An early Friday morning, earlier this month, I met with Wilfrido Marcillas and his daughter Camilla, Palm Done Right farmers in Quevedo, Ecuador. It is a joy to be in the field and hear their stories. And it is crucial for understanding their challenges and needs.
A farmer his entire life, Wilfrido has gone through many ups and downs working with different crops. He knows that organic farming, regeneration of land and creating better lives for farming communities is the way to lead positive change.
Wilfrido knows what it means to start from scratch. His parents were first generation farmers in Quevedo when they started growing food crops on their land after the 1940s. After a disease wiped out their cocoa plantation, Wilfrido changed to growing bananas. Banana cultivation requires a lot of attention. It helped Wilfrido develop into a very technical farmer, using both skills and chemical inputs. “During the green revolution everyone believed that machines and chemicals would take over to boost yields”, says Wilfrido. “It did increase yields, but it also created many of the challenges we are facing today.”
When the ‘Mal de Panama’ banana disease wiped out many banana plantations in the region during the 1980s, Wilfrido had to start over again. He decided to grow oil palms on his land, a much easier crop to manage. He also realized that he needed to take a different approach: “In order to achieve an equilibrium between productivity and taking care of the environment, I needed to move to organic farming”, explains Wilfrido.
A technical farmer at heart, Wilfrido wants to double or even triple his farm’s productivity. He is convinced he can achieve this by using the right practices and good fertilization. Compared to conventional inputs, organic fertilizer is expensive. “We farmers need support”, says Wilfrido, while we continue talking that morning. “People need to understand that it is a shared responsibility to realize better yields while faming in an environmentally friendly way.”
Taking the lead
As the president of the Quevedo Organic Palm Growers’ Association, Wilfrido brings together the organic palm growers in Natural Habitats’ Quevedo supply network. He takes the lead to collaborate and improve farming pratices. He says: ”In the last 20 years there has been no help from the government. The only way to succeed for us farmers is to work together.” Setting up an organic fertilization program is one of his objectives. He has clear expectations and adds: “Our fresh fruit bunches buyers will need to support us in getting the right organic fertilizers.”
Health and communities are what motivate Wilfrido most. That is why another one of his priorities, as the association’s president, is to support local communities to improve their lives. He will focus on raising awareness and training farm workers, and their community members, to live healthier lives by encouraging people to produce their own food. In and around his farms he sets an example, growing cassava and plantain, and keeping chickens.
What we can do
When I walk through the farm and look as far as my eyes can take me, it is evident that Wilfrido manages his farm beyond what we would call “right”. The steep slopes on his land have been restored with native trees. A conservation area now, it serves as a refuge for many wild animals, including the tigrillo, a tiny jaguar, that can be spotted at night.
Let us all support this new green revolution. One where we move away from using chemical inputs and harmful practices, yet help farmers improve their yields. That starts with co-investing in providing premium organic inputs. It also requires that we reward organic and environmentally friendly practices. It is as simple as buying products made with regenerative organic ingredients.
Be mindful of the choices you make. There are millions of farmers, large and small, like Wilfrido, that do it right. Support their green revolutions.
Check our stories about how palm oil can be done right: www.palmdoneright.com and join the movement.