Ecuador's economy is currently the eighth largest in Latin America. After years of instability, economic growth has averaged 4 per cent each year since 2006. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was US$5, 638 in 2012 and its Human Development Index in 2014 ranked it 98 out of 187 countries.
The country's economy is still highly dependent on imports. The oil sector accounts for more than half of exports and major crops – such as bananas and plantains – provide 20 per cent of exports.
Despite agricultural value-added having more than doubled in the last decade, imports of basic foodstuffs have increased. During this period, agricultural productivity rose steadily for agro-export products.
Between 2009 and 2012, poverty in Ecuador fell from 36 per cent to 25.5 per cent – representing one of the greatest gains in poverty reduction in the region. This was chiefly due to increased salaries and employment, boosted by conditional transfer programmes for the poorest households.
Not all Ecuadorians have benefited equally, however. In rural areas – where 37.2 per cent of the population live – high poverty levels persist. In 2013, the rural poverty index stood at 42 per cent, almost double the rate in urban areas.
Although agriculture continues to be the largest employer, its share of the overall workforce fell from 26.2 per cent in 2001 to 20.8 per cent in 2010. Access to land continues to be unequal, despite attempts at land reallocation. Smallholder farmer production is limited by access to credit and financial services, markets and irrigation and technology, degradation of soil and ecosystems and the effects of climate change.
A variety of obstacles hinder small farm business development, including an excessive number of middlemen, lack of infrastructure, limited capacity for product handling and processing, too few producer associations, and inadequate management, organizational and technical skills.
Rural areas also lag behind due to lower educational levels and limited access to basic public services. Unequal gender relations and ethnicity and age can make it harder for rural young people to find a job, particularly women.
Ecuador's new Constitution targets key economic and social objectives, among which is the "productive matrix transformation". An important aspect of this is the National Strategy for Equality and Poverty Eradication (ENIEP), which mainstreams poverty reduction and calls for a shift from subsistence small farm production towards a more complex value chain market-oriented approach. Crucially, this will involve reconciling the tensions between promoting solidarity and producer associations while advocating a business-enterprise culture to generate income and employment.