Ecuador lost 14.6% of its forests between 1990 and 2020, to a large extent caused by conversion into agricultural lands and timber extraction, and to a lesser extent due to road development and oil exploration [1]. The land sector contributed with 30% of the total national GHG emission balance in 2016 [2].  In 2013, the area under human management was 7.33 million hectares, covering 29.0% of the country. From this area, 5.11 million hectares are for agriculture and livestock [3].


Soil deterioration and water pollution are considered as two of the most serious environmental problems in Ecuador. It has been determined that 50% of the cultivated soil is eroded and that the erosion is intrinsically linked to agricultural expansion and land use cover change processes [4].

At the regional level, it is possible to identify two general mechanisms that explain the recent increase in the land use/cover change dynamics: a) expansion of agricultural areas and b) displacement of extensive land uses. In the southern high Amazon, the pasture for livestock continues to expand [5].

The land use cover change process shows a replacement of self-consumption crops to more economically efficient crops such as cocoa, coffee, banana, rice, cassava, and Chinese potato. Moreover, expansion of aquaculture and forest plantations frequently replace areas previously used for pasture, displacing a part of the replaced area. Therefore, in some parts of Ecuador, although the pasture area reduced between 2015 and 2017, most of the net forest cover loss occurred where pasture is the most important land use. This process explains, for example, the recent deforestation in the mountain ranges and plains of the west-north area. Here, the current opportunity cost of land is substantially higher than what existing crops, and especially livestock, yield; therefore, they are replaced and displaced to areas with lower opportunity costs [5].

After 2016, the intensity of land use cover change processes enhanced because of the return of thousands of workers and temporary rural workers who lost their work as an effect of the national crisis during the period 2014-2016 and, on the coast north, due to the earthquake of April 2016. Of special importance are the urban sectors that employ rural workers who migrate to the cities temporarily to work in construction which was affected. Many of these workers returned to agricultural activities in their places of habitual residence, momentarily increasing the land use cover change dynamics [5].


Key policies and governance approach

The agricultural policy in the current framework of the system in Ecuador is mainly made up of the Political Constitution of Ecuador, the National Plan for Good Living 2013-2017, the Catalog of Policies of the Sectoral Council of Production, the Agenda for Productive Transformation, the sectoral agendas of the Coordinating Ministry of Production, Employment and Competitiveness, the Agenda for Productive Transformation (2010), the new proposal to change the national productive matrix formulated between 2012 and 2014, the National Strategy for Equality and the Eradication of Poverty (2014), the Organic Law of the Food Sovereignty Regime, and the Organic Code of Territorial Organization, Autonomy and Decentralization [4].

The general context is that support for the agricultural sector has increased significantly, including funding for individual producers and general services; the share of support for individual producers in the composition of total support has increased, especially in the form of price support and input subsidies. Support via prices increased considerably as of 2014, especially for products such as rice, corn, and milk, which have both border protection measures and minimum producer support prices [6].

Moreover, before 2006, agricultural policy in Ecuador was characterized by frequent changes, influenced by the political instability and the pressures of different actors in the agricultural and commercial sector. After the suspension of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States in 2006, and the approval of the new Ecuadorian Constitution in 2008, the Andean country promoted the issuance of the Organic Law of the Food Sovereignty Regime in 2009, which together with the National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013 and 2013-2017, established general guidelines for the design of policies, programs, and projects to promote food production, security, sovereignty, and rural development. At the same time, adaptations of the previous policy document were promoted, which were compiled in the "State Policies for Ecuadorian agriculture 2007-2020" [6].

The Ecuadorian Agricultural Policy (2016) promotes sustainable rural development. The policy seeks to 1) promote food security and sovereignty through better access to food, 2) democratize access to land, water, seeds, credit and other supplies, 3) promote technical assistance, training and other knowledge and technology transfer processes, 4) strengthen peasant family agriculture and promote its linkage to internal and external markets, 5) promote the use of sustainable traditional management in agriculture, 6) promote the conservation of soil and water, and prevent the degradation of these resources, 7) promote the production and substitution of agricultural imports, and 8) reduce the expansion of the agricultural frontier [6].

It is to notice that the implementation of these policy plans was affected by factors such as the limited operational capacity of the institutions involved, the frequent rotation of the teams, the constant pressure exerted by different actors, and in addition, contradictory legislation at the local and secondary level [7]. In more recent years, the main limitation for the implementation of programs and projects has been the availability of sufficient resources, due to the drop in State revenues and the slowdown in the economy in 2015 and 2016 [6].


Successes and remaining challenges

Data and information on the land sector in Ecuador has improved, although there is still a need to focus on the gaps. The National Institute of Agricultural Research is preparing spatial information on pH, organic matter, phosphorus, and potassium at the national level. Another success collaboration is between the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries (MAGAP) and FAO to provide technical support for agricultural mechanization, seed production, fertilizer registration and post-registration system, and beekeeping research and training [4].

Some of the main challenges for sustainable land management in the country include the need to overcome the absence of an integrated management system for ecosystems and soil recovery, nutrition, and conservation, as well as the low level of participation of communities and farmers on soil management and conservation management. Moreover, Ecuador needs to reinforce the regulations, plans, programs, projects, and national tools to recover and conserve ecosystems and soils. For this purpose, the country needs to structure a national monitoring system for quality, productivity and degradation of ecosystems and soils [4].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Ecuador is supporting a strategy to promote the use of biofertilizers and biocontrollers based on beneficial microorganisms, for example, the province of Los Ríos and the Network of Small Producers of Bioinsumos, contribute to the increase in soil fertilization, the substitution of agrochemical use and its reduction in the import.

The Agricultural Mechanization Directorate, together with the associations of rice producers, seeks transfer and provide technology for micro leveling of soils in their crops in an area of ​​influence of more of 27,000 ha, thereby promoting the care and good use of the soil resources [4].


Goals and Ambitions

Ecuador has established some goals for a new vision for agriculture. 

1) Change the agricultural model which will be guided by sustainable use of land, water, genetic resources for food and agricultural production. The main goal is to break the old scheme of assistance projects focused on small groups of “beneficiaries”, by designing a set of articulated policies based on these actors, with objectives of inclusion, and equity [4].

  • Ecuador agricultural exports stand out in the world market. Ecuador is the largest exporter of banana in the world, the second exporter of shrimp and tuna, and the third exporter of flowers. There are new products with export potential: Andean grains (and derived products) such as quinoa, chocho and amaranth; Andean fruits (tree tomato, small grape, and blackberry), in addition to hake and the cobia, among the fish. Balsa, broccoli, and teak are already being exported and have been proven to have great potential [4]. The diversification of the agricultural production is a great opportunity for the country.
  • However, support to agricultural production should be analysed always from a sustainable framework, through practices that allow farmers to keep the production while preventing ecosystems and soils degradation.