Student Wins Travel Award to Study Poverty-Reduction Efforts for Quinoa Producers in Ecuador

  • July 7, 2014
  • By Heather Sauer     
Research examines effectiveness, sustainability of NGO’s poverty-alleviation initiatives.


Elisa Cárdenas, a second-year graduate student pursuing double degrees in community and regional planning and sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University, received a $4,500 Graduate Student Travel Award for International Study in Sustainable Livelihoods to study the work of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that supports small-scale quinoa producers in Ecuador.

The scholarship provides resources for students in the social sciences to pursue graduate-level multidisciplinary research with an international theme of importance to the improvement of individual, family or community livelihoods in a developing country.

Cárdenas, of Riobamba, Ecuador, applied for the funding to analyze the work of an NGO that seeks to alleviate poverty among small-scale rural producers of quinoa in Chimborazo, the top quinoa-producing province in that country.

She notes that while many NGOs use a sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA)—a holistic way to analyze and address poverty that emphasizes identification of people’s assets, strengths, and capabilities to determine how best to improve living conditions—those in South America have been slow to adopt the method. In her research this summer, Cárdenas is using SLA as a framework to examine the effectiveness of the Chimborazo NGO’s poverty-alleviation efforts.

From May 29 through July 31, Cárdenas is interviewing NGO staff and quinoa producers the NGO has aided to learn about the organization’s programs and benefits to producers as well as how effective and sustainable its activities are. Her research will inform her master’s thesis.

Community and regional planning is a department in the Iowa State University College of Design. Sustainable agriculture is an interdepartmental graduate program with faculty from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Design; Engineering; Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine.