”We sell our cacao cheap to France and Switzerland. They make luxury chocolate that says made of Ecuadorian cacao, and then we buy it. Why don’t we make our own chocolate and sell it expensively to other countries?”
These are the words of a cacao farmer from Manabí I met a couple of weeks ago. I heard the same thoughts from an El Oro banana farmer i talked to. The first time I heard the thought was visiting a tourism entreprenour in Mindo.
Cacao is an example of how Ecuador’s and many other South American countries’ economies work. They import expensive industrial products like electronics, cars and clothes. They export relatively cheap primary products like bananas, cacao and oil, and get only part of the price the consumer pays. ”What does a banana cost in Finland?” is a question I often have to answer. And the reaction is an impressed ”how expensive!”.
This is the way it’s been ever since the colonial powers came to South America, whether it’s about rubber, sugar, oil, gold, cacao, coffee or bananas.
The Ecuadorians are proud of their fruits, seafood and cuisine. But the word ”local” doesn’t have the same positive connotation as it has in Finland. Foreign seems cooler than local. McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s is better than fried plantains and rice with beans. Coca Cola is better than fruit juice. A shirt from the GAP and jeans from Levi’s are cooler than clothes made in South America. To keep more money inside the country, develop the industry and create more jobs, president Rafael Correa has introduced a tax on import goods. Some like the idea, others don’t. ”Shoes and clothes are a lot more expensive now. A pair of Nike shoes cost tens of dollars more now. And Ecuadorian clothes are so ugly”, my friends from work say.
The goverment is trying to change the attitudes through an ad campaign that’s hard to miss. Ads along the highways, in magazines, on stickers in stores and restaurants, it’s everywhere – the logo with a colourful thumbprint and the slogans ”Mucho mejor si es hecho en Ecuador”. ”Cuando compres: primero Ecuador”. ”Cuando viajes: primero Ecuador”. Better if it’s made in Ecuador. When you buy: Ecuador first. When you travel: Ecuador first.
I like the campaign. The tax is a bit more problematic. It’s hard to find a TV that isn’t imported.