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Country profile - Ecuador

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Ecuador is one of the smaller countries in South America. Located on the west coast and straddling the equator, Ecuador encompasses a wide range of natural formations and climates, from the desert-like southern coast to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains and the plains of the Amazon River Basin. The country also includes the Galápagos Islands, about 1,000 kilometres west of the mainland.

The variety of temperature and rainfall patterns has resulted in a diversity of tropical and temperate crops. Moderate or cool temperatures in highland areas allow the cultivation of maize, beans, potatoes and vegetables. In the Costa (coastal regions) a warm climate, fertile soils and proximity to ports has led to large-scale production of export crops such as coffee, bananas, sugar, cacao, palm oil and rice.

Livestock production is widespread throughout the country. The Costa and Oriente (eastern Amazon basin) produce mainly beef cattle, while dairy cattle are mostly found in the Sierra. Cattle are grazed on coastal land otherwise unsuited for agriculture, such as the hilly terrain in Manabi Province, seasonally flooded river plains or semiarid parts of the far south. Dairy production is typically carried on in fertile valleys, particularly between Riobamba and the Colombian border. Pig production is spread throughout the country while sheep and goats are concentrated in the Andean regions.

Export commodities

Ecuador is one of the largest producers of white fleshed shrimp (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
Ecuador is one of the largest producers of white fleshed shrimp
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Oil is the largest Ecuadorian export, followed by cut flowers, bananas, and shrimp. The climate in the Ecuadorian highlands is suited to floriculture, which has seen an increasing interest from national and foreign investors. Representing over 30 per cent of world banana trade, Ecuador exports more bananas than any other country. About 95 per cent of domestically grown fruit is exported to over 50 countries, with the EU, United States and Russia receiving 80 per cent.

Ecuador is also one of the largest producers of white fleshed shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) in the world. Pathogens, such as White Spot Syndrome, and climatic events, including tropical storms and droughts, are the major challenges faced by this sector, which has reacted by improving post larvae production and quality, and improving management.

Both Arabica and Robusta varieties of coffee are produced in Ecuador, the majority on small farms of one to ten hectares. An estimated total of 150,000 hectares of land is dedicated to the cultivation of coffee, with roughly 60 per cent of this area also shared with other crops, including cacao, citrus fruits, bananas and mangoes.

Smallholder cocoa farmers account for about 85-90 per cent of total cocoa production, which, in 2011, reached 200,000 tonnes (4.5 per cent of world cocoa production), making Ecuador the seventh largest producer. In the past, cocoa production has been hit hard by disease, including Monilosis and Witches Broom. To combat disease and produce higher yields, work has been underway to develop new cocoa varieties and improved technologies.

Livestock production is widespread throughout the country (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
Livestock production is widespread throughout the country
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Poverty and inequality

Despite having abundant land and water resources, agricultural productivity on small scale farms is low; in order to boost low coffee productivity, for example, Ecuador's National Coffee Council is currently working to renovate 1,500 hectares of old plantations during 2012.

Despite significant agricultural exports, food imports remain high. The latest figures estimate that 30 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, with indigenous and rural populations most affected. According to a World Bank report in 2005, for example, 87 per cent of indigenous Ecuadorians were poor, which rose to 96 per cent in rural areas. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) states that in the Amazon region, the lack of secure access to land and water, and the increasing pressure of the oil industry on native lands, has resulted in high levels of poverty. Other concentrations of poverty lie in the central highlands due to land scarcity and soil degradation caused by the intensification of agriculture, and in coastal regions where mangrove swamps have largely been destroyed through the construction of large ponds for shrimp production.

Toxic waste has been blamed for damaging crops and killing livestock (© Caroline Bennett/Rainforest Action Network)
Toxic waste has been blamed for damaging crops and killing livestock
© Caroline Bennett/Rainforest Action Network

Environmental issues

According to Conservation International, Ecuador is one of 17 'megadiverse' countries in the world, with more biodiversity per square kilometre than any other country. But with one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America, Ecuador is losing 200,000 hectares of forest every year due to illegal logging and deforestation for agricultural expansion. In the coastal region, 95 per cent of the woodlands have been felled. Ecuador's Amazon region is one of the poorest areas in the country, due in part to lack of land tenure and the pressure from oil and mining companies on indigenous lands. In 2011, a court in Ecuador fined US oil company, Chevron, US$8.6 billion for polluting the Amazon by dumping billions of gallons of toxic materials into pits and rivers. The waste has been blamed for damaging crops, killing livestock and high cancer rates among the local population.

Ecuador faces numerous environmental challenges - including erosion and desertification - in addition to suffering from El Niño events, floods and landslides. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, roughly 50 per cent of the country is affected by soil erosion, with the Andean region the most affected (70 per cent). Climate extremes are the most common type of disaster, therefore in 2008 the Ministry of Environment proposed a national strategy to fight climate change. Proposed changes include the introduction of higher-yielding crop varieties to reduce the need for expanding agricultural land through deforestation, expansion of irrigation systems, mangrove preservation and reforestation, and reorganisation of shrimp farming activities.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Ecuador
  • Capital: Quito
  • Area: 283,561 sq km
  • Population: 15,223,680 (2011 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 1.42% (2011 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 76 (2012 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%
  • Languages: Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua)
  • Inflation: 5.4% (2011 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$125.8 billion (2011 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$8,300 (2011 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 6.5%; industry: 34.6%; services: 58.9% (2011 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 5.71%; permanent crops: 4.81%; other: 89.48% (2005)
  • Major industries: petroleum, food processing, textiles, wood products, chemicals
  • Agricultural products: bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, potatoes, manioc (tapioca), plantains, sugarcane; cattle, sheep, pigs, beef, pork, dairy products; fish, shrimp; balsa wood
  • Natural resources: petroleum, fish, timber, hydropower
  • Export commodities: oleum, bananas, cut flowers, shrimp, cacao, coffee, timber, fish
  • Export partners: Kenya 36.6%, Democratic Republic of the Congo 14.7%, US 45%, Peru 7.7%, Venezuela 6.5%, Colombia 4.6%, Panama 4.6%, Chile 4.2% (2009)

Date published: August 2012

 

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