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Living in Ecuador: Morochos Part I–Self-Sustainability

Gary and I and two new friends, Holly and Gregory, ventured all the way out to Morochos, a village of less than 1000 people that lies about 8 kilometers from Cotacachi at an altitude of 9240 feet.  The Morochos villagers still speak mostly Kichwa.

We went to check out the various sustainable projects that Peace Corps volunteer Paige Fisher is undertaking there, including the installation of a dry composting toilet for the village pre-school. Paige has garnered a $700 Small Projects Assistance Grant through the Peace Corps.

The pre-school has only one toilet for all the children and teachers and often has no running water. The composting toilet will be perfect, but the decision to install it was hard-won.

“The village wanted the toilet at first.  Then some of the parents became afraid that their children might fall into the toilet hole and drown.  Rather than discuss this with me, they just said no to the project.  It took some persuading,” said Paige.

$150 of her grant money will go to her maestro Julian who will build the toilet.  He built the composting toilets in the village of El Batan. Working with the parents of the pre-schoolers, he will organize them into teams.

While we were disappointed to find that the toilets weren’t built yet, there was plenty to marvel at in Morochos.  Paige has been very busy during her two-year Peace Corps tenure.

First we toured the native tree nursery she started a year ago with the help of an expat with an NGO.  He asked the village what they would like help with and funded the nursery for them for one year, until May 2012.  That year is over and now the village must sustain the nursery themselves.

Two people are employed in the nursery part-time for $150 each per month.  Paige’s goal was to plant 10,000 trees the first year.

Working hard, they planted 11,000 trees and sold many of them to the NGO.  Now they are on their own and must learn marketing and sales in order to sell enough trees to pay for the employees and supplies.

One of the volunteers is Elena.  She and her daughter place tree stock in their special soil, a mixture of black earth from the mountain forests, sand and compost.

Aside–I’m wondering if this black mountain earth could possibly be terra prieta, the extremely fertile black soil that exists in pockets all over South America and other locations where ancient middens or refuse piles were made and burned.  After many years the burning of these piles makes charcoal that creates earth so exuberantly rich that it can be planted year after year with no fertilization required.

But returning to the Morochos tree nursery, they first dig rectangular beds in the ground about six inches deep, then place the tree stalks into plastic bags of soil.

The only other expenses are for watering and shade cloth.  In all, Paige figures the project needs $4500 per year to break even.

The eight species of trees in the nursery are all native to Ecuador.  Paige had to re-educate the villagers about eucalyptus, which another Peace Corps volunteer years ago had told them was a good species to plant.

While it grows fast and grows back after being cut down, eucalyptus leaves are toxic so the trees kills off other nearby plants and trees.  They are also voraciously thirsty, drying out the soil much quicker than many other species.

Here are the sauce (sow-say or willow) and aliso trees, the darker leaved trees in front.  The nursery also grows boroton, used for fences, yawal, a nitrogen fixer that bears small fruit, and pumamaki.

One year old trees sell for 50 cents each. Gary and I will be stocking up for our own sustainable project.

According to Paige, when she approached the Ecuador Ministry of the Environment and asked them to buy organic native trees from Morochos for local projects, they refused.  Instead they insisted upon purchasing trees from far-away Cotopaxi.

Next Paige showed us the community food forest, or bosque comestible, an edible forest that was planted in February of this year.  There is a nogal (black walnut) in the center where she is standing, plus avocados, nispero and capuli trees, which are fruit bearing, and guavas.  Mora (blackberry) bushes will create an understory shaded by the taller trees.

Paige learned reforestation and agro-forestry from Javier Carrera, who helps run RGS, a seed saving network in Ecuador.

The community land is poor.  After they planted the trees, the village insisted in planting potatoes, despite Paige’s warnings.  All the potatoes died because they are not good for either the soil or the new trees.  Had they planted a crop of nitrogen-giving chochos, or lupines, which is also a good cash crop, they would have done much better.

A field of chochos in full bloom in Morochos.  Paige has now persuaded the villagers to plant rye and later chochos to add nitrogen to the soil.

Here is a weather station, all that remains of another NGO project, except for a small lemon orchard.  The NGO came to Morochos and told the people living there, “You need this.”

Then the NGO proceeded to plant uvillas (ground cherries) where the food forest is now located.  The uvillas also were not good for the soil.

The NGO installed pigs, chickens and cuyes (guinea pigs), planted lemon trees and left.  No one in Morochos was taught how to run the projects as a business, so the animals were eaten in short order.

“That NGO’s projects were a disaster!” Paige told us.

Here’s a photo of the lemon orchard, the only remnant of the NGO project.

Paige is again facing disaster.  With very little money on hand and another month remaining before the rainy season kicks in, the irrigation system has again stopped working.

The pump was repaired recently but only a trickle of water in now coming out of the pipes.  The villagers say that no one knows how to fix the problem.

Luckily the friends who went with us to the village, Gregory and Holly, have been back-to-the-landers for 30 years.  On their 50-acre spread in Texas, they routinely deal with irrigating gardens and evergreen trees.

They were only too glad to describe what Morochos needs.  They explained a pressurized tank, a pump with an automatic shut-off valve, different kinds of pipes for irrigation and setting up a series of waterings.

They suggested that the village run their pipe up from the tank and then run feeder pipes off that main pipe that will work by gravity.  Gregory and Holly use 1/2 inch PVC without sealing the joins.  Then it is easy to move the pipes out of the way for tilling.

Unfortunately, Gregory and Holly had to leave in a few days to return to the United States, so the Morochos water problem continues unabated.  Can you help?

If anyone local reading this blog can assist Paige and Morochos with either repairing the pump or water tank or installing better irrigation, please respond to this blog or contact Paige directly at–

With an increasing population among families that often have 6-8 or more children, there is a crisis developing in Morochos from numerous stressors. As Paige is finding out, self-sustainability in Morochos is hindered by a lack of water, less available land for farming, poor farming practices and improper or no training, the use of chemicals for fertilization,and by soil erosion and deforestation.

Part II shares a very exciting project now going on in Morochos--alpacas and alpaca products. Stay tuned for news of a possible Christmas shopping experience for those of you who love alpaca but know how difficult it is to find the genuine article in Ecuador.

Part III is a photo gallery of the cute pre-schoolers in Morochos.

Paige has done an amazing job with ASEAC and the Cotacachi high school scholarship program.

Click here to read about how Paige and raised over $12,000 for this year’s high school scholarship recipients.



  1. Hi
    I’d love to come & help
    I have experience in water problems, electrical pumbing
    building construction. do not smoke or do drugs & have never been drunk … but, getting there has been my problem … or is it just procratonation …? Can I been so
    help to you ????
    I was planning on coming around the end of February
    or early March…. but, I can come at any time …
    I live in Saskatchewan Canada

    Ron Valdock

    • Thanks for your offer to help, Ron. I’m sure there are any number of projects in our area that could use some expert assistance. Come on down and see where you fit.

  2. Pingback: Living in Ecuador: Morochos Part II--Alpacas | Living in Ecuador Blog