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A fruit-flavored dream

The Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Guayabillas (ASOMEG in Spanish) produces and markets tropical fruit products made with agroecological and local crops. These products enable the Association’s members to take advantage of the region northwest of Quito’s astounding diversity and rich production, and improve their families’ and communities’ incomes, all the while strengthening the caring bonds woven between women and their relationship with nature.

By Diana Troya

Photography: Estefanía Bravo

The Chocó Andino area of Pichincha Province, especially the Río Guaycuyacu Reserve area, is where one finds the greatest diversity of “multiple use” trees in Latin America, with more than 600 species of shrubs, palms and fruit trees1.

This is not mere coincidence. For more than 30 years, “Tropiculture” has developed here, a term coined by Mimi Foyle, a pioneer in agroforestry and forest foods in the region. Mimi and her husband James are much loved and respected for their work and love for the tropical forests, especially in the Chocó Andino, their home for several decades.

Tropiculture is an agroforestry practice that aims not only to recover and but also to preserve tropical forms of cultivation, as well as the knowledge related to the sustainable use of resources and the opportunities that tropical species can provide local inhabitants1. These forests, also called food forests, agro-forests or analogous forests, are regarded by many specialists as humanity’s best option to feed ourselves in a sustainable way, while strengthening local culture and economies1.

The story of Mimi and James is key to understanding the fruit diversity of Pichincha Province’s Chocó Andino. They have selflessly distributed seeds, plants and knowledge to their neighbors, mainly in the communities of Guayabillas, San José de Mashpi and Santa Rosa. Walking through the farms in this area becomes a unique gastronomic experience.

Mimi and James’s fruit legacy lives on in the abundance of tropical fruits and their use in local cuisine.

With the idea of ​​sharing these flavors and achieving greater economic independence, several women from Guayabillas — organizing themselves as ASOMEG y con el apoyo y acompañamiento de Fundación Futuro, — set out to sell a range of products based on the fruits they grow.

ASOMEG is an association made up of rural women with broad knowledge of local agriculture and gastronomy. These women have demonstrated, through their hard work and perseverance, the importance of organizing themselves and empowering their peers, which in turn reduces their families’ and their community’s vulnerability.

The ASOMEG venture is a symbol of these local women’s resilience. They have found a way to take advantage of the fruit that grows all around them but which they couldn’t sell during the worst moments of the coronavirus pandemic. ASOMEG strengthens its members’ entrepreneurial spirit and is an exemplar of how to organize a community of women living in biodiverse territories. Thanks to constant improvement in quality, recipe innovation and the diversification of products, ASOMEG jams and dulce de leche have arrived at the esteemed haute cuisine tables of nearby Mashpi Lodge, recognized as one of the best hotels in Ecuador and South America.

In September 2021, ASOMEG together with Fundación Futuro, officially launched “La Guapa”, a brand of processed fruit products such as jams, whose name was inspired by fusing “Guayabillas” and “Pacto” (two local towns) to give a sense of place, while also reflecting the warmth and personality of the women who make them (“guapa” means “pretty” in Spanish).

La Guapa’s philosophy is both delicious and inspiring:

“We are a resourceful project, of proactive, entrepreneurial and independent women. We are an extension of our community and our work not only drives our economic independence, but also teaches us about caring for the Earth. We make the most of the products which grow all around us to create something delicious, sustainable and organic. We work together through thick and thin, supporting each other as partners.“

In no time at all, ASOMEG has become a benchmark for more women from Guayabillas and neighboring communities. La Guapa is the first of many fruit-flavored dreams, and Fundación Futuro will continue to accompany ASOMEG on its mission to make its members’ dreams a reality, creating more innovative and competitive products in the market.

“We want to see our products in supermarkets in Ecuador, and abroad as well” — Irma Napa

“We can think big and make our dreams come true. In 10 years, we want everyone to know about our organic, home-made products”— Doña Rosa

“Our products are organic, natural, 100% healthy”— Lilia Lema

Working on the processing of tropical fruits as a sustainable way of life in Guayabillas has been a gratifying process for everyone involved. The Fundación Futuro , from the beginning, was convinced the strengthening of the local women’s capacities was key, due to their huge transformative power. Our work has focused on identifying the group’s needs, facilitating spaces for their organization, training, and seeking to open up markets for their products.

We’re delighted to see La Guapa at the tables of Mashpi Lodge and we’re proud to have generated a relationship of trust with our clients. The feedback from Mashpi Lodge has been invaluable in the strengthening and overall success of this relationship. At Fundación Futuro, we work with a holistic vision of environmental conservation, addressing multiple axes and articulating as many actors as possible on the path to sustainable soil management. Our objective is to contribute to the improvement in the quality of life of all the communities we work with and to promote production models that are compatible with nature and that reduce the pressure on the biodiverse forests of Pichincha Province.

We hope to see La Guapa and all the fruit products of ASOMEG in more stores, restaurants and homes across Ecuador. As consumers, we have the power to decide what to bring to our tables. Choosing ASOMEG products is as way to support the work of women in rural communities, contributing to the improvement in the quality of life of the families of Guayabillas, consuming healthy and quality products, and being an active part of the well-being of the forests of the Chocó Andino.

Let’s go Guapa!

References
1: West, J. & A. Solano-Ugalde. 2021. Living Book of tropiculture. Knowledge Factories Project in the Chocó Andino Commonwealth. Imaymana Foundation, AEXCID, AUPEX 57p.

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