Pedro Zea, Jeimy Chilpe, Diego Sánchez, Eduardo J. Chica


Background. Vegetable crops in Ecuador are produced primarily by smallholders in the Andes. Cuenca is an intermediate city in Southern Ecuador whose demand of fresh vegetables is supplied mostly by small farms located < 60 Km from the city. Objective. The objective of this study was to characterize smallholder vegetable farms located on the outskirts of Cuenca using input/output energy balances. Methodology. One hundred and four vegetable farms were visited during the first semester of 2016. Farmers were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire about the inputs used by them for crop production and the outputs of their crops. Results. Most of the farms (83) produced negative energy balances with energy efficiencies ranging from 0.16 to 0.97 whereas farms with positive energy balances had efficiencies ranging from 1.03 to 1.97. The largest energy input in most farms was from organic fertilizers, followed by the planting material and direct energy use for pumping and other farm activities. A positive significant correlation was detected between farm size and energy efficiency. Implications. Our results reveal opportunities to improve the functioning of these farming systems and the need to take into account efficiency considerations in the design of technological and policy interventions oriented to improve the sustainability of these systems. Conclusions. Most smallholder vegetable farms in periurban Cuenca operate producing negative energy balances. Organic fertilizers and direct energy are the largest energy inputs used in these farms.  Potential energy economies of scale were detected both in energy efficient and energy inefficient farms.


Andes; mountain agriculture; periurban farming; small farms; sustainability

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