network of primary and secondary

roads was developed, especially the Santo Domingo highway,

to link the biggest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil, and the

capital, Quito. In 1964, land reform efforts prompted

construction of new penetration roads, following the

national plan to "develop" and put in production all

"nonproductive" lands. Therefore, still more colonists

flocked to the region after the road connecting Santo

Domingo with Esmeraldas, on the northwestern coast, was


improved. The Ecuadorean Institute for Agrarian Reform and

Colonization (IERAC) has legalized more land holdings

flanking this highway than in any other frontier region

(Southgate et al. 1992a).

Colonization policies and land tenure insecurity also

favored forest conversion (Southgate et al. 1992b).

Inappropriate property arrangements and governmental

interference with market forces both reward those who

convert forests into agricultural land. IERAC adjudicated a

claim for private tenure if at least 50 percent of the plot

was cleared and converted into "productive uses". The

uncertainty of land tenure provided little incentive for

long-term management. The many years that IERAC requires

for adjudication is bound to make settlers feel that their

property rights are tenuous. Settlers respond by asserting

claims on resources in the traditional manner: by converting

forests into crop land and pasture as soon as they can.

Even though prospects for the geographic expansion of

Ecuadorean agriculture are clouded, at best, the country

continues to convert tropical forests and other natural

environments into cropland and pasture at accelerated rates.

Ecuador has one of the highest rates of land use conversion

in this hemisphere, approximately 2.3 percent of standing

forests per year (WRI 1990). Deforestation in the

northwestern part of Ecuador is currently one of the highest

within the country. In this zone, untouched primary forests


remain intact only in those few parts of western Ecuador

that remain totally inaccessible. By contrast,

deforestation has not yet reached the same stage in the

Oriente. The principal catalyst for land clearing is now

the wood products industry, which is cutting new roads to

facilitate timber extraction. Immediately after logging,

settlers clear the land for crop and cattle production

(Southgate et al. 1992c).

Throughout history it is clear that state control over

natural resources has failed. There is a gross imbalance

between the public sector's extensive claims on tree-covered

land and its limited capacity either to manage or to control

access to resources. Around two million ha of northwestern

and northeastern Ecuadorean forests are state-owned forest,

but no field personnel are assigned to those areas. The

Ecuadorean government tried to profit from the forests while

still owning them, through concessions to private parties.

This has greatly contributed to deforestation because the

lack of both governmental control and economic incentives

has reduced private attempts to manage existing forests and

to establish new tree stands. It should come as no

surprise, for instance, that only 60,000 ha had been

reforested as of 1985. This area is much less than annual

deforestation, either before or since (Palacios 1993).

Forest concessions were banned in 1982 in an attempt to

protect these forests from colonization. By now


colonization has become an integral part of the timber

industry's supply system (Fondo para el Medio Ambiente

Mundial 1992).

Since 1945, around 92 percent of western forests have

been deforested (Dodson and Gentry 1991). The remaining

eight percent covers part of the Esmeraldas Province.

Ecuador's timber industry is fully aware that forests in

this region will be gone in twenty years or so if current

rates of clearing continue. The timber industry depends on

undisturbed or very lightly disturbed primary forests that

have been recently settled by colonists or are in indigenous

reserves and communal lands.

With 100 years of settlement in the region and the

struggling to acquire legal access to natural resources, the

Afroamerican population of the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas

has recently been granted land rights which made them able

to cope with the threat of deforestation and colonization.

However the decline of subsistence and small scale

agricultural productivity, poor terms of trade for their

products, and few opportunities for wage labor, have

encouraged forest dwellers to be part and victim of

deforestation. For them, timber extraction is the most

accessible source of cash income.

The lowland tropical forests of northwestern Ecuador

belong to the Choco, a biogeographic region that has been

considered one of the most biologically diverse areas on the

earth (Dodson and Gentry 1991). It is one of the world's

rain forest "hotspots" (Myers 1988); therefore, its

conservation is a top priority (Tangley 1993). In the face

of environmental change, strategies are needed to promote

sustainable land use practices that make local communities

more self-sufficient while maintaining the forests. The

promotion of extractive activities has been identified as

one alternative. The TI project, launched by CI and CIDESA,

in the area of the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas is based on

this promising alternative.

Taqua Initiative Project

In 1990 TI was launched by Conservation International

(CI), an international NGO, in partnership with CIDESA, a

national NGO. The objectives of the Tagua Initiative are to

manage tropical forests in an alternative way by responding

simultaneously to the necessity of preserving available

resources and the needs of local dwellers (Calero 1992,

Tangley 1993). There are two working levels in this

project: in the United States, Conservation International is

opening a market for tagua. This organization is trying to

attract consumer preferences toward these renewable natural

resources managed by the producers themselves. In Ecuador,

CIDESA is providing technical support to the Rio Santiago-

Cayapas Commune. The TI comprises two phases: Phase I which

is already finished, has involved the commune in the direct

marketing of raw tagua on national markets. Phase II

consists of the development and diversification of tagua

marketing and production as well as conservation and

management activities of tropical forest resources.

The objectives in Phase II rely on two realities:

first, although tagua is the best known extractive product,

the potential for diversification in the extraction of

forest products in the zone is high. Foster (1992) reports

an average of 25 tappable forest species and 13 fruit

species of potential agro-industrial use in the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas reserve. Similarly, in forests that

surround the reserve, Barford et al. (1988) recorded 19

species of palms known and used by other ethnic groups.

Most uses of these palms are for building, thatching and

weapons as well as for food. In the second place, CI

recognizes the need to avoid the economic dependence on just

one product such as tagua, whose market behavior is linked

to variable buyers' preferences.

Extractivism as a conservation and development strategy

is aimed to improve the livelihood of forest dwellers while

maintaining the forest. However, its applicability is

constrained by ecological, social and economic conditions.

Moreover, the replicability of this strategy has been

hindered by misconceptions about the role of extractivism in

the livelihood of local dwellers. Knowledge about

extractive systems is still incipient. This research aims


to fill these gaps and provide information to design

suitable strategies that will achieve conservation and

development goals.


Location of Study Site

The Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas is located in the

northwestern province of Esmeraldas in Ecuador, between 10

10' 20" N latitude and 790501 36" W longitude and at an

elevation of 20 m above sea level (Figure 1). The southern

part of the territory borders on the Cotacachi-Cayapas

Ecological Reserve; therefore, the Commune is included in

the buffer zone of this protected area.

Socioeconomic Description of The Commune Rio Santiago

The Commune is an agrarian organization of Afro-

American population. It enjoys legal standing, and is

comprised of 52 member communities that are settled in an

area of about 63,000 ha. In Ecuador, a Commune is a

category of social organization applied to any type of

settlement that does not fall in formal state categories.

To be legally recognized and protected by the State, a

settlement has to organize following the "Ley de

Organizacion y Regimen de las Comunas". Through this law,

the state grants land, owned by common property, to the


Figure 1. Location of the study site


Commune. In addition, the Commune has to have formal

authorities, the "Cabildo Comunal", which is the only

institution recognized by the state. Rules to access and

use of natural resources are determined, without state

intervention, by the commune members and their authorities.

People have lived in this area for more than 100 years

(Comuna Rio Santiago-Cayapas 1990). They are descendants of

slaves brought during the Spanish Conquest and Colonial

period for gold mining. Once freed they settled in the

region, where they have practiced subsistence agriculture

and gold mining. In 1885, they bought the land to ensure a

territory to live freely. During the 1950's, when the state

promoted the formation of communes throughout rural Ecuador,

this Afro-American population adopted the new modality and

became the only commune in the province and probably in the

whole of Western Ecuador that has owned a huge extension of

land for more than one century. The settlement pattern in

the comuna is fluvial widespread. Villages are located

following main rivers and streams. People do not live on

their farms, but are concentrated in the villages. Every

day they walk to work on farms, sometimes for hours. In

addition they maintain small home gardens surrounding

households where they can gather medicinal plants, natural

condiments and some fruits.

The annual population growth rate is 3.7 percent. Life

expectancy is 50 years of age because of the incidence of

tropical diseases and the lack of basic services (Calero

1992, Tangley 1993). The average monthly income per family

is under US$ 80 (Comuna Rio Santiago-Cayapas 1990). The

main economic activities of the commune are agriculture,

logging and extraction of forest products. With the

exception of palm heart, other non-timber extractive

products are harvested from cultivated agroforestry plots,

rather than from native forest. The communal land is divided

into individual farms and the comunal reserve which are used

for different purposes:

(1) Individual farms are used in three ways: first, the

agroforestry plot where 20 to 22 agricultural, forest and

multipurpose products are grown. The main crops cultivated

are cacao, plantain and fruit trees. Extraction is also

carried out in agroforestry plots; species include

commercial products such as tagua or vegetable ivory

(Phytelephas aequatorialis), rubber (Hevea brasiliensis),

the royal palm (Attalea colenda); commercial forest species,

such as laurel (Cordia alliodora) and cedar (Cedrela

montana) are kept up or planted. A second zone is the "plot

reserve" covered by a less disturbed forest and where very

valuable timber is taken from sande (Brosimum utile) and

chanul (Himiriastrum procerum). This area is also used for

hunting. A third and less frequent type of usage is

"pasture" for cattle grazing, in areas that have been

completely deforested,

(2) The communal reserve of approximately 12,000 ha, in the

center of the Commune is mainly used for hunting, extraction

of some medicinal plants and fibers and palm heart

occasionally for logging.

Biophysical Description of Commune Rio Santiago Cavapas


The Commune has two principal rivers which exhibit very

different characteristics. The Rio Cayapas is a slow-

moving, slow changing, deep river with tidal fluctuations

for most of its length in the Commune. The Rio Santiago is

subject to tides only for the first few kilometers after

which it becomes a fast meandering river with oxbows,

alternating with rapids as it bounces between the bluffs of

high hills (Foster 1992). Both rivers converge in the town

of Borbon and then meet the Pacific Ocean. The amount of

rainfall determines the depth of these rivers, the summer

being the season of lowest levels of flowing water and the

winter the season of occasional floods (Rivera 1986).


The climate of this region is classified as tropical

wet. It is characterized by high levels of humidity with a

maximum of 85%. Values of precipitation and temperature are

available for the period between 1965 and 1983 from two

meteorological stations: Borbon, located inside the area;


and Cayapas, the closest station. The mean annual

temperature is 25.7 CO in Borbon and 25.6 CO in Cayapas. The

mean annual precipitation registered is 2,151.5 mm and

3,486,9 mm, respectively.

The orografic precipitation caused by El Nifo Current

occurs throughout the year. However, it is possible to

distinguish two different seasons: winter, from January to

May, characterized by high levels of precipitation; and

summer, from July to September, with low levels of rainfall.

There are no strictly dry months (CIDESA 1992).


According to the US Department of Agriculture

classification system, the predominant soils in the region

of Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas are Distropepts, suborder

Tropets, order Inceptisoles.

These soils of sedimentary origin are of two types:

old, with sandstones, clays, conglomerate slime; and recent

alluvial with sands, slime, clays and small rounded stones.

The first type occurs in excavated surfaces of mesas and

coastal hills; these soils are reddish gray or reddish

yellow, deep, leached and aluminum toxic. The alluvial type

occurs in flat or almost flat surfaces of terraces and

coastal alluvial valleys; these are gray to reddish gray

soils, deep and sometimes badly drained with irregular

distribution of organic matter.


Soils suitable for agriculture occur in a strip of 500

to 1,000 m from the bank inland along each river. They are

susceptible to mechanization, and their major problem is

drainage. The rest of the soils in the region have major

constraints for agriculture such as topography, depth,

texture, low fertility, salinity and flooding



The Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas has three main

physiographic habitats: river floodplain, low sandy-clay

hills (mostly less than 100 m alt.) and high red clay hills

(mostly 100 m to 300 m alt.). Even though there is an

overlap in the flora in these habitats, the community

composition of these areas is different.

The original floodplain forest was totally exploited

and what remains is a managed forest of species with current

economic use. The meanders of the Rio Santiago have many of

the typical successional species of neotropical rivers:

Gynerium saggitatum, Ficus insipida, Citharexylum

poeppigianum, Erythrina poeppigii, Sapium, Triplaris,

Cecropia, etc. These are absent or less common on the

Cayapa River. Both rivers have Pithecellobium longifolium

and Calliandra angustifolia. The floodplain contains some

areas of swamp frequently dominated by Euterpe chaunostachys

which is commercially exploited for edible palm heart. In

the seasonally or rarely flooded areas there is a mixture of

garden crops, a mixed stand of trees of economic value--

cultivated or derived from the original forest--and many

patches of cocoa Teobroma cacao and 'guava' Inga spp.

Occasionally there are remanent individuals from the

original forest such as 'laurel' Cordia alliodora, Carapa

guianensis, Virola dixonii, Vochysia macrophylla and

Castilla elastica (Foster 1992).

The low sandy-clay hills, which with the floodplain

dominate the northern half of the Commune, have forest

characterized by a great abundance of Brosimum utile, Otoba

spp., Virola spp. and palms such as Wettinia quinaria and

Jessenia batahua. Within a kilometer or two of every river

the forest of these hills has been cut down. On the

Santiago River, regeneration has been managed, favoring tree

species of commercial value, especially Cordia alliodora

which sometimes occurs in solid stands. On the Cayapas

River, the hill forest is less disturbed and regeneration

seems to be unselected; the forest features a great

abundance of Trichospermum galeottii (Foster 1992).

The steep high hills are found mostly in the southern

part of the Commune, but with an isolated hill in the

center, La Tunda hill. This forest has a canopy 35-45 m

high and a diversity of large-trunked trees. The most

common tree species is Humiriastrum procerum; other

important species are Persea rigens and Ocotea cernua. Most


of the high hills still have intact forest, the last remnant

of Pacific lowland forest in its southernmost location.

This forest is approaching extinction in Ecuador and

Southern Colombia. The Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas is the

seaward edge of the largest remaining contiguous piece of

this forest (Foster 1992).

Research Design

This study was carried out during three months, from

May to August 1994, in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas.

The study focuses on the households whose members extract

tagua and benefit from TI intervention. The population

comprises 331 families that for the purpose of this study

will be considered as households.

The main objective of this study is to evaluate the

feasibility of extractivism in the Commune Rio Santiago-

Cayapas. The specific questions of this research are:

-What are the main features of the community and household

economy of this tagua extractor population;

-How important are extractive activities in the community

and household economy;

-What are the roles of household members (by gender and age)

in the extraction of NTFPs products during different seasons

of the year;

-What are the current and potential market for NTFPs in the



-What is the current and potential behavior of a tagua

extractor system of production when extractivism is


To answer these questions five methodological tools

were used: survey, in-depth interviews and focus group

discussions, market interviews and linear programming.

The survey

The primary instrument used in this study was a

structured oral interview in a survey form. The survey was

designed to gather information either from each head of

household, or people who could provide the information.

Surveys were carried out during the months of June and July.

Because of time and economic constraints, I applied the

survey to a sample of 60 households which represent 18% of

the all households. To ensure a representative sample I

selected households at random, by making a list of all

families benefited by TI and, with the aid of random

computer numbers, drawing a random sample of households from

this list. The 60 households were located in the villages

of San Agustin, Colon Eloy, Valdez, Timbire, San Jose de

Tagua and Selva Alegre along the Santiago River Basin. In

the Cayapas River Basin, people from Punta de Piedra, San

Jose del Cayapas and Telembi were also interviewed.

The information recorded in surveys included: household

composition, number of members, age, gender, educational


level, total area of the farm, area under different land

uses, area in fallow and age of fallow; annual, spatial

pattern, division of labor by age and sex of subsistence and

economic activities; income and expenditures for economic

activities, transportation and commercialization methods,

management of extractive activities and general household

expenditures (Appendix 1).

Focus group discussions

I also conducted five focus group discussions with

small organizations in San Agustin, Valdez, San Jose de

Tagua and Punta de Piedra. These organizations were willing

to share with me their perceptions about the problems within

their community.

In-depth interviews

After the survey I conducted eight in-depth interviews,

in four different locations, two per site. The in-depth

interviews were carried out in August. The criteria to

select those interviewed were provided through the survey

and interviews with personnel from the TI. During the

survey, two trends were identified. Overall, the basins of

the two major rivers exhibit different environmental

conditions for agriculture. In the Santiago River Basin

cacao is a well established crop while in the Cayapas River

Basin, cattle ranching is more developed. Second, tagua

groves were a feature of villages close to Borbon. When

asked about this issue, people identified market access as

their main criterion. With this lead, two villages were

chosen from each river, one of them close to Borbon and the

other, further away. The villages selected were Colon Eloy

and Selva Alegre in the Santiago River, and Punta de Piedra

and Telembi in the Cayapas river.

Beginning with information formerly obtained in the

survey, I selected two families in each village. When

possible, the families selected were those dedicated to the

typical activities in the village. However, I selected

families (in a reliable range) who were more willing to

spend two days for in-depth interviews. The in-depth

interviews provided me with a deeper understanding of

resource use dynamics, including gender and age issues, flow

of products and wastes among enterprises and agroecosystems,

flow of cash and material outputs between household and

market, and seasonality of activities.

With the help of the whole family, we drew maps of land

and resource use for all of the farmers' activities. These

maps recorded information about type of land use in private

and common property resources (farming systems, communal

forests, grasslands, rivers, etc.) and type and quality of

the land resource exploited for each economic activity

(agriculture, cattle raising, extraction of NTFPs,



The data collected by in-depth interviews were

confirmed and complemented by participant observation. For

this purpose, one of two days was dedicated to visiting

farmers' plots.


I carried out six interviews with middlemen working in

Borbon in order to determine the type and volume of NTFPs

marketed, prices and profits as well as the fate of

purchased products. In addition, I interviewed middlemen

working for the TI project in the villages of San Agustin,

Colon Eloy, San Jose de Tagua and Punta de Piedra.

Secondary information about costs, benefits and

commercialization of vegetable ivory, rubber, and palm heart

were used to complement the data obtained from interviews.

Linear programming

I used the information obtained from the survey, in-

depth interviews and focus group discussions to build an

economic model of a tagua extractor's farm. In addition, to

calculate the potential productivity of certain crops in the

region, I interviewed local experts working in agriculture,

timber extraction and livestock raising. The linear

programming model was used to analyze different alternatives

recommended for the region, including sustainable extractive




Since 1990, the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas has been

involved in the TI project. These forest dwellers have

lived in this region for more than 100 years. They have

developed strategies to survive in a harsh environment.

Their system of production responds to the local and

external factors they face. In this system, extractive

activities play a role in meeting subsistence and cash

household needs.

Extractivism, through the TI project, has been

implemented in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas to promote

conservation and rural development. This strategy is based

on the improvement of the linkages between the community

that is using forest products and the market for them.

However a lack of understanding of extractive economies and

their dynamics has limited appropriate applications of this

strategy. Moreover, the extractor population has not a

precise definition as a discrete social category because

there is a lack of a single role model of extraction

throughout the tropics (Browder 1992). In particular, the

combination of natural forest extraction and cultivation of



forest species in agroforestry systems complicate the

assumed link between forest product marketing and natural

forest conservation.

In this chapter I will characterize the community of

tagua extractors of the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas and the

role that extractive activities play in the community and

household economy.

Population Structure

Heads-of-household averaged 47 years old, with ages

ranging from 27-70 years. This distribution portrays an old

population in which the younger people, more-women than men,

are out-migrating to big cities. Among households

interviewed there were no established young couples under 27

in the villages. Most respondents observed that a lack of

job opportunities, lack of services, and hope for a better

life prompted young people to move to Guayaquil, Quito and

Esmeraldas. Moreover, most families had some relatives

living in these cities facilitating the out-migration.

Almost all heads of households were male (97%) (Table

1). The low percentage of female-headed households (3%)

represented households where a male had died or abandoned

the family. The average education of the heads-of-household

was third grade. Survey results indicate that the heads-of-

household were mainly farmers involved in extraction,

logging, fishing and hunting.


Table 1. Background Information of the Heads-of-household.

27 39 years old 16 26.67
40 59 years old 31 51.66
60 years and older 13 21.67
Male 58 97.00
Female 2 3.00
Illiterate 12 20.00
Elementary 40 66.70
Complete Elementary 6 10.00
High School 2 3.30
Farmer 60 100.00

Source: Survey by the author

In the sample population of 302 people, 59 percent were

males and 41 percent females. Of the out-migrants afro-

american women obtained jobs more easily than men. Data

from the age distribution table (Table 2.1) confirm the out-

migration of people of ages 16 and older. Most of the

people in the categories of 16 to 30 years old were men.

The number of people in age categories from 16 to 30,

decreased dramatically. The average education level of the

sample population was second grade. Three people (1.2%) had

completed high school. Of the villages, only Selva Alegre

and Colon Eloy have a high school. Some of the other

villages have a one-room school house where one professor

teaches all grades. Most parents in better economic


Table 2.1. Demographic Information of Sample Population

1 5 years old 48 15.80
6 10 years old 57 18.90
11 15 years old 50 16.60
16 20 years old 16 5.30
21 25 years old 6 1.99
26 30 years old 10 3.31
31 35 years old 19 6.29
36 40 years old 18 5.96
41 45 years old 17 5.63
46 50 years old 18 5.98
50 years and older 43 14.20

Male 178 58.94
Female 124 41.06

Illiterate 39 15.73
Elementary 175 70.56
Complete elementary 22 8.87
High School 9 3.63
Complete High School 3 1.21

Source: Survey by the author

situations sent their children to either Borbon or

Esmeraldas to complete high school.

The number of people living in the households

interviewed averaged 5, with a range of 1 to 11 (Table 2.2).

The average number of children was 3, ranging from 0 to 9.

Ninety four percent of the households were nuclear families,

including the spouses and their children. The rest of the

households were extended families, including several

generations plus the nuclear family.


Table 2.2. Characteristics of the Households Interviewed.

1 5 people 33 55.00
6 10 people 26 43.33
More than 10 1 1.67
1 5 children 51 85.00
6 10 children 9 15.00
Nuclear 54 90.00
Extended 6 10.00

Source: Survey by the author

Land Uses

Land in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas, called

"tierras comunales", is owned in common property. All

commune members have rights of access to one or two pieces

of land. Formally, access to land is ruled by a juridical

institution called "Cabildo Comunal". However, commune

members can trade land among themselves without consulting

formal authorities. All transactions are known and

respected by the families involved in such a way that no

written agreement is needed. Previously used lands are

respected and new rights are established in unused "tierra

communal". Commune members select a piece of land near the

village and over time they expand it inward to the informal

borders of other member's plots. Afterwards, land rights

are determined by inheritance.


The total land area used by the 60 households is 1320

ha. The average land area per household is 22 ha. Most

households manage these areas in three different plots, each

of which averages 7.3 ha. Usually people work in one plot

and leave the rest either in fallow or in restricted use,

collecting the remaining cacao, plantains or fruits. Most

households (56.7%) have plots between 5 20 ha (Table 3).

These plots represent 32 percent of the total land. This

type of land distribution might be explained in terms of

labor force per household and the length of settlement of

family and relatives in the region. Formally, all commune

members have the same access land, however not all

of them have the similar capacity to use that land.

Therefore, within the Commune, expansion of agriculture

plots seems to be related more to an availability of labor

and capital than to land scarcity.

Most land was dedicated to agroforestry production

(47%). Each agroforestry system was a cornucopia of

products where cultivation, gathering of NTFPs and timber

extraction is carried out. Cacao trees, plantains, fruit

trees and mandioca are cultivated. Rubber trees, tagua palms

and other different palms are maintained and enhanced

through a management of the species regeneration; all are

used for extraction. Finally some timber trees are either

kept or favored through regeneration for future needs of

cash. This is the area where almost all extractive


activities were carried out with the exception of some

medicinal plants and fibers which are gathered in the

communal forest. In addition palm heart extraction occurs in

swamps which belong to communal land. A large part of the

plots remained as forest cover (37.6%). This area called

"the plot reserve" was mainly for logging. The livelihood of

Table 3. Land Distribution and Uses

0 5 ha 6 10.00 23.50 1.78
5 10 ha 12 20.00 101.00 7.65
10 20 ha 22 36.67 321.00 24.32
20 30 ha 8 13.33 203.00 15.38
30 40 ha 4 6.67 132.50 10.04
40 50 ha 5 8.33 237.00 17.95
50 > 3 5.00 302.00 22.88
Agroforestry 60 100.00 619.55 46.94
Monoculture 18 26.67 13.95 1.06
Pasture 15 25.00 66.00 5.00
Fallow areas 26 43.33 124.00 9.39
Forests 31 51.00 496.50 37.61

Source: Survey by the author

forest dwellers primarily depended on the maintenance of

these land uses from which most income was derived.

Household Activities

Besides the production of foodstuffs and other goods

for personal consumption and household needs, forest

dwellers were engaged in the production of market items. A

fine line separates subsistence and market oriented

activities. The difference in use emerges out of the

production, availability of labor and market demand for a

given product rather than from a very well planned system of

household production. In response to socioeconomic forces,

households have defined multiple survival strategies.

Household economies are linked to the market through cash

crops but they also engaged in non-market crops, to meet

household needs (see Table 4).

Cacao extraction, tagua gathering, rubber tapping, palm

heart extraction, logging and off-farm activities are all

carried out for cash. Among those mentioned, cacao seeds

were processed for daily consumption throughout the year but

were only used as a luxury item. Tagua seeds were not used

by households but other products such as tagua leaves, the

seed mesocarps and immature fruits were commonly utilized

for household needs. Under the category of "Others",

activities such as gold mining, canoe-building and carpentry

helped people to obtain supplemental cash.

To meet subsistence needs, people in the Commune fish,

gather medicinal plants and fibers and extract fuelwood for

household consumption. In the case of fishing, the scarcity

of the resource has hindered access to cash. Medicinal

plants seemed not to have a local market in the region.

Neither Borbon nor Esmeraldas had market stands for

medicinal plants. Fibers such as "piquigua" (Heteropsis


integerrima), "rampira" (Cardulovica palmata) and

"chocolatillo" (Ischnosiphon arouma) are gathered to make

baskets for use in household activities. No households sold

fibers; only in very few cases were baskets traded to obtain


In between the extremes of cash-oriented and

subsistence-oriented activities, there were those mainly for

Table 4..Household Activities.

Cacao 60 55 100.00
Plantains 60 42 70.00 18 30.00
Fruit 48 37 61.66 11 18.33
Monocultures 18 15 25.00 3 5.00

Tagua 60 60 100.00
Tagua leaves
Rubber 13 9 15.67
Palm Hearts 3 3 5.00
Medicinal plants 60 60 100.00
Fibers 4 60 100.00
Fuelwood 51 60 100.00

LOGGING 29 29 48.33



HUNTING 36 7 11.67

FISHING 53 53 88.33

OTHERS 47 35 58.33

OFF-FARM 12 12 20.00

Source: Survey by the author

subsistence but when production exceeded subsistence levels,

the surplus was sold. This category included plantain

production, fruit extraction, monoculture cropping, animal

raising, hunting and the subcategory "Other". Plantain is a

critical product for household consumption; in fact the land

use pattern of each household was mainly determined by

plantain production. When it surpassed household

requirements, plantain could be sold.

Fruits were an important component of agroforestry

systems and home gardens and each household maintained a

variety of fruits (see Table 5). Fruit production was low

Table 5. Fruit Tree Species in Agroforestry Systems and Home

Aguacate Persea americana
Caimito Pouteria caimito
Fruta de pan Artocarpus altilis
Guaba Inga edulis
Guaba machetona Inga spectabilis
Guayaba Psidium guajava
Jobo Spondias purpurea
Madrofo Rheedia acuminata
Papaya Carica papaya
Sapote Matisia cordata

Source: Survey by the author

due to low densities and poor management practices. Only in

a few cases did fruit production surpass what was needed for

households so that some fruit could be sold.

People in the Commune cultivated rice, maize and sugar

cane as sole crops. Rice has been cultivated during the

last 10 years in the Commune, mainly for the market.

However, low capital investment and lack of appropriate

technology have resulted in very low production per unit of

land. Maize production follows the same pattern. In the

case of sugar cane, almost all production is processed to

make "panela", a raw sugar; and "guarapo" or aguardientee",

alcoholic drinks. Production of the two, in rustic and

small factories, is prohibited due to health standards.

Nevertheless, there are no authorities to control either the

production or the marketing.

Forest dwellers in this region raised chickens and pigs

principally for household consumption. These were sold only

during lean seasons or when money was urgently needed. They

represented savings for people in the Commune. Animal

production was low due to pests and low quality animal feed.

Medium and small wild animals such as red brocket deer

(Mazama americana), "guanta" (Agouti paca), "guatusa"

(Dasyprocta punctata), "tatabra" (Tayassu tajacu),

"armadillo" (Dasypus novemcinctus) and the spiny rat

(Proechymis steerei) were hunted to provide animal protein

in the households. Part-time hunters preferred to dry and

salt surplus wild meat, saving it for future needs, while

permanent hunters tended to sell their surplus. Hunters

also shared wild meat with relatives as a means of

reinforcing family ties.


Under the category of "Others", handcrafting and sugar

cane processing were activities mainly for subsistence

needs. Almost all households made baskets to transport

products from the agroforestry systems and home gardens.

They also made "catangas" or shrimp traps. A few skilled

handicrafters made baskets or catangas on commission.

Age and Gender Roles in Household Activities

Under conditions requiring intensive labor, all

household members were involved in household activities

starting at an early age (Table 6).

Men were involved in all economic activities with the

exception of animal raising and gold mining which were

women's activities. Men controlled the marketing of almost

all products and therefore the family income.

Women and female children engaged in harvesting and

processing the majority of home garden products. They were

actively involved in cacao and tagua extraction. Women

engaged more frequently in gathering of NTFPs such as

medicinal plants, fibers and fuelwood, for household needs.

Rubber and palm heart were male oriented activities.

Male children participated in most activities except

those requiring strength or threatening their safety such as

logging and rubber tapping. Moreover, male children were

initiated at a young age into hunting activities. When the

Table 6. Age and Gender Roles by Activities

Cleaning A O F N
Harvesting A F F S
Processing S F F S
Marketing A O N N
Harvesting A S F 0
Marketing A O O O
Fruit trees
Harvesting F S F S
Marketing A O O O
Tagua seeds
Harvesting F F F S
Processing F F S S
Marketing F S O 0
Tagua leaves
Harvesting A N O N
Processing A N O N
Harvesting A N O N
Processing A N N N
Marketing A N N N
Palm hearts
Harvesting A N O N
Marketing A N N N
Medicinal plants
Extraction 1 O A O F
Extraction 2 A O O N
Extraction 1 F A F F
Extraction 2 A N F N
Processing A F O O
Fuelwood S F F F
Timber extraction A N N N
Marketing A N N N
Care A O S O
Marketing A N N O
Care N A 0 A
Marketing 0 A N S

Table 6--continued.

Sugar cane processing F F N N
Handcrafs F F N O
Carbon production N A N F
Gold mining A N O N

Source: Interviews by the author

Key: A: Always
F: Frequently
S: Sometimes
0: Occasionally
N: Never

S: Home gardens and agroforestry plots.
2 : Communal reserve and plot reserve.

men were absent or engaged in other economic activities,

women shared the control of marketing.

Income from economic activities

The average annual income per household was 1,997,350

sucres (US$ 929) with a range of 122,500 sucres (US$ 57) to

9,386,900 sucres (US$ 4366) (Table 7.1). This average is

somewhat lower than 2,064,000 sucres (US$ 960), the average

annual income reported for the region (Comuna Rio Santiago-

Cayapas 1990). Of the households, 46.67 percent earned less

than 1,204,000 sucres (US$ 560), the official minimum annual

wage in Ecuador.

Household members performed a variety of activities to

make a living. Survey results indicate that 43.5 percent of

Income Distribution per Household

(US $)
Less than 560 28 46.67 8,554.72 15.35
560.00 650.00 4 6.67 2,378.37 4.27
650.00 750.00 2 3.33 1,384.88 2.48
More than 750 26 43.33 43,411.91 77.4

Source: Survey by the author

Table 7.2. Income Distribution per Activity

Cacao 23,577.76 43.50 55 428.69
Plantain 5,910.33 10.92 18 328.35
Fruit colec. 420.86 0.78 11 38.26
Monoculture 77.21 0.14 3 25.74

Tagua 6,727.93 12.41 60 112.13
Rubber 119.30 0.22 9 13.25
Palm heart 186.05 0.34 3 62.02

LOGGING 10,377.23 19.18 29 357.83

CATTLE RANCHING 1,207.35 2.23 5 241.47

ANIMAL RAISING 663.20 1.23 5 132.64

HUNTING 245.35 0.45 7 35.05

OTHERS 2,773.49 3.47 12 231.12

OFF FARM ACTIV. 1,877.21 5.13 12 156.43

Source: Survey by

the author

Table 7.1.


the total income for the community was from cacao production

(Table 7.2). The market for cacao seeds has been stable

since the 70's. This product had the highest price in the

region, attracting forest dwellers into the activity.

Logging was the second most important activity

representing 19.2 percent of the total income for the

community. Forests in the Commune and in the adjacent

Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve have more valuable

timber per area than similar forests in eastern Ecuador. It

is not surprising that the commune forests experience great

pressure from the four timber companies established in

Borbon. Through their sawmills, timber companies bought

mainly crude log timber. In addition middlemen working in

Borbon purchase timber in planks, the best form for

transport. In recent years, demand for timber has

diversified and many species are now taken (Table 8).

Table 8. Tree Species Exploited for Timber.

Sande Brosimum utile Most valuable timber
in the region
Chanul Himiriastrum procerum one of the most
valuable timber in
the region
Laurel Cordia alliodora Less valuable but
very abundant due to
rapid rates of
Tangare Carapa guianensis regeneration
Cuangare Otoba gordoniifolia
Charviande Virola dixonii

Source: Survey by the author


Tagua is the third most economically important product

yielding an average of 12.4 percent of the total household

income. This is by far the most important NTFP in the

region. Tagua extraction revived five years ago due to an

increase in the world demand for "green products", the basis

for TI efforts. Tagua market is analyzed in the next

chapter. Plantain, the forth activity in importance, is a

critical product for food. All households have plantains in

their agroforestry systems and when the harvest is more

abundant than household needs, a portion can be sold.

Off-farm activities played an important role in an

environment where cash availability was very low. Yet only

16.67 percent of households had jobs outside the farm.

These jobs were mainly with timber companies working in the

region. Three heads-of-household worked trading baskets

made by indigenous people, the Cayapas. The rest of the

activities were very restricted due to a variety of factors.

For example, canoe-building and carpentry, were constrained

by low demand and handcrafts were constrained by strong

competition. Traditionally, Cayapas are more skilled at

basketmaking than Afro-American people, who instead prefer

trading with Cayapas baskets in Quito and Guayaquil. Most

respondents expressed interest in cattle ranching but lack

of access to credit has hindered this activity from

expanding in the region. Because of pests and wild animals,

raising pigs and chickens was a difficult task.

The average incomes per activity for the community are

different from the average incomes per activity in the

household economy (Compare columns 2 and 4, Table 7.2).

Although data presented only reflect the average income per

activity per household regardless of amount of land, it is

assumed that most crops occupied the same amount of land in

the agroforestry plots. Therefore, these averages, with

limits, provide information about the role of each economic

activity in the household economy.

Cacao production and logging remained the most

important activities for the household budget. However

tagua dropped to the eighth economic activity in importance

yielding US$ 112.13 on average for each household.

Surprisingly, other activities more profitable than tagua

are only carried out in few households. Lack of labor and

capital as well as different habitats have impeded the

expansion of these activities in the Commune. Forest

dwellers who worked temporally in other cities represented a

cost to the household economy because of the lack of their

labor. Forest dwellers worked outside of their farms when

they needed to, and economic returns from their jobs enabled

them to abandon the household.


Expenditure figures are drawn from 48 surveys because

data in 12 were not reliable enough to be considered in the


final results. The average annual expenditure per household

was 1,126,707.50 (US $524.05). Figures represent expenses

for subsistence activities. Results from the surveys show

that most money, 63.5% of the total subsistence expenditure,

was assigned to food expenses (see Table 9). Forest dwellers

purchased agriculture products that were not cultivated in

the region, such as rice and beans. In each village there

were small general stores that provided commune members with

salt, vegetable oil and sugar. Costs of transport and

supply made the prices of those products higher in the

villages than in Borbon.

Availability of fuelwood in a wet environment is very

low, therefore expenses for cooking with gas and

illuminating the house with kerosene lanterns were

significant, representing 10 percent of the household

budget. Purchasing clothing was closely related to the

number of children in each household.

Transportation was expensive for forest dwellers in

this region. Access to Borbon was only by waterway

following both rivers. Obviously costs are directly related

to the distance between Borbon and each village. To reach

Borbon from distant places such as Selva Alegre in the

Santiago River, and Telembi in the Cayapas River cost 26,000

sucres (US $ 12.09), while from Colon Eloy in the Santiago

River and Punta de Piedra, the closest villages, a round

trip cost 3,000 sucres (US $ 1.40). Because of these


expenses, villagers travelled to Borbon strictly when


Table 9. Expenditures per Household per Category.

(US_ )
FOOD 323.93 63.53

CLOTHING 37.58 7.17

MEDICINE 23.40 4.47



OTHERS 5.18 0.99

(medicines and pasture
HUNTING (ammunition, 28.37 5.41
FISHING (fishing gear) 4.76 0.91
MONOCULTURE(seeds) 0.10 0.02

Source: Survey by the author

All households were involved in spiny rat trapping,

using natural materials available in the forests. Twenty

four households were involved in hunting, but only seven had

sold part of the wild meat. The rest of the households

hunted for subsistence, investing 5.4 percent of the

household budget into ammunition or maintenance replacement

of shotguns.


Low expenditures in medicines did not reflect a healthy

population; on the contrary, it showed the lack of health

services in the region. There were two clinics, one in each

river, with permanent doctors. However, medical supplies

were restricted to tropical diseases such as malaria, river

blindness or leishmaniasis. Women took care of minor health

problems using medicinal plants extracted from the forests.

For major diseases, villagers traveled to either Borbon or

Esmeraldas, but the expense of travelling caused them to

wait until the very last minute before making the trip.

Dynamics of Household Activities

Spatial and temporal patterns in household activities

Throughout the year people in the Commune work in their

agroforestry systems to which each household has rights (see

Figure 2). During each year, forest dwellers of the Commune

Rio Santiago-Cayapas interchangeably use different areas of

their communal land. The complexities of this system

illustrate how cultivation and management of forest species

are intermixed.

Agricultural work was reduced to one or two weedings

per year. The target of agricultural labor was the

improvement of cacao and plantain harvests. Pruning cacao

trees would also increase production; however, households do

not have enough labor to carry out this agricultural

practice. Similarly, although people believe that two


weedings are needed they frequently can only afford to do

one. Sometimes the head of the household asked for help

from other commune members in the form of "prestamanos", to

do even the one weeding. In compensation he would help

others in their plots when required. Generally, the first

weeding was carried out in January when most cacao trees

were fruiting. People would weed the plot in June only if

labor was not needed for other household activities or if

"prestamanos" could be found to help. During the harvest,

from September to January and later in April, people

usually gathered cacao on a bi-weekly basis. Overall, cacao

production was well under the average production in Ecuador,

400 to 600 pounds per hectare.

Villagers gathered plantains every week throughout the

year. When plantain production was exhausted on any of

their three plots, a new plot was opened on the communal

land. Frequently, when possible, they cleared adjacent

forests. When their plots bordered on another commune

member's plot, they looked for communal land further away.

They preferred to do this during the dry season, "summer",

when rain would not damage plantain seedlings. When opening

and establishing a new home garden, valuable timber and

useful palms were kept and their seedlings planted between

the plantain seedlings. They also planted fruit trees. Due

to soil fertility, plantain usually produced well for three

to four years and the production gradually decreased. At













Source: Interviews by the author.

Key: major harvest

Minor harvest

Figure 2. Activities Calendar


this point farmers generally planted cacao seedlings among

the plantain. After four to five years, cacao seedlings

exceeded the plantains which died off due to shading. If

cacao production diminished, they left the plot in fallow

for eight to ten years, then usually started the cycle

again. Between the cycle cacao-plantain and fallow, forest

dwellers managed regeneration of other useful plants. Tagua

seedlings and rubber trees are liberated of competition by

weeding. In addition fruit trees are planted and protected

during fallow periods.

People in the Commune harvested fruits, such as

oranges, avocado, caimitoo" and grapefruits in the months of

January, February, July, August and September. Only a few

households produced enough to surpass household needs and

sell some fruit in the villages.

Forest dwellers gathered tagua seeds when labor was

available throughout the year from their plots. During the

harvesting of cacao and plantains, tagua gathering was

considered as a secondary activity. Local inhabitants

concentrated all labor on cacao and plantain production.

However, in February and March and from May to August, they

visited agroforestry systems once or twice month to gather

tagua seeds.

Villagers in Selva Alegre tapped rubber under

commission. In 1994 commissioners asked for rubber twice in


April. According to commune members, in former years there

was one commission per month to tap rubber.

Trapping of spiny rats and small mammals was carried

out in agroforestry plots and plot reserve while larger

mammals were caught in the communal land. Communal

resources, such as rivers for fishing, were used mainly

during the "winter", a rainy season. In the summer, fish

become scarce. Unfortunately, some of the villagers used

dynamite in this season to obtain the few fish in the

rivers. Although this practice is not well accepted by all

commune members, they have not organized to stop it nor to

support state authorities to punish the culprits.

Communal land was also used for logging, an activity

mainly restricted to winter months but occasionally carried

out during the summer months. Forest dwellers need to meet

certain conditions to ensure that logging is a profitable

enterprise. First, they extract timber from nearby streams

or rivers and tie up the logs in groups to float them. They

improvise small camps on the logs and transport the timber

by river current to Borbon. During the winter months, water

levels on the rivers and streams facilitate timber

mobilization. However, during the summer, cash availability

decreases and people begin to make arrangements with timber

companies to log in their nearby forests. Sometimes they

take the wood out in planks. Under these conditions, the

costs of personnel and machinery increase while profit for

forest inhabitants decreases. When those arrangements are

not possible, they extract the wood out in planks using

rented horses or mules.

Seasonality of gender roles in household activities

Gender roles were maintained throughout the year,

however when off-farm activities required males to leave,

women engaged in most activities. Logging is a very

demanding activity. Males need to devote entire working

days for two or three weeks. In those cases women assumed

the plantain extraction, cacao harvesting and tagua

gathering. In 1994, in January, February and June, women

had to control and handle all household activities.

Similarly rubber tapping in most cases demanded total male

absence for two or three weeks. Thus in April of last year,

female and adult males were in charge. If off-farm

activities overlapped with agricultural labors, the latter

were either delayed or implemented with help of

"prestamanos". Overall, June, July and August seemed to be

the least labor demanding months. Only fruits and tagua

were harvested in this period, and even fishing decreased at

this time.


Comparison among four Case Studies with Different
Ecological Settings and Access to Market

Cayapas River Basin

Punta de Piedra. Punta de Piedra is a village of 12

households. It is 30 minute boat ride from Borbon.

Although the village has a small school, it sometimes

remains closed due to lack of permanent teachers.

Stimulated by TI, the people have organized a committee

to work with the project and to handle community issues.

The project has built a tagua store used by a local

middleman who constantly purchases vegetable ivory for the

project. Prices paid for tagua are the highest in the

village due to low costs of transport. Eventually, the

committee will assume the whole market process for vegetable


Villagers are mostly dedicated to cacao and tagua. In

this region of the commune, the land is flat and along

nearby rivers, swamps with stands of Euterpe chaunostachys

are common. The people extract palm heart as part of their

living. In addition, forests with valuable timber surround

the village. Logging is very common. In August, the

committee signed a concession with a timber company. For

subsistence, all households are involved in hunting. During

the winter, people are actively engaged in trapping shrimp.

Telembi. Telembi is a village of 30 households. It is

two and one half hours from Borbon by boat. There is a


small school in the village. Institutional capacity is weak

and there are no formal or informal organizations. There is

an elected representative of the Cabildo Comunal in the

village, but this has caused more conflict than unification.

In this region, the land is hilly, making agriculture

difficult. Forests have been intensively cleared and

converted to agriculture and pasture. Cacao production is

lower in this river and for this reason approximately half

of the population has not had enough cacao to sell in the

market. Out of 30 households, 12 are involved in tagua

extraction even though the volumes are far lower than the

average. During the tagua boom, people used to have tagua

groves. When the demand for tagua decreased, they converted

these groves to pasture or agriculture. With the

improvement of the tagua market, there are currently still

not enough tagua groves to make tagua extraction profitable.

In addition, transportation costs are high given the

distance to Borbon. People from Telembi have diversified

their economies. They are actively involved in logging,

sugar cane processing and trading of Cayapas baskets.

Hunting is only a subsistence activity because wildlife in

this area has been under high hunting pressure by Afro-

American and Cayapas people. Fish are scarce and the use of

dynamite is frequent.

Santiago River Basin

Colon Eloy. There were 50 households in the village of

Colon Eloy. It is a 30 minute walk from the Santiago River

with an additional 30 minute boat ride to Borbon. Colon

Eloy is linked to Maldonado, located on the bank of Santiago

River, by non-paved road. There are two trucks that made

two weekly trips between these villages.

Colon Eloy has an elementary school and a high school.

People have organized in different groups for various

purposes. There is a committee to work with the TI project.

Seven women have formed a group of "botoneras", to provide

TI with handmade buttons. In addition, there is a group of

"prestamanos" composed of 6 heads-of-households who also

helped each other with agricultural labor. Women have also

grouped to provide primary health services to this and

surrounding villages.

Land in Colon Eloy is mixed: near the river it is flat,

while inland it is hilly. Households in this village were

actively engaged in cacao and tagua extraction. The Colon

Eloy cacao and tagua groves are the largest. After the

tagua boom, most people were able to maintain tagua groves

without converting them to plantain or cacao crops. TI is

working with two middlemen situated in the village who

permanently buy tagua. Because of the road, logging occurs

non-seasonally, either individually or by arrangement with

timber companies. Logs were taken out of Colon Eloy and

floated to Borbon using the Santiago river current. Most

people were engaged in logging to make a living. All

households were involved in hunting as a subsistence

activity. Fishing was also carried out by the whole

community but it was restricted to the streams surrounding

the village where shrimp are abundant.

Selva Alegre. This village, located on the banks of

Santiago River, was inhabited by 60 households. To reach

Borbon, the main market of the region, takes 3 hours by boat

during the summer and 2 hours during the winter. There is

one taxi boat that makes a trip once a week. A round trip

costs approximately US $ 13. This village has both an

elementary and a high school. The school owns a boat that

made a weekly trip on Sundays. The boat was available for

the whole community and the price of the trip was cheaper

than the other commercial boats. Organization in the

community was very weak; there were no formal or even

informal institutions in the community. There was a

committee working with TI, however it only functioned in the

beginning of the TI project. Currently, the only

representative of TI is the middleman who works with the

project. There were two more middlemen situated in the

village who mainly bought cacao and gold and supplied

groceries for the village.

Land in the community is mainly flat but inland it

becomes slightly hilly. People are involved in cacao and


tagua extraction, however levels of extraction were low by

community standards. Levels of extraction are not

restricted due to lack of tagua groves since there are big

tagua groves remaining from the tagua boom, but for the

distance to Borbon. In the past, heads-of-household were

heavily engaged in rubber extraction, but currently because

of a low demand, half of the households tap rubber only when

requested by commission. Most people extract timber from

the communal land. Selva Alegre is surrounded by the

largest part of communal forest that remains in the Commune.

From this area, valuable timber is taken out to Borbon by

river. These trips last from a few days to a week according

to river water levels. All households are involved in

hunting in the reserve, where wildlife is more abundant than

in the rest of the Commune. All households fish in the

Santiago River and during the summer they frequently use

dynamite. Income in this community is among the lowest in

the Commune; for this reason some comuneros have migrated to

Quito and Guayaquil looking for better opportunities.

A Comparison of Typical Farms in the four Villages Studied

The diversity of ecological habitats, social and

economic factors, access to market and the histories of each

village have shaped the socio-economic structure of the

villages and ultimately the system of production in each

household. Therefore, villages and households in the


Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas are characterized by a great

variety of combinations and forms which have allowed them to

survive in an environment characterized by harsh conditions

and isolation from the rest of the country while facing the

forces of acculturation into the national system. It is

difficult to discuss typical villages or households; however

the main trends might be identified in the following

comparison of four household economies (Table 10).

First of all, the difference in income among the

settings are evident. Households in Punta de Piedra and

Colon Eloy, the closest villages to Borbon, have the highest

income. These figures do not consider the cash value of

subsistence activities. Therefore, it might be possible

that Telembi and Selva Alegre, the more distant villages,

rely more on subsistence activities than on income

generating activities due to their distance from market.

Reliance on income generating activities varied in each

setting. For all of them, except Punta de Piedra, cacao was

the activity that yielded the most income. Probably soil

fertility impedes more development of cacao production. Of

the agricultural activities, income is generated through

plantain production only in Colon Eloy and Selva Alegre.

The Santiago River Basin is known for having better soils

for plantain production. In addition, during the banana

boom in the late 40s, the Aztral Company rented communal

lands nearby Colon Eloy and hired many commune members for


plantain production. Because of the high demand and high

prices of plantain, many households invested in this

activity to make a living. After the boom, some plantain

plots were cut down but many were maintained in anticipation

of improved market conditions. Similarly, most commune

members engaged in the monoculture modality demanded for

this activity. This new modality in the household system of

production has remained to some extent and mixed with the

agroforestry approach of most commune members' farms.

Punta de Piedra was the only place where tagua was more

important than cacao. Tagua groves were well developed and

widespread in the village's land. In addition, marketing of

tagua was facilitated by the short distance to Borbon and

the existence of a daily transport service. Regarding non-

timber forest products, the extraction of palm heart and

rubber was highly localized in the Commune; Punta de Piedra

and Selva Alegre were the only places where those extractive

activities were carried out.

Timber extraction tended to be more important in Punta

de Piedra and Colon Eloy due to facilities in transportation

and proximity to Borbon. Probably there was more valuable

timber available in Selva Alegre which was close to remnant

old growth forest. In the case of Telembi, forests have

been largely exploited by both Afro-Americans and Chachis,

the indigenous people of the river. Undisturbed forest is

Table 10. Comparison of 4 Household Economies Regarding Different Ecological Settings
and Access to Market.














































































present only in the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and

small Chachis' forest reserves.

The Cayapas River Basin is supposed to be a cattle

ranching region; however, of the four households only in

Colon Eloy, in Santiago River Basin, did this activity

generate some income for the household economy. In Colon

Eloy, villagers' organizations had allowed them to accede to

credit sources available from governmental and non-

governmental projects. In contrast, in Telembi where

livestock raising was widespread among households, the

absence of capital had impeded forest dwellers from

profiting from this activity.

Households in Telembi had a more diversified economy.

Animal raising and the category "others" provided some

income, 16.47 percent of the total. Under "others",

activities such as sugar cane processing, and.basket making

were carried out to complement the household budget. Sugar

cane processing to make alcoholic drinks is a long tradition

among people in Telembi and the Cayapas River Basin in


Forest dwellers's involvement in off-farm activities

was related to the availability of jobs in the area and to

their capability of working in other areas.



Extractive products represent 13 percent of the total

household income in the Commune Rio Santiago Cayapas. There

are three NTFPs that are sold to obtain cash income:

vegetable ivory, rubber and palm hearts. Only palm hearts

are extracted from natural forests and even these are

anthropogenic, heavily managed forests. Among these

extractive products, extraction of vegetable ivory is the

most important. Rubber tapping and extraction of palm heart

occur infrequently, providing little money for each


In the whole community economy, extraction of vegetable

ivory is the third most important economic activity. This

figure is almost four times lower than cacao seed gathering,

the most important product for forest dwellers. Several

studies have shown that the economic importance of

extractive activities varies according to local situations.

In fact, studies on the role of extraction in household

economies provide very different figures. Schwartzman

(1989) maintains that in the case of rubber tappers, cash

income is largely generated through the sale of rubber and

Brazil nuts. Anderson and loris (1992) in Combu Island,

Brazil found that the sale of fruits and palm hearts from

Acai (Euterpe oleracea) represented 84.56 percent of the

total household income. In contrast, Hecht et al. (1988) in

their study of babassu palm (Orbiginya phalerata), found

that the proportional importance of kernel sales in the

household income was 29.9 percent. Gunatilake et al. (1993)

found that NTFP extraction contributed only 5.3 percent of

the income for 3 communities of Sri Lanka. My findings for

the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas are the lowest with the

exception of those for Sri Lanka.

Non-timber forest product extraction is not the only

source of income for forest dwellers in the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas. They are involved in several other

subsistence and market-oriented activities. Similar to most

forest dwellers around the tropics, local inhabitants in the

Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas are engaged in small scale-

farming, livestock production, handicraft production and

wage labor. They are forced to carry out, in a spatial and

temporal pattern, a non-specialized production based on the

principle of diversity of resources and productive

practices. This production implies the generation of a wide

variety of products. The strategy is to maximize the

variety of products produced, in order to provide basic

household necessities throughout the year. Forest dwellers

face natural and social constraints. They are economic

actors within a social, ecological and economic context.

The degree to which people will engage in NTFP

extraction depends on the availability of other types of

more profitable activities (Browder 1992, Godoy and Bawa

1993). This availability is linked to the existence of

strong markets in the region as well as to the existence of

an abundant resource base. In the Commune the most

profitable activity is cacao seed gathering. Cacao seeds

have had a strong market in Ecuador and in the region since

1948, and prices have gradually increased over the years.

Forest dwellers favor this activity due to its profitability

and market stability, even in the absence of care-taking.

In comparison, prices and markets for NTFPs are relatively

low. Even for tagua, the most important NTFP in the region,

the price is virtually worthless. One hundred pounds of

tagua provides 10 times less than the same volume of cacao.

Moreover, the tagua market after World War II dropped

drastically, only reviving in recent years. Although the TI

intervention has resulted in a better price and demand for

tagua, it is still not enough to make this activity the most

remunerative. In the case of C. elastica rubber, the

comparative advantages of rubber from Hevea brasiliensis

have reduced its viability on the market for Castilla,

leaving rubber tappers in the Commune with only an

occasional activity for cash. For palm hearts, prices and

scarcity of the resource have hindered more involvement by

forest dwellers in this activity. For these NTFPs, economic

and ecological factors have determined the importance of

extraction in the household economy. Nevertheless, people

in the Commune use NTFPs for many subsistence needs,

foodstuffs, fuelwood, building materials, hunting and


fishing traps, animal foods and medicines. Unfortunately,

this study was not intended to provide figures for those

uses but their economic importance in the household budget

cannot be denied.

Findings from this research support the argument that

extraction is among the least profitable uses of the forest

(Browder 1992). In the whole sample, tagua extraction

represented the third most important product in the

household economy, after cacao and logging. However, in the

average income per activity per household, extraction of

vegetable ivory became the eighth most important product.

Nevertheless, with of lack of transport and credit sources,

extractive activities are key to local inhabitants'

survival. Labor and capital investment is minimal for tagua

production. Moreover, tagua production occurs throughout

the year while cacao production, the main product, is

restricted to six months. When cacao harvest declines or is

ruined, as happened in several months during 1994, tagua

extraction became the most important cash product.

Therefore, my results confirm the argument of Arnold and

Falconer (1989) that forest products, those extracted from

natural forests and agroforestry systems, are critical for

people, especially in lean seasons. Logging is also

important in these times, however valuable timber is

becoming scarce in places where it can be transported by

waterway. In addition logging requires certain labor and


capital investment. The low input, sustainable agricultural

and household production system is almost unimaginable in

the region without contributions from extraction. Hecht et

al. (1988) also found that extractive activities support and

complement agricultural practices.

Forest dwellers mainly derive their income from other

activities. In the case of Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas, in

spite of low levels of care, the income contribution from

cacao production was around 50 percent of the total

household income. To increase cacao productivity, major

labor and capital inputs are required. Meeting these

requirements is a difficult task for people in the Commune

Rio Santiago-Cayapas.

Analysis of the roles of women and children has been

neglected for extractive activities. Women are especially

prominent in extractive systems. Results of this study show

that all women are involved in tagua extraction and

processing. These results are similar to what Hecht et al.

(1988) reported for the babassu economy. They showed that

84 percent of babassu collectors and processors were women.

In the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas, when men were engaged

in logging or off-farm activities, women and children

extracted tagua. In contrast, rubber tapping and processing

is mainly a male activity. These findings corroborate the

notion that women's labor is not conspicuous in rubber

extraction systems (Weinstein 1982 cited in Hecht 1991). In

addition, my findings show that women are involved in almost

all household activities. They contribute to agroforestry

production, livestock harvesting, animal raising and

fishing. They control animal raising and medicinal plant

collection. They are part of almost every kind of cash and

subsistence activities; therefore, their role in the

household economy is extremely important.

In spite of the limits of drawing results from a small

sample of households, the eight in-depth interviews provide

initial insights about the diversity found among household

residents in each villages and the region in general.

Information about the roles of minor forest products in the

household budgets and activities is virtually non-existent.

In the four villages compared, when the opportunity to

profitably produce or engage in other economic activities is

available, extraction of NTFPs usually becomes relatively

less important. Padoch (1987) has also found this trend in

her study in the villages of Iquitos. She recognized that

involvement of local dwellers in extraction varies

considerably and is determined, among other factors, by the

suitability of the area for intensive annual cropping and

the opportunities a offered for other economic activities.

Location of the villages in relation to Borbon and

costs of transportation accounted for variation in the

volume of NTFPs extracted and therefore, the profit derived.

Households in villages further away extracted much less

tagua from their agroforestry systems. Occasional transport

services in Selva Alegre and higher costs in Selva Alegre

and Telembi impeded villagers from profiting more from

extraction. Many authors (Anderson 1990, Fearnside 1989,

Padoch 1987, 1988, Salafsky et al. 1993) have pointed out

that access to market is one of the main obstacles for NTFP

extraction. In the villages of Colon Eloy and Punta de

Piedra, logging is favored due to the distance from Borbon

and the availability of roads, as in Colon Eloy.

Another determinant of the type of economic activities,

levels of production and marketing appears to be the history

of settlement and specialization of the area. The village

of Selva Alegre has a long tradition in rubber tapping and

villagers are the most skilled rubber tappers in the region.

All households' agroforestry plots in the Commune have

rubber trees but only people from Selva Alegre tap the

latex. Villagers from Selva Alegre tap rubber from other

farms sharing the profits with the owners. In Telembi,

villagers have been processing sugar cane to make alcoholic

drinks since the establishment of the village. They supply

the village and the Commune with these beverages. Income

generated from this activity under the category "Others",

represented as much as logging for the household economy.

With these and many other factors affecting the

patterns of production and marketing products, communities

in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas obviously differ


greatly. There are no "typical villages" or "typical



One of the main constraints of extractivism has been

the lack of market for NTFPs. In the past, seeds from

Phytelephas aequatorialis, and leaves from Cardulovica

palmata represented the second and third most exported

products in Ecuador. The advent of synthetics and changes

in consumers' preferences restricted the market for these

products. Currently, in Ecuador, there are no strong local

or regional markets for this activity like in Peru or


The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the marketing

process of the most important NTFPs commercialized--

vegetable ivory, rubber and palm heart--in the Commune Rio

Santiago-Cayapas. In order to do this, I depict the local

market. In addition, before analyzing the market relations

of these forest products, I describe their biology, uses and

harvesting techniques. Finally, I identify the potential

and limitations in the extraction of other promising NTFPs

in the region.


Local Market
Access from the villages to the main market in the

region, Borbon, is only by waterway following the Santiago

and Cayapas rivers. There is no road to link these villages

to Borbon. Within the Commune there is a five kilometer

road that connects Maldonado to Colon Eloy.

Boats on the Santiago River and Cayapas are scarce. In

Cayapas, there is a river taxi which makes one trip per day

for passengers. Overall, the lack of regular service has

hindered the commercialization of products by the producers

themselves. Very few forest dwellers own outboard motors

and trips from the villages to Borbon, by canoe, last

anywhere from four to 24 hours. For these reasons, most

producers sell their products to four middlemen, based in

Borbon, who travel down both rivers two or three days per

week. These middlemen mainly buy cacao and occasionally

tagua. Plantain, fruits and game meat are generally sold in

the villages.

Non-timber Forest Products Extracted in the Region

Vegetable ivory: Phytelephas aeauatorialis

Biology. P. aequatorialis is a dioceous palm: there are

a male and a female palm. The tallest individuals, which

reach up to 15 m, are encountered in the submontane forests.

Such individuals may be over 200 years old (Barfod et al.

1990). P. aequatorialis is a slow growing species (Barfod


1991a). It begins to flower about ten years after

germination (Acosta Solis 1948). In areas where the climate

is seasonal, the flowering is synchronized with the onset of

the wet season and occurs in an annual cycle. The process

of ripening is slow; it lasts more than one year (Acosta

Solis 1948, Barfod 1991a,b). In places where annual

precipitation is high and evenly distributed, such as in the

Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas, tagua palms flower throughout

the year.

The dispersion of mature seeds of phytelephantoid palms

is through water because of their capability to float. In

addition, many animals such as Dasyprocta sp. and Agouti

paca may be involved in the dispersal of this species. They

probably feed on the inner fleshy part of the seed (Barfod

1991b). Forest dwellers in the Commune are mainly involved

in the management of regeneration rather than in seed

planting of this species.

Uses of taqua. For traditional purposes, settlers

harvest leaves from palms of P. aequatorialis to thatch

houses; sometimes this practice may include felling some of

the palms. Although they recognize that leaves should be

harvested from male palms, to not affect fruiting, most

settlers use leaves from female palms as well. Forest

dwellers do not harvest all leaves from a palm, rather they

usually leave two or three leaves per male palm and seven or

eight leaves per female palm.


Immature fruits are watery and as they ripen they

become milky, curdy and gelatinous. It is then that they

are used as a drink. The mesocarp of the seed is used as a

bait in traps for fish and spiny rats (Proechymis sp.).

This mesocarp is also used to feed domestic pigs. The palm

heart is also eaten by some forest dwellers. The roots are

used as a diuretic, and have contraceptive properties. The

solid stem has a very hard external cover, and because of

this property is used, after being split longitudinally, to

build floors, in the same manner as Iriartea deltoidea.

Vegetable ivory has been gathered for commercial

purposes in northwestern Ecuador. since the Colonial period.

Initially tagua was used for handcrafting. Richard Spruce,

a botanist who traveled to Ecuador in 1885, recorded that

tagua seeds are "extensively used in the Sierra [highlands]

to make dolls, saints and staffs" (Spruce 1908). From 1865

to the beginning of the present century, great quantities of

vegetable ivory were exported from Ecuadorian ports to the

United States and European countries for manufacturing


Harvesting taqua. In the beginning of tagua extraction

and export, gathering of vegetable ivory affected the

natural populations of this palm. During the peaks of tagua

trade, Acosta Solis (1948) pointed out that local

inhabitants in Ecuador viewed the tagua palms as a "natural

and freely exploitable wealth". The method employed to

collect tagua was destructive. Harvesters used the striking

method which implied cutting the fruit when it was still

tender, before maturation. Often when the demand was high

and the nuts were not accessible, "tagueros" felled the

female palm to obtain the nuts. Most of the time, the

vegetable ivory acquired by both techniques was too immature

to be used (Barfod 1991b). In Ecuador the decline of the

tagua market induced the clearing of immense areas of

forests to establish banana plantations, the promising new

economic product at that time. In this way, many of the

natural habitats of tagua were destroyed, leading the tagua

populations to an even more endangered situation than that

caused by the previously destructive exploitation of

vegetable ivory (Acosta Solis 1948, Barfod 1989). Some tagua

palms were kept, and because an steadily increase of tagua

market, regeneration of tagua palms in forest dwellers'

farms has been favored. Currently with a demand still low,

forest dwellers in the Commune Rio Santiago-Cayapas gather

ripened tagua from the ground of their agroforestry plots.

Market. The statistics on tagua exports from the

Ecuadorian port of Esmeraldas are provided in Figure 3.

From these statistics it is evident that the decline of the

tagua market coincided with historical events such as World

War I, the Great Depression in the United States, and World

War II. In 1887 the export of vegetable ivory from the port

of Esmeraldas was worth about three percent of the total

exported products in Ecuador. Ecuador was the major

exporter of tagua when production was at its highest point,

that is, in the late 1920s and early 1930s (Acosta Solis

1948, Barfod 1989). During the 1920s, the peak of tagua

production, Ecuador earned $5 million a year. Overall a

major percentage of the ivory nut imported by the United

States came from Ecuador.

By the beginning of World War II the demand for tagua

started to decline and during the war the tagua market was

completely inactive. This was not only the result of the

war and the market instability it created, but also a result

of the advent of synthetic materials. These new materials

constituted an inexpensive alternative for manufacturing

buttons. Plastics replaced the use of some raw materials

such as tagua and rubber which were the basis of the economy

in many countries.

After World War II the international tagua trade

practically disappeared. However, in Ecuador and Colombia,

small factories processing tagua can still be found. In

Ecuador small scale extraction has continued to supply raw

material for a few national button and handicraft factories.

Currently, in the Ecuadorian province of Manabi, a few

factories founded before World War II have subsisted and

still produce buttons from tagua. The buttons are exported

to several industrialized countries, mainly Japan, Germany

and Italy where they are used for fashion clothing. The


16,0S0,O00 ------..---------------------------

12,000,000- **-----------------*---------

S0 140,00o-- --....... -- ----------- *--------
0 ize __"_

*^ 10COOO "*" *" *^- -. ^- -**** w u

L 1t i l i l tiLLL Li It & 1 1 11 1 1 1 16LL LL1I1I1 sl it
1930 1940 190 1960 1970 1980 1990

Figure 3. Tagua Export from Ecuador 1925-1992

Source: From Coles-Ritchie, M. and P. Salazar. 1994. Estudio
sobre la Produccion, Comercializacion y Exportacion de
Tagua en el Ecuador. IDEA, Documento Tecnico No. 60. Page 5.