Growing Self-Sufficiency in Ecuador
“Individual freedom and citizenship responsibility depend upon the principle of helping the individual to help himself,” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) said in his 1975 inaugural address of the Benson Institute Agriculture and Food Institute and Corporation, a Latter-day Saint Charities program.
Under that philosophy of self-reliance, the Benson Institute has worked with tens of thousands to improve food production, nutrition, and health, increasing the quality of life for some of the world’s poor
In 2009, the Benson Institute traveled to Ecuador, where a lack of formal education combined with out-dated, traditional farming methods result in many Ecuadorians being unaware of basic nutrition, hygiene, and farming practices.
From the green-blanketed mountains of the Andes that comprise La Sierra (the highlands) to the lush jungle that makes up part of the Amazon rainforest, Ecuador is a country rich in agriculture. But according to the World Health Organization, in this country of nearly 15 million people, 23 percent of children under age five are chronically malnourished. The efforts of the Benson Institute are helping lower that statistic as those involved work toward breaking the poverty cycle.
One woman, a mother of six, said before the Benson Institute came, it was often difficult to provide for her family: “Sometimes you spend a while crying. . . . It’s so sad to be a mother and be so poor that you can’t give [your children] a meal, a portion of bread each day.”
The families working with the Benson Institute learned improved planting techniques, crop rotation, small animal farming, balanced nutrition, personal hygiene, and proper food preparation.
The hunger that was a daily trial for many has become less frequent with the implementation of new farming techniques. Families saw a dramatic increase in food production that allowed them to store their own food as well as sell their product for income.
“Our children began to be strong, and they have been happy all the time because there is always food in the home,” one mother said.
In addition, families saw better health as their diet and sanitation improved. Eating the fruits of their labor from the garden has provided them with nutrients their diets previously lacked.
“We used to have children who didn’t perform,” a local teacher said. “After the program, the children learned much more quickly. Before, we had children who became ill frequently; after, the children no longer became ill. They used to sleep in class; afterwards, they no longer fell asleep in class. They had looked a lot more tired, but after the program they were much more healthy-looking, with more energy.”
All of the Church’s welfare initiatives are based on proven principles of self-reliance. That, along with the Benson Institute’s practice of building on decades of experience and knowledge, continues to bless the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout the world.
“When they taught us, we learned, and that was a great help for us,” another woman who participated in the program said. “We are very thankful because they have taught us so we can be healthier and have a better life here.”