January 28, 2021
We are still here in Casa Blanca and will likely stay put for another two weeks. Beirut remains under a lockdown, apparently the most stringent in the world. We are in the mist of the rainy season. The skies are gray and heavy, the days humid and hot, and there are plenty of bugs; the iguanas are very happy. Our routine hasn’t changed much. Monday through Friday Marina attends classes, Natalia works at least 8 hours per day, I work less and thus have time to go to the market and, every other day, run on the beach. For breakfast and lunch we usually all take care of ourselves (I tend to skip lunch and only drink coffee in the morning). But at night we always have dinner together. Either we go out or I cook. An apéro is also a daily occurrence for Natalia and I, usually after 6pm (Marina, unfortunately, also needs to deal with homework, plus she doesn’t yet drink much). Then comes the weekend when we try to discover new places around here but otherwise read and vegetate.
I have also taken some time to deal with finca related stuff. Over the last year the guys who work there have been planting cacao threes (as you can see in the pictures they are still small) and cultivating what the old threes produce. It is “cacao fino de aroma” (fine aromatic cacao) that we use to produce high-quality chocolate. We don’t produce much, just a few kilos, for now the goal has been to test the potential of the value chain. The person in charge of the preparation of the chocolate is a German lady who has been living in Mompiche-Ecuador for close to 10 years. Her name is Michaela, an autodidact. Through readings, videos, and several courses she has been able to perfection the technique, or I should say the art, and her chocolates are to die for. With the right marketing and production scale, they would have the potential to enter international markets.
This would also open opportunities for local, small, farmers. Instead of simply selling the fruit at very low prices, they could plant new seeds, adopt new cultivation techniques, and then aggregate their production and become part of the chocolate value chain. This would allow them to receive a larger share of the value-added that is generated within the chain. Basically, they would receive higher earnings for their work and higher returns on their land. This, however, would require having in place the right government support programs and, unfortunately, we don’t have. At least not yet.
There are other missing opportunities. Mompiche is a small village close to the finca where the the two main economic activities are fishing and tourism. The latter has developed around surfing because there is a nice break that attracts surfers from around the world. But again, the village doesn’t count with the necessary infrastructure and support programs to get the best out of these activities, create jobs, increase earnings, and improve the standards of living of the local population (many are classified as poor). Just as an example, there is no access to drinking water and sewerage, and the roads, which are not paved, get filled with puddles of water and mud when it rains (every day at this time of the year). Getting to Mompiche from Quito or Guayaquil, the two international airports, is also not easy. By car it can take close to 7 hours.
As for the fishermen, they still use small canoes –now with an outboard–, and rely on traditional fishing techniques. What they fish is barely enough to satisfy local consumption. Yet, there is an impressive variety of fish, mollusks, crustaceans and echinoderms. Like in the case of cacao, there is potential to improve efficiency in existing operations, increase output, expand markets and triple the incomes of local fishermen. But this again would require the right interventions, including facilitating access to credit.
Another village we visited, smaller than Mompiche, where tourism could develop is Tongora. There the beach, Tongorachi, is simply beautiful. For now the local community has setup a gazebo where they sell seafood, beer, coconut water, and bottled water. But basic infrastructure is lacking and there is no knowledge about sanitary standards. When we ate there (crabs stuffed with bananas), we were all concerned about getting sick (we didn’t). Like in Mompiche, there is no drinking water.
So many things could be done if politicians got their act together. But that problems is not specific to this country…