Hi, I am Meike! Normally, I am studying as a MSc student of Wageningen University in Wageningen, but currently, I live and work in Ecuador to execute fieldwork for my thesis investigation. A very special opportunity, as it provides me a chance to learn more about this beautiful country and her people, but also about its enormous injustices in terms of water distribution, and the way in which this affects nearly every aspect of people’s life. For this reason, I would like to take you along in one of the meetings I had with indigenous and rural communities from throughout the Nagsiche river basin (my study site). A meeting that, for me, served as an eye-opener in terms of understanding the everyday impacts of power imbalances in the Ecuadorian waterscape.
When we arrive to the meeting, in which we intend to discuss the change in rainfall patterns that community members believe to result from the use of chemicals sprayed out over the area by provincial airplanes, it immediately becomes clear that many people have gathered for this discussion. While normally, cars only pass through the river basin sporadically, currently, the street in front of the municipal building is packed with pick-up trucks that seem to have come from all directions. Around all these cars is a crowd that is filled with farmers, presidents of irrigation systems, and indigenous leaders. Once we moved inside, the people barely fit into the meeting room. Soon, all the chairs in the large room are filled, and when the benches on the side are occupied as well, still many people have not found a seat. As the meeting initiates a perfect 45 minutes late, first some other topics have to be discussed. However, when we reach the topic of the “bombarding of the clouds”, I can hear from the noise that comes from the crowd that this is what they have all gathered for. No surprise, if you perceive this from their belief that the agribusinesses in the area charter provincial airplanes to prevent the rain from falling in large parts of the river basin, while so many small farmers in the area suffer from severe water shortages and large inequities in their access to water.
To calm down the tensions surrounding this topic, the provincial government initiated an investigation into the matter, of which the results are presented today. These results leave little to discuss: no known technique exists to stop rain from falling, no materials are found that would suggest that the agribusinesses in the area do have access to such a technique, and no permits have been granted by the airport to execute flights with any other objective than training pilots. Directly after the technician from the provincial water authority reaches the last words of this summation, one thing becomes very clear to me: this meeting is not about bombarding the clouds. Nor is it about technical (im)possibilities. This meeting is about so much more. This meeting, at least for those present here today, is about injustice, about hunger, about poverty. This meeting is about pent-up frustrations of not being seen, heard or helped. And, as we also know in the Netherlands: there is no scientific proof that is strong enough to deny any of these feelings.
As such, three hours of emotional speeches by indigenous leaders, small-scale family farmers, community leaders, and irrigation presidents follow. “While the broccoli-producing companies continue to grow, we suffer evermore. There is no water to support or production. There is not even money to send our kids to school.” “Our small producers die from starvation, while the broccoli companies continue business as usual.” As there are over 300 small agricultural producers in the room, and only one representative of the agribusinesses, the sentiments quickly turn into feelings of anger and despair. Within seconds, the discussion suddenly seems to turn into a small revolution. “The authorities promised to be here today, but where are they now? We are left on our own once again!” “There remains only one option for us: vamos a tomar las brocoleras! Let’s take over the broccoli companies!”