THE FAMILY LIFE
Kallari families who contribute to our cooperative are host to a wide range of economic, cultural, and rainforest resources. We come from two types of communities: those that are fairly isolated from roads and those which are easily accessible by road. The isolated Kallari families have an average total farm size of 50 hectares, of which an average of 40 hectares is still rainforest. Each farm generally has about five hectares of fallow fields, which are left for secondary forest growth and clearing for future use. A rural family typically has only five to ten hectares of land that may actually be farmed for production. The 50 hectare land plots are constantly being divided between the members of the next generation, leading to smaller plots per family.
The Kallari communities near roads typically are home to families with small farm plots of one to five hectares, each with very little remaining rainforest. The Kichwa youth from communities near small towns with road access usually have better education, but are often much more distant from their cultural roots and know little about rainforest life. They may earn a similar annual income to a family from an isolated rainforest community, but they have little familiarity with medicinal plants and other rainforest resources, causing them to rely more on external sources of food and medicine. Although they may not have the hardship of hiking over an hour to reach a bus to town, they rely a great deal on the outside world without having the money to buy the products they need from the town.
Our agricultural practices are very sustainable and environmentally friendly. We prepare the soil, plant, and harvest all of our crops by hand and also take care to preserve the soil by rotating our crops and interplanting with nitrogen-fixing legume species. We utilize only our hands and machetes to farm and thereby also avoid damage to the soil surface. Crops generally cultivated in our area include corn, plantains, manioc (cassava), beans, pineapple, wild potatoes, coffee, cocoa, palms, fruit trees, hardwoods, and plants of medicinal or artesanal use. Unfortunately, crops produced through our sustainable agricultural practices cannot compete with the inexpensive produce that developed nations grow using herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, heavy machinery, and monocultural planting schemes. We produce less per hectare than the fields in other regions, as their high yields are due to the equally high input of agrochemicals and fertilizers. The current income that we receive is between $5 and $6 per day per person.
As a result of low agricultural incomes and lack of capital for reserve savings and bank accounts, when there is an economic emergency for a Kichwa family in an isolated community, a large hardwood tree may be harvested to supplement a family's income. Thus, many rainforest plots in isolated communities are high graded, meaning that the hardest and most valuable species of hardwood trees have been selectively cut down.
The sale of our products to the Kallari cooperative brings our families additional income without forcing us to overcultivate our lands or cut down our hardwood trees for minimal prices. In 2002, the amount of income generated for the families in the cooperative through the sale of crafts exceeded the amount generated by any other source, including the sale of any single agricultural or timber product. Through the production of crafts, we are able to live from our lands in a sustainable way.