Food Voices: The Interviews
Targelia Nicolta Branda, Shell Collector
Palme Real, Esmeraldes
Targelia Nicolta Branda is a shell collector from Ancon de Sardinas, Palme Real, Esmeraldes in Ecuador. She is the president of the local women’s organization.
I was born in a province called Guayas – before it was known as Boca de los Sapas. My mother was from Columbia. My mother visited back and forth, but I stayed here. My children, I raised them from shell collecting. I am a mother of six children and they study here.
We all go together – the men, women, the children when they don’t have classes or when they are on vacation we bring them. They come with us and collect shells. They help with income and they are not running around here in town. The children learn how to collect shells on their own. We don’t teach them. Whenever they leave early from school, they go and collect shells. They stay in school until 12 or 13 years old and then they go to secondary school and then they finish and go to San Lorenzo to continue.
For me, food sovereignty is something that belongs to this place. For example, the fish and the shells belong to this place. Our mangroves have fewer shells now because many people from Columbia come live here and collect shells and fish, because that is the only source of income. Sometimes, we need to cross into Columbia and collect them there, because we don’t have enough here.
The future is very hard. Because every day we have less and less shells. The families are getting larger. We have more brothers and sisters from Columbia and that is a problem. We are worried to see what is our door to escape from this critical situation. So, we are talking and thinking about it. But, so far we have no options. What I am telling you, what I am feeling, we all feel it. We all feel the same thing because we all have the same problem. If you talk to somebody else, everybody is going to tell you the same thing.
We got into FEDARPON [Federation of the Collectors and Aquatics of the Mangroves of San Lorenzo] because we had conflicts in the mangroves before shrimp farming was legal. The shrimp farms came, they were cutting the mangroves, so we decided as a group to unite and join this organization to help us get our legal paperwork in order. They sponsored us. If it wasn’t for them, we would have no place to collect shells any more and all of this would be shrimp farms.
Sometimes the shrimp farmers threatened us and blocked us from collecting our shells. We decided we don’t care. They could kill us, we are going to claim our right to the mangroves. We got together and we didn’t give them space to breathe. The municipality helped us also and the NGO [non-governmental organization] sponsored us. Because we were defending our mangroves, we do not have many shrimp farms in this area. We went and did not allow them to come in. We used our bodies.
Here we are talking about fear. In 2009 and 2010 we had a crisis of violence because of brothers that came from other countries. The paramilitary threatened us. We have many threats. The pirates came here to threaten us. Even January 2nd, they killed one leader of the community. He was a member of the community council and they just killed him. That was a problem that we have here. People had to leave from here. The leaders left, the president of the parish left because he was threatened. Because of that lack of safety, people have to leave. This conflict that they had with the president of our parish. They wanted to come and live here. Basically, to take over the community. So, the president of the parish said no. If you want to come here, you have to talk to Correa – he is the President of Ecuador and then you can live here. I am just a small leader. You have to talk to Correa. That is when the conflict started. Thanks to President Correa, they sent us more army to our border. Now they are permanently here and we have a marine base that is right there in the ocean. We have some control and so now we can breathe a little bit better. The fear has been slightly controlled.
In general, to survive, we need to find other sources of work, of employment. So, we could have half of us going to the mangroves and the other half staying in the community and working. We had a project selling fishing nets. It was giving us some results. But some brothers from Columbia came and asked for credit and took the nets, but they never paid us. Right now, we are trying to see if there are some handicrafts we can sell and hopefully that project will work. We talk about tourism. Those are some brainstorming ideas. Of course, I would prefer to stay in the community. That is what we wanted all of our life. Especially, women who feel tired. I hope it is different for my children.
These communities are the most forgotten by the government of Ecuador. We know about our government just through pictures, through newspapers. We don’t even have a TV channel signal. They should remember us and know the poverty that is here. We also want to have a dignified life. We are trying to get a plan to fill our town, because right now, it is just sand and it washes away. We want our houses to be more stable, not on stilts. We receive a lot of promises, but nobody ever fulfills those promises. Please don’t forget the poor people of our community.