Esmeraldas: a fragile ecosystem, home to an endangered species. And to a strong community of women who are resisting the destruction of their environment and the loss of their food heritage.
Cardiosoma crassum, known in Spanish as cangrejo azul, the blue crab, and also in English as the giant land crab or mouthless crab, is a terrestrial crustacean that feeds on the leaves of mangrove trees and their surrounding vegetation. The crab is particularly concentrated in the north of the province of Esmeraldas, in northern Ecuador. With a dark-blue shell, orange belly and ten red legs, it is an important food source for several species of fish, birds and mammals. The blue crab also has a strong link with Ecuadorian food culture, and its tender white meat features in typical dishes such as encocao (seafood with coconut), soups, crab cakes, ceviche and salads.
Sadly their reproduction is being hindered by the impact of human activities on the mangroves: intensive exploitation, mass tourism and the chemical products (pesticides and antibiotics) used in shrimp farming. Macro problems (such as environmental degradation, marginalization of the Afro-descendant population, poor access to education and training opportunities and abandonment of the land by younger generations) are also making it difficult to open local direct marketing channels.
In 2018, the Esmeraldas Blue Crab was recognized as a Slow Food Presidium, thanks to joint work with two organizations in the province of Esmeraldas—Luna Creciente (Movimiento Nacional de Mujeres de Sectores Populares) in the north, and UOCE (Unión de Organizaciones Campesinas de Esmeraldas) in the south—within the framework of the project “Empowering indigenous youth and their communities to defend their food heritage” financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
We spoke with the Slow Food International Councilor for the Andean Area and coordinator of the project in Ecuador, Esteban Tapia, who shared his experiences and those of Luna Creciente and UOCE in the process of developing the Presidium.
What objectives does the community want to achieve with the creation of the Presidium?
The Esmeraldas Blue Crab Presidium has allowed people to mobilize around a natural resource, become aware of its importance as part of the Esmeraldas culture and discuss safeguarding knowledge about it.
Giving value to the crabs and generating added value allows their sale to be significant for the household economies of the families who make their living from collecting these crustaceans, while also protecting the community’s crab-related traditions.
One of the most important activities has been to empower and raise the self-esteem of women, especially young women, who in the case of the province of Esmeraldas tend to be the crab collectors. Our priorities are to take action to defend the little mangrove forest still remaining in our country, as well as protecting endangered foods, with the objective of preserving our health and empowering us with food sovereignty.
What does this product represent for the Afro-Ecuadorian and Montubio community?
The blue crab is a source of food sovereignty, a symbol of our gastronomy, nutrition and identity. It is an integral part of our culture and our collective sensory imagination, because thanks to this resource we have a way of joyfully interacting with the mangroves, tasting and smelling and seeing the colors of our land.
The crabs are also economically empowering, because their sale gives us income and allows us to be productive. Lastly, collecting the crabs is an activity that provides opportunities for young people to stay in the local area and not leave the rural environment.
What does it mean for you to be within the global network of the Slow Food movement?
We have high expectations and we hope this will be a long, fruitful partnership. We hope that this relationship will build in us the capacity to see beyond our local area, knowing and recognizing our planetary being.
Being part of a network provides great opportunities for our young people to connect with other worlds and people, it creates spaces for the exchange of knowledge and flavors with other communities and enriches our experience around food. We present a poem that talks about the problem of shrimp farms and how they are destroying our environment.
Coplas del manglar
Los que hacen las camaroneras
son criminales de guerra
porque sus piscinas son
disparos contra la Tierra
Ellos matan la manglería
en la noche y en el día
parece que les estorba
la vegetal alegría
Tumban bosques y manglares
y envenenan los ríos,
perdida toda razón
es sus locos desvaríos.
Como acostumbro a observar
mejor a mi lado izquierdo,
veo hoy la manglería
tan solo como un recuerdo.
Quisiera que el presidente
por un día fuera conchero
para que entonces supiera
cómo se gana el dinero.
No saben que están haciendo
de nuestra Tierra un desierto,
habrá que hacer un chigualo
cuando todo ya esté muerto.
¿Dónde irán las concheras
cuando ya no quede nada,
cuando no existan chautizas
para hacer una empanada?
Autor: Nelson Estupiñán Bass, Sua, Esmeraldas
What is the main reason that motivated you to promote the creation and development of the Presidium?
We believe that using food in our struggle will bring us new paradigms of education, training and resistance deriving from something that is close to human beings every day.As a Presidium, we want to demonstrate that combining good eating with the education of new generations and care for the environment is the best strategy for creating new citizens and new societies where the link between the producer and the consumer is very close, because it connects us to the need to take care of our planet and our life.
Why is this form of resistance, through food, important in your community?
We believe that this form of resistance is fundamental above all because we have lost the notion of eating to feed ourselves. We only eat to fill ourselves up. The bond from parents to children has been lost, because the elderly work alone, and the young rural crab collectors and fishermen dream and live with the feeling of abandonment. We have lost the capacity to see each other, because we no longer sit down at the table to eat something rich and healthy from our land. Instead we eat fast, numbing the mind and our awareness.
We spoke with the Slow Food International Councillor for the Andean Area and coordinator of the project in Ecuador – Esteban Tapia – the Union of Peasant Organizations of Esmeraldas (UOCE) and the National Movement of Women of Popular Sectors (Luna Creciente), who shared their experience and learning with us in the process of developing the Presidium.