Runa Foundation Farming for Biodiversity

Runa Foundation
Published: 13 November 2017
Last edited: 06 February 2023
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Building on local knowledge, Runa provides training to indigenous farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change, foster biodiversity, and improve livelihoods by creating new value for forest products and increasing access to markets and economic stability.

Runa supports farmers with capacity-building workshops to create platforms for collective decision-making and management. These initiatives empower local communities to manage their own resources, improve their livelihoods, gain access to credit, restore biodiversity, and protect cultural traditions tied to their agroforestry systems. One example of this is the marketing  of  the leaves of Ilex guayusa (a tree native to the western Amazon) which are consumed for centuries by the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Guayusa is known for its energetic properties due to its high concentration of caffeine and antioxidants.


South America
Scale of implementation
Ecosystem services
Forest Management
Indigenous people
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


Napo, Ecuador


Traditionally, indigenous farmers in the Amazon have maintained ‘chakra’ agroforestry systems that mimic the forest’s natural composition, providing subsistence crops to families and natural habitats for flora and fauna. 

In search of additional income, farmers are increasingly pressured to abandon the chakra farming method, resorting to conventional production of commercial crops, cattle grazing, and timber extraction. These activities often encroach on protected areas, threatening many species and contributing to deforestation and degradation. From 1990 and 2010 alone Ecuador lost a total of 28.6% of its forest cover.

Additionally, infrastructure development in the region through increased government programs and population growth has led to deforestation and exploitation in previously isolated areas. This has led to forest fragmentation, creating small pockets of biodiversity that limit the movement of fauna and create regions that are more susceptible to human impact. 


The beneficiaries of this initiative are indigenous kichwa farmers in the Ecuadorian amazon. Through this initiative, new value is being created for forest products that is environmentally sustainable and will improve livelihoods for local farmers.

How do the building blocks interact?

Our foundational building blocks of creating sustainable value chains based in local biodiversity (BB 2) and strengthening farmer associations (BB 1) interact with each other to create local capacity for designing strategies that are based in local realities, that protect ecosystems, and that improve livelihoods. When working with local farmer associations to create new value chains, it is essential that the association has the capacity to manage their productive activities and develop into a self-sufficient entity. It is important that all actors see the viability and benefits of the work and feel capable of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities. We work directly with farmers and their leaders to strengthen their organization through workshops, knowledge exchanges, and technical assistance to improve the capacity of the association itself so that they can effectively manage their participation in the value chain. Through these activities and direct collaboration with a variety of local actors, we can create viable value chains based on local knowledge and the demands of international markets.


Runa Foundation supports biodiversity and positively impacts the local environment in three principal ways.
1) Creating viable economic opportunities for non-timber forest products and organic agroforestry products increases overall income, reducing the necessity for unsustainable agricultural activities. Our efforts to increase sustainable production in buffer zones leverages impact to reduce encroachment into protected areas.
2)  Runa promotes the production of Ilex guayusa in mixed-use agroforestry systems, which are more biodiverse than conventional agricultural systems. A study investigating diversity and productivity of mixed agroforestry systems found that polycultures improve crop resilience against environmental pressures by increasing ecological diversification and decreasing land degradation through the natural cycling of nutrients and reduced human disturbance. The proliferation of these systems supports the maintenance of local flora and fauna populations, as these systems mimic the natural forest composition.
3) Supplementing our agricultural initiatives, our program works with communities to create integrated landscape plans that include strategies for improved resource management, as well as reforestation and restoration. This program has incorporated over 56,000 hectares into sustainable management plans, with 150 hectares of planned reforestation and restoration.


Maira Pisango is president of the producer association UCKAR, and lives in the Kichwa community of San Rafael. She has worked with Runa Foundation since 2010, and was elected president of the guayusa producers in her area. She facilitates the management and investment of the Social Premium Fund, generated from the sale of Fair Trade certified guayusa. Her first major accomplishment was to buy farm supplies for the members of her association, and she is currently working to obtain legal standing for her association. As a female leader, Maira is a role model and pioneer in her community. She excels at managing the needs of her constituents, and is also known for her warmth and openness. Becoming a leader has changed her status in the community; she now travels, leads meetings, and relishes in her role as a public figure. “Before [becoming a leader] I stayed in the house, I was scared, I was intimidated to speak in front of a group, to answer questions.” The opportunity to take on a leadership role has transformed many aspects of her life. Maira grew up in a situation common to many rural Kichwa women. As one of 12 children and a girl, her parents were unable to provide for her. Like many women of her generation, she did not advance beyond an 8th grade education by the time she married. But with her husband’s support, she was able to finish high school while raising her first two children. When she expressed interest in becoming a leader, her husband tried to stop her, he didn’t want her to work to interfere with her household responsibilities. However, he changed his mind after seeing how much she gained from her role. She proudly states, “I am now an example to my children.” Her husband works on construction sites, and when he is between jobs, she takes him with her to meetings and trainings.  In previous jobs she mentioned having faced racism and exploitation, as many Kichwa women do. In contrast, her work with Runa has been both professionally and personally fulfilling and has given her access to the professional world which is a rare opportunity for women from rural areas with low levels of education. Maira consistently stresses the importance of education which is the main expenditure of the household. The trainings involved in being a leader have helped her continue her own education and learn valuable skills. Maira is eager to continue working and to help producers gain access to new markets for the sale of their guayusa.

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Raine Donohue Runa Foundation