The Ecology of the Machachi : Ecuador’s Last Agricultural Valley or a Valley of Scrap Metal?

”This we know; the earth doesn’t belong to man; man belongs to the earth.´This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites our family.” – Chief Seattle, of the Suquamish Tribe.* 

One hour south of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, a green fertile valley with a humid and cool climate extends into the mountains . The Machachi Valley is surrounded by two important nature reserves: Pasochoa, the ”the principal guide of many studies that seek to decode the vegetable composition of the original ecosystems that covered the Andes,” and which today is a nature reserve in which one finds vital tree species such as the polylepis tree, the laurel, the pumamaqui or garra de puma, among others, that are know for their ”direct utility to man.” Moreover, regarding animal species, the Pasochoa could be considered a sanctuary for bird species like the colibríes, the tangaras, the cóndor, and tree-dwelling animals such as the cuchucho, as well as other animals that have practically disappeared from other zones of the equatorial Andes.  

The second important natural area is the Bosque Protector Toachi-Pilatón, which has species of trees such as the sangre de drago, canelo and flowers including orchids, as well as native animal species. Furthermore, the valley is an important point of passage for entrance into appreciated tourist destinations like the Cotopaxi National Park, Los Ilinizas, El Rumiñahui and other places. Machachi itself is known as the ‘fertile valley,’ or the ‘ecological valley’ and is considered by Xavier Bustamante, the director of the Fundación Natura, as ”One of the last agricultural valleys in Ecuador.”(1)

ImageHowever, the presence of ADELCA, (Steelworks of Ecuador C.A.), which has been installed in the zone since 1963, in the town of San Alfonso, seems to threaten the valley in a worrisome way. Today, the impact of the possible creation of a scrap-metal foundry for the production of iron bars distresses various sectors of residents who make their living through livestock, agriculture and tourism. 

At the present time, with the permission of the municipality of Mejía, the company has installed an enormous hill of scrap metal in an area that covers 6 hectares (14.83 acres). The hill, reaching 5 to 6 meters high, is easily visible from the Alóag-Santo Domingo stretch of the Pan-American Highway. 


As has been said, Adelca has been present in the zone for 43 years.  On their web page, Adelca establishes that its goal for the country was to deliver a ‘steel industry, that would cover the needs of the construction and related sectors in a technical and economic way.”

The document of the ADELCA Executive Summary Foundry Project, Scrap Metal San Alfonso, (REPFA) establishes that the ”the stock pile of scrap metal is temporary. The scrap metal that is entered in the process will be smelted immediately.”  Furthermore, the REPFA specifies that future accumulation of scrap metal will not be necessary, although they will maintain a ‘small stock’ that will be collected on factory property. The same document obliges the scrap metal suppliers to take charge of the separation of heavy materials such as ”lead, copper, aluminum, bronze [and] stainless steel,” products that ADELCA does not acquire because they are more expensive than iron. In this way, the document affirms that the pollution provoked by the scrap metal that has been ‘so talked about,’ does not really exist, due to the fact that these materials only produce ”iron oxide, which is not a pollutant,” and which is ”present in water as much as in the earth, especially in the Machachi Valley.”

ImageThe document affirms that ”as required by the district of the Municipality of Mejía, the soil has been filled in and compacted, and around the perimeter, reinforced concrete canals that collect rain water that misses the streams have been created, and, finally, a barrier has been put up to improve the visual aspect.” Furthermore, it gives precise details about water consumption that the foundry plant will create – 9.33 liters per second when it is producing. ”If the factory does not operate, there will be no water consumption” the document establishes, assuring that the water will be used only as a refrigerant and that, given the closed circuit which the system functions on, there will be no polluted runoff. 

The REPFA even includes the authorization letter written by the Municipal district of Mejía. The letter is signed by the engineer Ángel Brito Regalado, of the Dirección de Servicios Públicos y Medio Ambiente [Office of Public Service and Environment] in which the ”Rules for the transportation of scrap metal” are established, and according to which, ADELCA must fulfill requirements of environmental protection, decoration of the city and schedules ”for the development of this activity.” The Municipality requests that ADELCA comply with ”all national and international regulations for the transportation of this kind of waste” as is established in the Texto Unificado de Legislación Ambiental Secundaria (TULAS) [Unified Text of Secondary Environmental Legislation], complying furthermore with the Convenio de Basilea according to the transportation of dangerous waste materials.  The REPFA includes the Official Register, as a study and certificate granted by the machine manufacturers that ADELCA will use (SIDERMONTAGGI S.p.a), a report about the recycling of scrap metal in Chile, a series of photos of ”the Steel Industry position” in Spain, Brazil, Italy, the United States and China, and photos of the San Alfonso Scrap Metal Project.

The factory hopes to receive all the parts and machinery in a time span of approximately 3 months, with which it could manufacture 100 thousand metric tons of iron rod per year, made from the smelting of said scrap metal in the plant, which will be composed of ”an electric arc furnace, another sharpening or spoon furnace, a group of cranes, a principal electrical station, a water treatment plant [and] a spectrophotometer laboratory and warehouses.” (2)

The Issues

”ADELCA has turned a section of the valley into an enormous deposit of trash and scrap metal.” (3)

In spite of the aforementioned document, disinformation is ample. Until August 4, 2006, there were various discussions held in the Alóag workshop in which the problems, worries and activities related to the presence of ADELCA were proposed. The issues, for their part, range from health to the levels of sound pollution, passing through the social-environmental impacts (sicknesses, effects in livestock and agriculture, tourism, export products, water use, etc), the generation of work, and what would happen if the factory was relocated in another place, water and soil, the management of industrial waste, and including the closing of the factory. Citizens of the Mejía district are asking for more information, and more discussion of the issue, such as a geological and hydrological study, addressing the question of if the water that ADELCA would use from drilled pits is or is not related with the water of the Llugshi or Puichig moors, and the destination of the refrigerant water used in the factory. However, one of the key questions of the workshop was about the non-existence of an Environmental Impact Study, and the lack of permission from the Environmental Ministry. 

ImageThe executive report mentions a barrier, to make the view from the highway better, as the top of the hill is easily visible from the Obelisque in Alóag. Furthermore, upon entering the neighbourhood of San Alfonso, the view is practically Dante-esque: next to humble houses, side by side with vegetable fields, the scrap metal rises as you can see in the photographs. 

According to the architect Patricio Mena Durini, in a publication of the magazine Blanco y Negro, ”this area would fit 360 rural houses (36 square meters), with a population density of 300 residents per hectare.”  This comment refers to a space currently used for scrap metal, and in which local housing could be developed, moreover making use of extremely fertile land. Gabriel Espinosa is the owner of the Hacienda la Alegría [Hacienda of Happiness], livestock farmer for the last 19 years and dedicated to tourist activity for the last 4. He affirmed for that ”there is a division in the Parrish (of Mejía),” referring to the diverse reactions that the presence of the company has already provoked between the residents and neighbouring agricultural and livestock farmers. According to the statistics in Blanco y Negro, given by Bustamante, ADELCA already has 700 employees. Bustamante establishes that the great majority of those employees are from the zone itself. Furthermore, according to details from the same article, the business has offered 300 more positions. Those positions have helped the project receive enthusiastic support from the Parish Council, which for now seems to be preoccupied only by the possible affects brought by the construction and use of smelting furnaces, not so much by the mountain of scrap metal. 

Guido Valencia, president of said council, has taken an opposite attitude to that of the livestock farmers, which affirms that the people that occupy the haciendas do so from the capital, while the less than 7 people from Alóag work at said haciendas. 

Although there was initial opposition to the presence of the deposit, some of the nearby residents have desisted, with the idea that in little time they won’t have to suffer the presence of the scrap metal ( which will be replaced by the smelting furnaces), but also for not having received support from the institutions and authorities. 

Señora Mónica Montatixe, from the neighbourhood of San Alfonso, told Upsidedownworld, that the scrap metal ”can only bring problems.” In her opinion, she almost prefers the presence of the flower farms because at least ”they don’t pollute.” A few years ago, however, the flower plantations fumigated at night and residents could smell the chemicals. ”Now this doesn’t happen anymore,” says Montatixe, but she mentions the fact that the workers in these flower plantations, the majority of them not from the neighbourhood, dirtied the roads without respect. ”The president of the neighbourhood (Luis Calero), continues Montatixe, in the beginning was going to oppose the scrap metal, but now has various family members working there (in ADELCA), so now he won’t do anything.” She also says that approximately 7 people in the neighbourhood work in the factory, out of a total estimate of 100 residents. 

ImageAccording to another resident of San Alfonso, who preferred not to give his name, the Calero family assaulted a group of people who were opposed t0 the deposit. ”One of the problems that the scrap metal creates,” says Montatixe, ”is that the houses that are now next to it have lost value. Moreover we have rats and flies since the scrap metal arrived. The rats eat everything and bring sicknesses.” Montatixe mentions, moreover, the division that exists in San Alfonso and Alóag between those that are in favour and those who are against ADELCA. This lack of union has made it impossible for certain projects to be carried out, amongst them, the opposition to the scrap metal. The residents of the sector find themselves disgusted by the state of the road to the neighbourhood from the Pan-American Highway.  They affirm that its deterioration is due to the augmentation in traffic, not only from ADELCA trucks, but also the flower plantations, and a gas and ice company, also located in the sector. They consider it the responsibility of these companies to maintain the roads. 

The reaction of livestock farmers, landowners dedicated to tourism (“Haciendas Turísticas del Ecuador” (HTE)) and agriculture has been, according to Espinosa, that of taking legal measures, with the hope that the scrap metal will be removed and the creation of the furnaces will not be authorized. ”More will come after them (ADELCA),” says Espinosa, indignant about the idea that a after all the years that ADELCA has been present in the area, it has not created any consciousness in the residents and authorities. Today, work has been suspended, ”but from what we know, they haven’t stopped physical work.”

For some, on the other hand, the presence of ADELCA does not represent a true threat. They consider that the business has faithfully followed the regulations of environmental control, not only according to the Ecuadorian standards, but also rules mandated by Europe and other countries that contain high urban and industrial development, and that in the long historical trajectory of the valley of Machachai, ADELCA has brought benefits to the zone by bettering the quality of life of residents; ”we are talking about an honest, responsible and ‘ecological’ project”’ affirms one source. 

”ADELCA’s mistake was to put the scrap metal in this area,” says a member of the HTE for Upsidedownworld, ”It’s a bad introduction letter for them, but the smelting plant can be considered a recycling pant.” Furthermore, he believes that the most important thing is to know how ADECA will manage the coming scrap metal, for example from new cars whose engines still have oil in them, or appliances that contain refrigeration systems. ”I am an environmentalist at heart,” he says, ”but I don’t believe in opposition just for opposition’s sake.”

For his part, Espinosa considers that ADELCA does not respect environmental regulations since ”for the last 43 years they have thrown so-called waste mud in to the streets of the zone.”

From the landscape point of view, the impact is obvious: the presence of a hill of these dimensions can’t do anything but give a worrisome look to the area; people in neighbouring land are angry about this fact; ”it’s really a shame to mix two such different activities” and that one should be ”so polluting, as much physically as visually,” said the owner of one of the haciendas. 

Machachi is, due to its location and natural characteristics, an important climactic zone. As has been said, it contains natural areas in which native species of flora and fauna coexist. 

Bustamante mentions an important wind current passes through Alóag and that, with its characteristics as a humid ”oxygen rich” current, it creates a variety of microclimates that convert ”the zone into a ‘sponge’ that captures water.” Some neighbours of the deposit and future furnace are worried that the unknown nature of its activities will affect the mentioned characteristics of the Valley. According to a study realized by Marco de la Torre, agronomist of the Dirección Técnica del Ministerio de Agricultura [Technical Office of the Agricultural Ministry], the winds that circulate around the valley are sufficiently strong to pull particles of oxide from the discarded metals ”and from cans of paint made with lead” that could be transported to the fields and nearby houses. 

ImageThe same study declares that among the scrap metal ”containers labelled ‘dangerous,’ containing poisonous chemicals” have been found, adding the presence of a ”container that contained the gas Freon 22, used for refrigerators” and which is known for its capacity to destroy the ozone layer, and for not being biodegradable. The creation of the smelting furnaces provokes uncertainty as to how their functioning could affect the climactic characteristics of the area, creating a chain of negative events on the level of health and the environment. 

Regarding the tourist aspect, Espinosa affirms that the Red de Haciendas Turísticas del Ecuador [Network of Tourist Ranches of Ecuador] has the potential to receive more than double the tourists than those received in the Galapagos Islands every year. Along the Alóag Santo Domingo highway, thousands of tourists circulate to be admitted to the aforementioned tourist destinations. ”Just the presence of the scrap metal is a grave strike against the tourist sect0r,” comments a resident of the area ”this image doesn’t promise a good future for the natural resources that attract the majority of the tourists.”

In an open letter to the OMTE (Organización Mundial de Turismo Ecuestre) [World Organization of Equestrian Tourism], drawn up on August 16, 2006, the president of the organization in Spain, Jose Sererols i Ciutad, wrote to the Ministers of the Environment and Tourism, as well as the Presidents of the Tourism Chamber, and other authorities from Pichincha, Mejía District and Machachi, commenting on the great effort that the OMTE has made to help Ecuador ”enter into the equestrian tourist circuit,” and requesting said authorities to put ”all their resources to preserve the future life in the channels of pure ecology, of that which glorify their country.” They consider that this will be the ”only way to preserve the hopeful future for the capture of international tourism. 

For her part, Ligia Chadwick, representative of the same organization in the United States, in a letter sent to Espinosa and in which she voluntarily expresses her opinion regarding the issue, signals her uncertainty ”to see that a country like Ecuador is not as careful as it should be.” Chadwick asks herself if it is ”really true that our esteemed politicians don’t realize what we are sacrificing with these decisions.” Chadwick refers not only to ADELCA´s project, but also to other activities lie the shrimp farm in the Coastal Region. ”The ‘notmypromlem’ attitude is chilling…” continues Chadwick, mentioning the embarrassment that she feels facing this species of ‘cancer’ that ends ‘the ecological richness of the country.”

As has been said, the Machachi Valley is a zone of food production for the country, a tourist recipient, and of climactic importance; for which, the presence of this ‘recycling’ plant, creates controversy and generates the question of whether the authorities will let more companies like ADELCA come to the zone in the future, not to mention the way that ADELCA will manage the scrap metal and the smelting furnaces. 

It’s important to take in account the natural and modern characteristics of the zone, and predict the near, medium and long-term consequences in the future and the possible environmental impacts that would degenerate an important region of the country, such as the opinions of those directly affected. 

In light of these circumstances, and the fragility of the present ecosystems, the project of a smelting plant in an ecological, agricultural, livestock and tourist sector, can’t wait, then, to be received with open arms. 

(1) Blanco y Negro – (B/N), 5 de Agosto de 2006)

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid 


 Patricia Simon is an editor at