Terraso in The Galapagos

a panoramic view of the Galapagos coast.

At the end of April 2022, Tech Matters’ Terraso program team headed to the Galapagos to join our six international partner organizations in the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People (1000L) initiative, for a five-day co-design workshop. The purpose of this workshop was two-fold. First, to inspire and accelerate design efforts through active and engaging dialogue, and second, to deepen our working relationships through in-person interaction. The dozens of attendees have been working together over the past two and a half years to build this initiative, without the benefit of in-person meetings.

For background, the goal of 1000L is to channel tools, information, and funding to local leaders around the world, trying to build more sustainable and regenerative local economies against the backdrop of climate change. Often, this boils down to, something as simple as how can we boost farmer incomes while using less water.

Most of our time was spent in co-design sessions taking advantage of the fact that we were all together in person instead of on Zoom spread out over five different time zones. This allowed us to really dig into the design work around all of the key parts of 1000L: the landscape learning modules, finance assessment tools, and Terraso digital platform, as well as exploring communication and scaling strategies.

A group of 1000L co-design session participants working together around a table.

However, it was very important to our partners (and us!) to hear the voices of local landscape leaders. That’s why we were in a place actively pursuing sustainable landscape strategies, rather than a hotel in a big city. The most exciting part of the co-design workshop was the day dedicated to meeting local Galapagos leaders and hearing about their challenges. We started by visiting four different farms. They were all quite striking in their varying approaches to sustainable and eco-friendly agriculture. The terrain of each farm was quite different, which greatly impacted what they farmed and how they farmed it. One farm had rockier soil and focused their efforts on the cultivation of vegetable crops, fruit trees, and endemic plants of the Galapagos Islands. Another farm had lava tubes running through it so rather than crops they focused mostly on sustainable livestock and the protection of species of ecological interest for the Galapagos. The third farm focused on hydroponic production of lettuce and coffee under an agroforestry system. The last farm was owned by Scott Henderson, longtime leader of the Conservation International program in the Galapagos and a member of the 1000L initiative; this farm produced organic coffee in a sustainable and worker-friendly way.

Workshop participants gather around a farmer on one of the site visits.

Actually being able to see these sites first-hand was invaluable. For most of us, it was our first experience in an environment where there was truly no access to the internet or Wi-Fi. While we expect this to be the case for many of our users and are designing for it, there is nothing like seeing how users actually experience it. It drove home the need for tools that work both on and offline and highlighted our appreciation for the power of KoBoToolbox, the first data collection tool we’ve added to Terraso’s inventory of digital landscape tools that does just that.

We were fascinated by farmer Romer Ochoa’s approach to farming. His farm employs hydroponic methods for growing lettuce. He is able to produce lettuce faster, more densely, and using less water than lettuce that is grown on the Ecuadorian mainland. However, despite this achievement, he struggles to maintain a reliable market for his product. A problem he believes is tied to a turbulent post-Covid economy, fluctuating levels of tourism, and a public sector still struggling to promote Galapago’s self-sufficiency in relation to the mainland. Romer’s experience reminds us that sustainability solutions depend on a confluence of policy, business, finance, and community. As we build Terraso, we must remember that systems thinking approaches are necessary to achieve success both for the Terraso product and the landscape actors we are building for, while keeping the real people on the ground, like Ochoa, in mind.

Romer Ochoa demonstrates his hydroponic approach to growing lettuce.

Following the field visits, we heard from a dozen local leaders from different parts of the Galapagos agriculture, tourism, and community. Their stories were vivid and real. One of the best stories was from the head of the local surfer club, who had effectively collected and used data to advocate for improved access to recreational opportunities (like surfing spots) for community residents. The Terraso team is always excited to hear stories about how data drove positive change!

As data people steeped in assessment, one of those vivid stories was about how local NGO leaders felt about assessments. One leader pointed out that “assessment” can feel a lot like judgment. People who go through the process can feel inadequate if the experience is designed without the user’s experience in mind. This was a good reminder that we need to step back and think through the ways that Terraso can be built to make the process of building capacity an affirming experience that celebrates the exchange of knowledge, rather than a stressful one that leaves people doubting their abilities.

It was a tremendously powerful and successful workshop. Having the opportunity to do site visits really drove home the challenges our Terraso stakeholders face and the importance of the co-design process. Being in person truly allowed us to advance our design efforts, and our relationships flourished, laying the groundwork for many more Zoom meetings!

To learn more about our experience make sure to watch the Galapagos video blog.


  • Jim Fruchterman

    Jim Fruchterman is a leading social entrepreneur, MacArthur Fellow and Founder of Benetech and Tech Matters, nonprofit technology companies based in Silicon Valley. He's helped create five world changing technology social enterprises (and isn't done yet). His dream is to bring Silicon Valley's technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5%.

Terraso in The Galapagos
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