Sustainable Andes by Fondo de Acceso Andino

Mountain Protection, UIAA
Photo: © Fundacion Acceso Andino



Project Status:  
January 2020 – June 2020

Felipe Proano


The Andes of Ecuador have three three main areas where rock climbing is the main tourist attraction. These areas are Zumbahua (Cotopaxi province), San Juan (Chimborazo province) and the recently discovered Simiatug (Bolivar province). These three areas belong to local indigenous communities, who are unfamiliar with rock climbing as a sport, tourism as a mechanism of income, and sustainability. We would like to change that by working with them and not against them, for the future of Ecuador’s mountains. Rock climbing is growing quickly in our country, there are more participants each year, and the activity has proven to become impactful on local flora and fauna. Waste disposal is not ideal, and indigenous communities are unhappy with this situation. 


Our project needs the allocation of resources to bump up to a good level of sustainability. This includes a wide array of actions, from setting up ground rules and interaction with the local communities, to building necessary structures for waste disposal and camping. These cannot be done without the proper communication methods and strategy to inform all the users, operators and locals of the purpose of keeping the areas sustainable. It does not involve the participation of the Ecuadorian government, since this has proven to be a total failure because of a very corrupt political system. 


Our project involves empowering local communities to be responsible for their lands in a sustainable way. Also empowering the hundreds of users that go climbing every day in these areas and how to be supporters and not irresponsible users. It involves a big crew of possibly 10 – 12 volunteers, plus the implementation of Mingas. (Ancestral Andean tradition where everyone volunteers to help with labour for a day). This has proven to be an effective option. 


Our project benefits the communities from a community tourism point of view and an economical way. Ecuador is one of the remaining places where community tourism through adventure sports is actually growing. The communities and locals own the land which we use for sport and recreation, it is fair to contribute to them in a way to generate income for very humble and poor citizens. Most of them don’t even finish basic school education and work the land (that is drying with global warming). The government ignores them, so Fundacion Acceso Andino (FAA) creates the tourism infrastructure for them to participate and generate rock climbing and other mountain related sports. All of them are willing to talk and take action, we only need more resources to present them opportunities and show them those climbers and users are their friends. 


Working with the government of Ecuador through the Minister of Tourism or Environment hast proven to be extremely hard due to the corruption in the system which we have never taken part in. There are other local authorities such as the Presidents of the local indigenous communities and their representatives, which organize and control people and the mayors of small towns. By no means do we go against conservancy legislature or any other laws, as Green Law in Ecuador is still very scarce. 


To have rock climbing areas that are sustainable in the long term via the proper use of land, resources and infrastructure. The main goal is to rehabilitate these areas through a sustainable set of ground rules and infrastructure. Another goal is to preserve these areas as they are and stop the irreversible impact. The last one is to communicate the proper use of these areas to the users so that they can be a part of the change and not only spectators. 

The key task is to meet formally with the communities that own the land and present them with solutions to the existing problems. This is the most important part, with this meeting ground rules are set up and published in order to be communicated effectively such as: camping areas, toilets, schedules, flora and fauna impact and other services. The outcome will be measured with the community if they are willing to be supporters rather than spectators, same thing with the hundreds of users that use the land for recreation. Marking sites, trails, zones and camping areas is extremely important to allocate people where they have to use the land and minimize irreversible impact. 


Human resources will include all the 109 members of FAA, every member supports annually with a 40$ contribution to the Foundation and its actions. More important is the work force we have. When we call for a Minga (ancestral tradition of commentary work), we have a small team working together for a common effort. 

Foundation Acceso Andino also canalizes resources from allies and collaborators from the private sector, however Ecuador’s economy is small and struggling, so our efforts to obtain more resources aren’t easy. We need foreign aid. The project will be lead and executed by the Foundation’s leader team, the directive based out of five members and the President. 


Our project will be filmed and documented to be shown to the public. Foundation Acceso Andino is a non-profit based with Ecuadorian law, and we have to show transparency at all times and publicly once a year. We will post the video of the project online and in different climbing events throughout the year. UIAA can help us with promotion of the Foundation online not only for this project but for our main efforts in the Andes. We need to be shown to the international community and operators that use our land to make money and contribute to sustainability of our sites. Our country Ecuador will be eternally grateful and can use positive promotion of environmental and cultural efforts. 

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Please note that the content published in this article is courtesy of the Award nominee. The UIAA has made minor revisions to the original submissions.