The Politics of Land Use in Ecuador

Political Geography, Environmental Studies,
and/or Latin American Studies

3 Credits                     200 Level                15 Days

Instructor: Peter Shear, M.A.

Course Description

The right to land is perhaps the most important political issue for
the world’s poor agricultural majority. Ecuador provides a
fascinating case study of the politics of land use on local, national
and global scales. In this course, students learn about
environmental, economic, and political barriers to sustainable land
use in Ecuador and live and volunteer in three rural, highland
communities that are implementing creative and alternative
solutions to land use problems.

This course focuses on issues of land use, distribution, and
reform in the Andean region of Ecuador. Land of the Inca and a
center of the Latin American independence movement, Ecuador
today is a fascinating country steeped in incredible ecological and
cultural diversity.

The economic crisis that spurred the government’s decision to
dollarize the economy in 2000, also sparked the rise to power of
Pachakutik, the world’s most successful Indigenous-based political
party, and a national reexamination of state power and
agricultural policy. Today, social movements in Ecuador are at the
global forefront of grassroots political organization and egalitarian
land reform.

This course provides students with the opportunity to learn from
the incredible social dynamism of Ecuador through volunteer
work, community homestays, and talks with political activists,
students, campesino and indigenous organizations, and the rural
agrarian people that are the backbone of Ecuadorian and global

Itinerary and Activities

1- Arrive in Quito late; travel to our hotel overlooking Parque El
Ejido; rest-up.

2- Breakfast; walking tour of Quito Viejo colonial center.

Our tour will start in Parque la Alameda. From the park we will
walk up to the gothic Basilica de Quito where we can take in
360 degree views of the city and the Central Andean Valley.
Other stops will include el Teatro Sucre, la Catedral Compania,
el Museo de la Ciudad, and la Plaza Grande, symbolic center of
Ecuadorian government and church power. After lunch near the
plaza we have an orientation meeting, going over the course
itinerary and getting everyone up to date on current events and
basic geography.

Return to hotel around 5 p.m.; Dinner;
Ecology History of Ecuador

3- Travel to the Kayambi community of Pijál; pm- lunch and
orientation with home stay families; Walking tour of community
and economic development projects.
LECTURE: Bananas, Oil,
and Labor- Ecuador’s Export Economy in the Age of

4- Day of study and recreation in Pijál; a visit to Ecuador’s
largest lake, Lago San Pablo; optional free-time for study and
reflection;  p.m.- Artesan work shop with Pijal’s women’s co-op.
Celebrate the evening with traditional Kayambi music and
folkloric dance.

5- a.m- Breakfast and good byes; Travel to the indigenous
community of Yacuhimba, near the town of Cayambe; lunch and
welcoming. p.m.- Walking tour of the community.
Ecuador’s land reform struggle and Indigenous political
organizing and identity.

La Chimba: Epicenter of the Indigenous Revolution
This phase of the course takes us to the Indigenous community
of La Chimba near the Cayambe Volcano, about three hours
north of Quito. This area has historically been a center of
indigenous resistance to colonization, going back to the
invasion of the Inca and the conquest of the Americas by the
Spanish. In the 1950s the Cayambe region was the focus of the
first Indigenous levantamientos, or uprisings, against the
authority of the state. Transito Amiguaña (the Indigenous
people’s Martin Luther King) is 96 years old and still lives in La
Chimba. She is credited with being the mother of the Indigenous
political movement in Ecuador that led to the implementation of
land reform in the 1970s. Today, the Kayambi population live by
farming and dairy production, with the valley below the
towering,  snow-capped Cayambe Volcano characterized by
fields surrounded by mud walls planted with agave. With an
expanding population farms are not large enough to split
between the children, forcing most young people to leave the
land and migrate to the cities.

We will study the economics of migration and financial
remittance, learn about the affects of land fragmentation on
land use and the local economy, and help evaluate an
economic development project designed to address the
problem of diminishing land resources in La Chimba. A group of
young people have joined together to develop ecotourism as an
alternative to migration. They have formed an organization,
Condor Huasi (Home of the Condor), and have developed a
hostal for tourists as well as a hike to a natural hot spring with
spectacular views of the Cayambe Volcano. They also have
formed a folkloric group to perform traditional songs and
dances of the Kayambi. We participate in the various
intercultural programs of Condor Huasi, helping the
development of the program with input and analysis, and
participating in talks and roundtables on the history of the
Kayambi and future visions for alternative land use and
agricultural practices in the community.

6- am: Beautiful hike around town and the foothills of the
Cayambe Volcano to high altitude volcanic hot springs. pm:
lunch at hot springs; return to town; help with afternoon milking
or free-time; evening of music and folkloric dance.

7- Travel to the Caranqui community of Peribuela which is home
to one of the last patches of native, high-altitude primary forest
in the Andes. pm- Lunch; tour of the village; talk on the land
use history of the community; free time; dinner.

Peribuela: Managing the Last Stands
of Ancient Andean Forest
Peribuela is a small agricultural, Indigenous community located
at 2350 meters (11,165 feet) on the northeastern flank of the
Cotacachi Volcano in Imbabura Province. Like most agricultural
communities in modern Ecuador, Peribuela was a hacienda until
the land reforms of the 1960s. With the land redistribution that
resulted from the reforms, the people of Peribuela have
gradually been able to improve their quality of life through the
control of crop planning and sales, crop diversification, and
successfully lobbying the government for electricity, irrigation,
and a primary school. Still, people in Peribuela are very poor
and most of the community's young people leave for Quito,
Spain, or the USA to search for work. Seeing the need for new
forms of economic development in the community, the people of
Peribuela began to develop an eco-tourism project to create
jobs and capital that can be reinvested in development

The result was the establishment of the Bosque Primario
Peribuela, a 1040 hectare stand of old-growth, native Andean
forest. This is one of the last patches ancient, high-altitude
forest left in the Andes and contains many endangered tree
species like Pumamaqui and Guatze, dozens of orchid species
and abundant bird-life. The forest also serves as an important
habitat corridor between remnant patches of mountain forest
ecosystem and the high altitude páramo grasslands.

Within the forest, the community has constructed a large choza
(traditional Andean grass roofed structure) that can
accomodate large groups for meals and presentations, and two
interpretive trails (1.8 and 2.5 km) that community guides use to
teach visitors about the natural history of the area. Peribuela
also has a fantastic performance group that presents folkloric
dance, music and theater. The community is also  initiating a  
native-species tree nursery designed to provide stock for
regional reforestation projects.

Besides learning about the culture, history, and ecology of the
region through informal talks and academic presentations,
students will participate in a minga –or volunteer work day--
assisting in Peribuela’s native species reforestation program.

8- a.m: Guided walking tour of the forest. p.m.- Lunch in forest;
Peribuela reforestation work project (which will offset our trip’s
carbon emissions); dinner;  noche cultural.

9- a.m: Breakfast; Goodbyes and travel to Cotacachi;
LECTURE: The municipal government´s emphasis on
decentralization, cultural recovery, and sustainablity.
p.m: lunch at the beautiful crater lake of Lago Cuicocha; travel
to The Intag Region and Pucará, our home for the next few
days. Meet home stay families and tour the Eco-Project

10- Pucará volunteer project; p.m: pretty hike through cloud
LECTURE: The conflict of copper mining
concessions in the cloud forest of Intag

Volunteerism in the Intag River Valley:
Cloud Forest, Agroecology, and the Costs of Copper

This volunteer work phase of the trip functions as the
centerpiece of the course. The Intag Valley of northern Ecuador
is located on the western slope of the Andes between
Cotocachi and Los Bancos, and is swathed in cloud forest and
small farms. The Alto Chocó cloud forest of the valley is one of
the world´s ten most bio-diverse ecosystems, and is deemed a
Biodiversity “hot spot” by UNESCO. The valley was a pre-
conquest trading route and sparsely inhabited until a seasonal
road was constructed in the 1960s. The opening of the valley to
vehicles brought colonists desperate for land and the area
quickly grew a reputation for its excellent soil and hot climate:
perfect conditions for a wide variety of market crops. Because
the valley traditionally connected the coast and sierra, colonists
from both regions arrived, forming a fascinating mix of Afro-
Latino, Otavalo, and Kayambi cultures, traditions, languages,
and agricultural techniques. Today, the Intag valley has gained
a reputation for its staunch resistance to mining interests and
an investment in sustainable development and eco-tourism.

Besides working voluntarily with the community, we will also
have the chance while in the Intag Valley to talk with youth,
activist, and community groups on a variety of subjects
including sustainable development planning, politics, small
scale agricultural models, and cooperative enterprise and micro-
credit programs. These meetings will also focus on the
controversy over a proposed copper mine in the valley. Despite
incredible economic and political pressure, a grassroots
environmental movement has managed, thus far, to stop the
development of a proposed open pit copper mining facility in
the middle of the cloud forest. The fight against the mine has
led to an explosion of alternative development projects
including AACRI, an organic coffee cooperative founded to
demonstrate that economic alternatives to mining exist. This
phase of the course will culminate with a hike through the Alto
Chocó cloud forest with a natural history guide and an
agroecology tour of the region, visiting farms, community
managed forests, and permaculture projects.

11- a.m: Work Project, p.m: futbol, Closing dinner and

12- Agro-ecological tour of the Intag Region visiting
permaculture, alternative energy, and fair-trade coffee projects.
LECTURE: Energy sustainability and the development of
community managed micro-hydro projects in Intag.
arrive at the Nangulví volcanic hot springs; soak; dinner; live
bomba music.

13- a.m: breakfast; morning free for studies and relaxing at hot
springs p.m: lunch and travel to Otavalo; dinner and visit to a
peña, or live music club.

14-Morning free to roam the world famous market in Otavalo,
lunch. Return to Quito and Los Alpes; good bye dinner.

15- Fly Home
Academic Format and Requirements

This study-abroad course includes lectures, discussions, small group activities, home stays,
and volunteer work in communities. Although the dates of the course amount to a couple of
weeks, we will also have two pre-trip meetings and a half-day, post-trip seminar to submit and
share research projects and evaluate the course.

Students are graded on the following:

  • Participation 30%
  • Pre-trip Analytical Writing Assignments 20%
  • Reflection Papers (2) 10%
  • Post-trip Research Paper 40%

Pre-trip Analytical Writing Assignments

Students are expected to complete the assigned text for this course before arriving in Ecuador.
Upon arrival in Quito, students submit four 2-3 page analytical papers based on assigned study
questions and the course text:
Indians, Oil, and Politics. A Recent History of Ecuador by Allen

All four papers should attempt to answer the assigned study questions through logic, illustrative
examples from the text, and personal analysis. Each paper will (1) use at least five cited
references from the text, (2) refer to and outline the main ideas and arguments of the text, and
(3) be followed by questions, commentary, analysis, protests, opinions, or any combination of

STUDY QUESTIONS (2-3 typed pages each)

1.  How has the physical geography of Ecuador historically affected human and economic     
development patterns?

2.  How has the discovery of oil changed the economic and social development of Ecuador?

3.  What are the main contributing factors to the development and strength of Pachakutik and    
Indigenous political power?

4.  Discuss the reasons for, and effects of, dollarization in Ecuador.

Reflection Papers

Students will have two short writing assignments while in Ecuador, which are part of their journal
writing. The assignments are focused reflection papers that integrate experiential learning,
guest presentations, readings, and overall thoughts and questions. Students write daily in a
journal and use descriptive observations, reflections, and questions as a basis for the two
reflection papers. There is no set length, although 5 hand-written pages is the minimum.

  • Reflection Paper 1 will be due about half way through the trip. It should address the
    following: a) since arriving in Ecuador, in what ways have you re-conceptualized your
    concepts of development, land use, and/or culture? Give examples. b) are there ways in
    which you are thinking about your own life (for example, as a U.S. citizen, as an
    individual, as a student, as a teacher, etc.) differently? Give examples.

  • Reflection Paper 2 will be due towards the end of the trip. This paper takes the form of a
    research proposal, and will describe the following: a) What do you want to do or
    discover? b) What primary information and data have you gathered, c) How will you
    gather the needed secondary materials and information? d) How will you present your
    materials and information? and e)Why do you think this project is worthwhile? By the end
    of the two weeks in Ecuador, you should have discussed your ideas for your Final
    Research Paper or project with Peter.

The Final Research Paper or project should explore some aspect of the Politics of Land Use in
, a very broad and malleable theme. Exactly what the final product will look like will be
tailored to fit your needs and interests. While the research project option can be designed to
give you an opportunity to express your learning through new and creative ways (different from
traditional research papers), this option also requires a written research paper.

The research paper should follow commonly accepted rules of academic scholarship and be at
least 8-10 pages. This project will be due two weeks after returning from Ecuador at the
Trip Seminar.
Late work will not be accepted.

Required Readings

Indians, Oil, and Politics. A Recent History of Ecuador by Allen Gerlach, (Wilmington, DE:
Scholarly Resources), 2003. Order it online or get Borders or Barnes & Nobles to order it for
you. The book is not on order at the UVM Bookstore.

A coursepack of relevant readings will be given to students upon arrival in Quito.

Learning Goals

  • To develop a general understanding of the historical, cultural, and ecological patterns
    and characteristics of the Andean region, and their interconnectedness

  • To use the semester abroad in Ecuador as a lens through which to analyze
    contemporary global issues

  • To develop a working knowledge of major socio-political and economic themes affecting
    Ecuador and the Andean region

  • To build on the historical, cultural, political, and ecological, foundation gained from the
    classes taken during the first part of the semester through volunteer experience and
    personal exploration in Ecuador

  • To gain a working knowledge of the primary components of Ecuador’s local, regional and
    national economies, the effects of a possible free trade accord with the U.S., and the
    process of dollarization

  • To understand the political economy and social impacts of major export industries such
    as oil, bananas, roses, and shrimp

  • To learn from, and make connections with, host communities through community service
    and conversation

  • To study alternative development models being implemented in urban and rural settings
    in Ecuador

  • To improve understanding of the cultural evolution of the region from the pre-Colombian
    era to its present-day incorporation into the global economy

  • To develop an understanding of Ecuador’s ecosystems, their interconnectedness, and
    the interdependent relationship between environmental preservation and cultural survival

  • To develop an understanding of Ecuador’s dynamic political landscape and geo-political
    significance on a global scale

  • To better understand the history, culture, and modern social roles of Ecuador’s
    indigenous and Afro-latino populations

  • To develop and complete a conceptually advanced research project


  • Peter Shear is the project organizer and bi-lingual Volunteer Delegation guide/Course
    Instructor. He is a part-time Political Geography instructor at the University of Vermont,
    Director of Inter-American CASA and Coordinator of Intichakiñan --a community based
    tourism project based in Ecuador.

  • The course Itinerary can be custom designed to meet academic interests and goals.

  • A healthy attitude and willingness to work in solidarity with a poor community are the only
    requirements to participate. Although a working knowledge of Spanish certainly enhances
    your experience, it is not required. Your bilingual guide will be available to translate talks,
    instructions, and conversations.

  • Besides the experiential education that comes from volunteer work, participants will learn
    about the culture, history, ecology, and politics of Ecuador, as well as community and
    state rolls in international geo-politics and the global economy.

  • Nothing ever happens on time in Ecuador. Accept it and enjoy your trip!
Inter-American Center for the Arts, Sustainability,and Action

Centro Interamericano para las Artes, el Sustento, y la Acción