Harvest of the Day: Online Marketplace by Female Farmers in Ecuador Is Transforming the Industry

Josselin Vega, 25, in one of her agroecological lands in San Isidro, Cotopaxi, Ecuador. A leader in her community, she has worked in this land for five years. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

La Cosecha del Día, translated “The Harvest of the Day,” is a farmer-owned online marketplace run by mostly small-scale female farmers in Ecuador. The online platform connects farmers to consumers for a variety of produce options—and it’s transforming the lives of rural young people in the South American country.

Nelly Sagbay and Tamia Simbaña are part of the business team of the Regional Association for Food Sovereignty of the Kayambi Territory (RESAK) and the Pamar Chacrin Association, in charge of administering the websites of and receiving online orders for the cities of Quito and Cuenca, respectively. They are two young people who have dreams of seeing sales grow and continuing to help market produce with identity.

Harvest of the Day

Simbaña is from Cayambe, Pichincha. She is 22 years old, studies communication and linguistics, and belongs to the business team of RESAK.

Harvest of the Day

Sagbay was born in the community of Sigsig, Azuay. She is 26 years old and a student of business administration. She leads the business team of the Pamar Chacrin Association.

The interview below with Simbaña and Sagbay was conducted by Rosa Rodriguez, Heifer Ecuador’s country director, via email.

The Harvest of the Day—Diversity at your Fingertips

Approximately how many products and baskets have been distributed so far?

Tamia Simbaña: Since the creation of the online store “La Cosecha del Día” in May 2021, we have sold 1,225 baskets, for a revenue of $22,833, using different channels, including five restaurants. Each basket has a different price and number of products, chosen according to the consumer’s preference. On average, baskets cost $30. Sales are also made through the WhatsApp Business platform.

Nelly Sagbay: Since May, we have recorded sales of 3,273 baskets (including institutional deliveries to two hospitals and six restaurants), for a total value of U$22,833. They are all steady customers.

The online market has enabled us to improve our way of marketing [and] has favored greater integration of farmer partners, especially women.

How much have sales increased and how has this affected farmers’ incomes?

Simbaña: In RESAK, online sales are making a growing contribution to the organization’s income and for farmers. From April 2021 when they started, average sales have increased. By October, sales totaled $1,200. Additional sales have had a positive impact RESAK families’ incomes, especially after sales paused and faced marketing difficulties during the pandemic.

Sagbay: We have also delivered, since September, 80 boxes monthly (20 weekly) of fertile eggs, to an organic store in the city, collecting $280/month. Additional sales by the store have totaled $2,560 approximately.

The online market has enabled us to improve our way of marketing, has favored greater integration of farmer partners, especially women, who in addition to the products they deliver to us for fairs and for institutional sales, added an average of 90 dollars to their sales income, which was more or less 250 dollars.

María Tereza Copara, 50, at home in Pujilí, Cotopaxi, Ecuador. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

What products can they sell on the platform that previously did not have a market for farmers?

Simbaña: The products that can be sold in the market have increased thanks to the use of technology: native products, such as Andean tubers and those with added value such as sweets (sweet corn, chocolate), made with corn, now merit greater interest.

In addition, with these means of communication we can have better communication among colleagues, knowing more about what each has to offer. It is possible to provide a better assortment to the public.

For example, sometimes some farmer does not have broccoli, turnips or blueberries, but the other does, and now they can work together. Tropical products from the Andean Chocó are also offered—for example, soursop, oranges, green plantains, cassava, fruit pulps and sugar cane. This enable us to provide more variety, including produce previously could not be found in a single store. In the Harvest of the Day, we can offer a variety of produce.

Sagbay: In addition to all the variety of vegetables, fruits, tubers, eggs and legumes that we offer in the Harvest of the Day catalog, we are now successfully selling a new product that we have elaborated: pre-cooked salads. We also began to offer jams of tree tomato and blackberry fruit, with which we avoid waste and take advantage of surplus products before they deteriorate. The salads have been well received; customers congratulate us that we have innovated. When we do not have produce, we market products from a neighboring association, APA.

Simbaña: Consumers’ reactions have been mostly positive. They are grateful for the fresh, quality products that we sell, since no chemicals are used, and everything is agroecological. They appreciate the advantage that you can find different products on the same page. The negative comments do not refer to the quality of the product, but rather to the fact that we do not yet sell in certain cities.

It is good to see customer satisfaction when verifying compliance with deliveries, both in quality, taste and presentation. On one occasion, to help an older adult, I held a teleconference by WhatsApp, to ensure that the lady could choose what she wanted and, in addition, to learn how to order next time. Now this person is a steady client of RESAK.

Sagbay: So far, consumers have been satisfied with our products, most are frequent customers who like our product quality. They have congratulated us because we now work with degradable bio packaging. At the beginning, orders arrived for Quito, in those cases we forwarded the information and contacts to RESAK’s partners.

Milton Guaman, 34, and Vega, 25, work in San Isidro, Cotopaxi, Ecuador. The products from producers in the community are transported to a collection center where they are selected and packaged in baskets that will go to the capital. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

Why, in your opinion, is the online marketplace necessary, especially for women farmers and others?

Simbaña: Nowadays, everything is handled through websites, the internet and social networks. I think an online agroecological market is very necessary, to expand coverage, to go further. Thus, we not only get to know people who are nearby, but also continue to get to know more people and reach different cities. This is a very great benefit for female farmers because they no longer get stuck with their produce on their farms, but can sell to more people, precisely because of virtual platforms, which are now being used so much.

Sagbay: The online market enables us to make our product available to more people and places, even nationwide. Some restaurant customers arrived for the Day’s Harvest and continue buying by ordering directly over WhatsApp. It also makes shopping easier, especially for seniors who can no longer go out to market fairs and carry shopping bags.

Have there been any challenges in the market? If so, how have you overcome them?

Simbaña: There are many challenges in the market. For example, there are farmers who offer their produce in large quantities at a lower price, and that greatly affects our fellow farmers, but let’s remember that those farmers’ products are conventional, while our partners, our farms, are agroecological. These are challenges that have been overcome, thanks to the support and agreements with NGOs—in this case, Heifer Ecuador.

Sagbay: A big challenge we have is to increase orders from consumers. We see that we need to strengthen our advertising of the website a lot.

Vega, 25, harvesting the products of her garden in San Isidro community in Cotopaxi province, Ecuador. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

How many farmers using the market are women?

Simbaña: The store offers products from 250 farmers from three organizations There are 180 RESAK farmers, 50 from the Andean Chocó and 30 from Ruta Escondida (recently linked) who regularly supply the baskets of Today’s Harvest, and 80 percent are women. Agroecological farming is a family job and is always led by women, who also participate in all activities involving sales, whether at meetings or workshops, not only to help their family, but also to socialize and get training.

Sagbay: In Azuay, the store offers products from APA-Azuay, which has 150 members, and from Pamarchacrin which has 26 members; more than 80 percent of farmers in the two organizations are women.

Agroecological farming is a family job and is always led by women, who also participate in all activities involving sales—whether at meetings or workshops—not only to help their family, but also to socialize and get training.

What are the benefits of using the market for women farmers?

Simbaña: The benefit of using the online marketplace is very positive, because it is a new source of income for female heads of household, who are most of our female partners. Although farmers’ marketing activities are starting back up, the virtual market opens new sales opportunities for us, with new people, who we did not know before. It also means a work opportunity for young people, since handling new technologies is handier and easier for youth.

Sagbay: A greater increase in revenue for businesses, in addition to the income we already had as sales to institutions and restaurants, also benefits them because we attract new customers to those other channels. Our projection is to also grow this channel.

Vega. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

How does the market work?

Simbaña: The online store works with a coordinator, who receives orders, who is also keeping an eye on the digital platforms. The platform is reviewed and updated daily, where they have the option to adjust availability, orders, products and so on. Another person is in charge of the store’s advertising, to reach more people. Orders are received up to Tuesday; on Wednesday, we meet with our partners, with the presidents of the seven RESAK organizations to divide the different products equally according to the week’s orders, and on Fridays, at dawn, we receive the produce, properly washed, looking good at the collection center, to pack and transport to Quito.

Sagbay: Our market works as follows:

a) We receive the orders;

b) We collect the products at the center, where they are packed and assembled in baskets;

c) We make deliveries on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Pamar business team comprises five young women, who have developed new skills. Thanks to Heifer’s training and technical support, we have greatly improved the processes, functions, delegating tasks, quality control, customer service.

Customer Monica Moreno pays Diana Casacango, 39, for her baskets. The Haya Jatari organization, with the support of Heifer Ecuador, collects, selects, assembles and delivers agro-ecological baskets to the north of the city of Quito. (Heifer International / Isadora Romero)

Anything else you’d like to add or share?

Simbaña: I am very happy with the way participants help each other, economically, but also by complementing each other’s products. I have been able to see how far we have come, and we now have more sales options for more families.

I would like to tell about the opportunity to represent RESAK in the contest on income initiatives for rural women using ICTs, held by Movistar Ecuador, in which we won first place. We know that we still need more work to achieve more sales, but we are very grateful to the organizations, with Heifer Ecuador especially, who have helped us all this time, and of course our partners who have made their contributions to be able to grow not only as an organization but as a community.

Sagbay: The store has been a great opportunity not only for producers, but also for the business team. We are all young women, we have trained and learned new skills for marketing and sales. We currently receive a small salary for our work, thanks to our association’s improving sales.

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Kristi Eaton is a media relations consultant and freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @KristiEaton.