Oswaldo Granda Páez
Fellow Since 2000
This description of Oswaldo Granda Páez's work was prepared when Oswaldo Granda Páez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
Oswaldo Granda develops community gardens in Ecuador's urban slums. By uniting neighbors to maintain shared gardens, he provides them with food, beautifies their communities, and improves their outlook.
The New Idea
Oswaldo is transforming unused urban land into productive gardens developed and managed by local citizens. He applies rural development techniques like farming, agro-forestry, and reliance on local resources to reduce the extreme poverty of migrants from the countryside. He draws the private, public, and social sectors into a powerful triangle, addressing such fundamental concerns as nutrition, unemployment, and underemployment, detachment from rural roots, depression, and the loss of community, while lessening environmental contamination in urban Ecuador. Oswaldo also cleans up and uses existing public parks that have degenerated into trash dumps for residents to grow food and decorative trees native to Ecuador, beautifying and improving public spaces and enhancing the outlook and quality of life of the community participants.
Urban migration strongly affects twelve of Ecuador's cities, reducing food production in rural areas and creating uncontrolled urban sprawl. Rural people migrate to the cities in search of better life but find few opportunities to make money. Overall, Quito's population is growing at a rate of 2.3 percent and the southern peri-urban area is growing at a rate of 7 percent, while 60 percent of Quito's population is unemployed or underemployed, the same percentage of the population considered extremely poor and malnourished. Poverty and overpopulation are detrimental to cities' environmental situation, flooding public spaces with garbage and polluting land previously used to grow food.These conditions create a loss of dignity and self-esteem on the part of those migrating from rural to urban areas. They come to escape the loneliness and desperation of the countryside to find that there are few opportunities in the cities. They lose the sense of community that was the backbone of their existence in the rural areas. This loss causes overwhelming desperation and a lack of confidence among the newly urban poor, an effect that is only worsened by the depressing environmental conditions caused by indiscriminate garbage disposal and absence of vegetation. Lack of opportunity combined with these other factors is also one of the principal causes for such social ills as delinquency, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. Compounding these problems is the failure to seek solutions. Just as the public and private sectors neglect the plight of the urban poor, so too do poor peri-urban communities fail to take the lead in their own planning and development. The public sector consistently fails to define strategies to solve widespread urban poverty. The private business sector, moreover, does not create new jobs. Furthermore, few opportunities exist for the residents of these communities themselves to be involved directly in development plans locally and regionally.
In order to transform public spaces, Oswaldo first identifies an unused or misused open space. He then evaluates the conditions of local residents, their interest in his project, and their readiness. Next, he works with the municipal government to authorize his use of the land as a testing and training ground. Once the space has been approved, a promoter with experience in social work and agriculture gathers approximately sixty representatives for the first meetings and teaches the community about urban agriculture. Promoters teach how to manage waste, separate organic materials and recyclables, and make compost. In the early stages, the promoter continues to visit the community once a week and a local representative, usually the leader of that community, is elected as a counterpart to continue to lead the project. Moreover, several trainers continue to train other community members as an exit strategy so that the project may move on to other communities in need. The residents then begin to plant their community gardens with basic garden vegetables such as onions, carrots, and tomatoes as well as native ornamental and fruit trees to both protect the nurseries and provide a more pleasant atmosphere for the residents. The municipal governments usually provide seeds, trees, and labor for some of the preparatory work, like clearing the areas and providing technical assistance. Oswaldo has discovered that many private businesses are also interested in supporting the poor, but many projects they have supported have not been sustainable. By bringing businesses and the communities together in meetings, Oswaldo has successfully demonstrated the sustainability as well as the human element of his project, and representatives of the business sector are beginning to provide start-up funds to pay promoters and finance initial materials needed to develop nurseries. Oswaldo also involves the private and citizen sectors in developing markets for the sale of surplus produce. He has already secured an agreement with Ecuador's largest supermarket chain to provide space for their products in its most popular stores throughout Quito. In addition to community gardens, Oswaldo helps individual families maintain small gardens on their own plots of land, planting native ornamental and fruit trees in their neighborhoods. Residents use the skills learned from the community gardens, thus adding to the project's long-term sustainability. His plan involves neighborhoods exchanging the young trees they raise for full-grown trees from the municipal nursery. Thus, the municipality provides the resources, but the communities contribute to and are directly responsible for the greening of their neighborhoods, which improves the appearance of community spaces as well as the attitudes of their residents. This initiative is well received by the municipality because it propels their own reforestation efforts and because it fits with the model of institutional-community co-management, which the local government has adopted as its preferred strategy for project development.
Oswaldo grew up with agriculture. His parents have a backyard garden where they continue to grow fruits and vegetables and raise livestock. Oswaldo was especially influenced by his father, a doctor who, at eighty years old, continues to practice medicine and provide free services to poor indigenous people. Like the rest of his family, Oswaldo's career has followed a path of social service. By profession, he is an architect and has worked for many years in the public sector, through which experience he gained many contacts to help him push forward his community gardens project. In addition to other socially minded entrepreneurial activities, he managed a business program in the city of Riobamba to develop an industrial park, through which he created eighty microenterprises and four thousand jobs. As the director of an architectural school, Oswaldo developed and created a community housing program. Through several experiences with urban development projects, Oswaldo began to observe the problem of marginalization created by the rural to urban migration, as well as the underutilization of municipal space. He developed his community gardening project based on observation of local farmers growing watermelons in their urban backyards.