P. D. ir. Patrick Van Damme
Ecuador has been ‘our’ country for a number of years now. Indeed, in 1995 we, i.e. the Laboratory of Tropical and Subtropical Agronomy and Ethnobotany of the University of Gent, Belgium, started a research project on the ethnobotany and crop development of wild edible native plants in Southern Ecuador. The laboratory had been invited by the Centro Andino de Tecnologia Rural (CATER), a research institute belonging to the Universidad Nacional de Loja, to join the organisation in its effort to develop new crops and integrated plant husbandry techniques from local plant resources. To do this, the laboratory would bring in its expertise in the field of ethnobotany and later on cropping. techniques. Two years of field work resulted in an impressive list of food plants used by local communities and peoples still living traditionally. Out of this list, a few genera/species were chosen for further research: Carica spp., Passiflora spp. and Annona cherimola. Activities concentrated on germplasm collection and characaterisation, Geographic Information System (GIS) applications to better understand the relationships between plants and their environments, field trials into easy and low cost propagation of target species, and into integrated crop husbandry. During our work we established useful contacts with researchers and research institutions both in Ecuador and abroad.

Because the project was rather successful in its efforts to reach its objectives, and because of the growing interest in the scientific community at large in cherimoya, and because Loja Province is most likely the centre of origin of cherimoya, one of our target crops, and indeed a very inspiring place, we decided in 1997 to organise a congress in which we would invite all major cherimoya researchers. The congress was eventually organised on 16 – 19 March, 1999. As can be seen from the proceedings, we were able to bring together scientists and practitioners, Ecuadorians and foreigners, people with a lot of experience and neophytes.

The congress was organised in difficult conditions. Ecuador is facing one of its worst economic and political crises in decades. The month of March was extremely ‘hot’ because of strikes and demonstrations. Nevertheless, all foreign participants but one were eventually able to make it into Loja, and most of them were even more or less on time. From what we heard and understood, these problems did not negatively influence the good spirit and openness of the participants. Field trips were executed as planned, and most of the programme followed its course. I would hereby like to thank the participants and also the tour operator Biotours, and hotel and catering services, for their positive attitude throughout the congress, and for their enthusiasm which was indeed a boost for us. One will understand that the kind of atmosphere that existed at the time the congress was held was not always good for our blood pressure, and we suffered quite some sleepness nights over it… but everybody was very supportive, so: thanks !

I would also like to thank our numerous sponsors. Without them the congress would not have been possible. They enabled us to invite keynote speakers, and also to provide for everything that is needed for a successful organisation. I would like to express my gratitude to the European project ECU/B7-3010/94/103 ‘Mejoramiento de la Producción y de la Productividad en Base al Uso Óptimo de los Recursos Fitogenéticos’ for financing the participation of Dr. Carlos López Encina of Spain and ir. Pedro Undurraga of Chile. The Spanish Agency of International Co-operation in Quito for financing the participation of ir. José Hermoso González. We would like to expressly thank VVOB (Flemish Association for Development Co-operation and Technical Assistance) and ISHS for sponsoring and in case of the latter organisation also editing the proceedings of this conference. The Flemish InterUniversitary Council and the Belgian Administration for Development Co-operation provided us with the support and money needed to execute the project; without their support there would not have been any results to present from our side, nor would there have been a congress…

I my own name as overall scientific director of the project, I would like to thank ir. Veerle Van Damme and ir. Xavier Scheldeman for all the work they did in preparing and actually hosting the congress. Ir. Veerle Van den Eynden, together with ir. Eduardo Cueva and ir. Omar Cabrera did all the foot work that lead to the ethnobotanical list of edible plants. Over the years, Ing. Imma Verheyen and Ing. Mark Marissens did useful research in the project and provided us with some hard-needed economic data. In preparing these proceedings, Dr. Catherine Gold helped us with translating Spanish texts into Queen's English, whereas ir. Eddie Pazmiño tried to put English into Spanish. Ir. José Lozano Velásquez did much needed proof reading. I fear I missed a few people here or there, but I hope that those who I indeed forgot will forgive me: we know who they are and appreciate all they did !

Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the Ecuadorian partners and friends who helped us throughout our four years in Ecuador. Especially the people in the field who provided us with invaluable information and assistance will always be remembered ! Que les vaya bien !

Prof. Dr. ir. Patrick Van Damme, conference convenor

Patrick Van Damme, P. D. ir. (1999). FOREWORD. Acta Hortic. 497, 7-16
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.497.0

Acta Horticulturae