When the rains of El Niño hit in the Manabi Province of Ecuador in 1998, farmer Ethiel Brieones was devastated. All of the fruits of his labour washed away with the rain, as well as any opportunity to feed his family and earn cash from his crops. He had five children and a wife to support.

"It rained every day for ten months. Water and mud came from the mountains. It almost reached the windows of our house. All my trees died," said 60-year-old Mr Brieones.

All the water canals in the area were filled with infertile mud which also covered hectare after hectare of land. The rain was followed by months of drought, and Mr Brieones' fields - along with fields in the rest of the province - became grey, hard and barren. Many of the farmers lost everything they had, and the following year they produced almost nothing.

But today things are very different. With the help of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), Mr Brieones is back on his feet. As he looked over his two hectare farm, covered with bananas, maize, papayas, peppers and beans, he smiled, proudly proclaiming: "Now I produce again."

"These farmers have most of the necessary skills and know-how already," said Napoleon Cedeño, one of the local FAO experts. "We just show them how they can best take advantage of what they've already got."

The SPFS project was funded by FAO and the government of Ecuador. The project aimed to improve food security and placed emphasis on training in sustainable water use, improving soil and post-harvest techniques and organizing local farmers' groups.

The farmers targeted by the programme changed crops and cultivation methods, something that has dramatically improved their harvests. Ethiel Brieones was among several farmers who built pilot irrigation systems on areas of his farm. FAO provided pumps and tubing, plus training, enabling him to produce more and better crops.

When we visited Mr Brieones, his first harvest of green peppers was almost ready from the irrigated field. "It looks as if it is going to be a good harvest," he said and points to the plants weighed down by the bulging peppers. He wanted to sell the peppers so that he would be able to irrigate an even bigger plot.