By Ana Prada
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – In his book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed“, Jared Diamond analyzes why certain societies prevail and others collapse, and explains how the decline of some, such as the Mayan and the Easter Island civilizations, resulted from the mismanagement of nature.
Indeed, the way societies manage their natural resources largely defines their future, according to Diamond. The abundance of resources and successful adaptation to climate change, together with the correct decision-making by a society’s leaders, are some of the factors that determine a society’s ability to survive over time.
Conversely, the abuse of environmental resources and exploitative agricultural production systems can lead a society to collapse.
Socio-environmental conflicts are not foreign to the Colombian reality. The unequal distribution of land and territory has given rise to Colombian armed conflict. The socio-environmental confrontations in Colombia date back to the time of the Spanish conquest. However, the trigger for the armed conflict occurred in 1948, with the assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.
In 1948, the country was ruled by conservatives and landowners, and was totally polarized between extreme poverty and wealth. Thus, one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent world history was born. It was not until 2016 that the Peace Agreements were signed between the National Government and the extinct guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Initially, the guerrillas were driven by political ideals. But later, toward the end of the 1970s, with the arrival and subsequent consolidation of drug trafficking, the conflict became a business matter. The search for concentration of land by the various sides left the Colombian small farmers in the middle, and on the losing end.
Yet despite being politically marginalized, culturally undervalued and economically excluded, and despite experiencing greater difficulty accessing land than any other social group in the country, small farmers, who represent 30 percent of the country’s total population, produce 70 percent of the food consumed in the country.
In addition, this disadvantaged but industrious population reminds those of us who live in cities of the value of having roots in our land and territory, and cherishing our identity.
Small-scale agriculture has taught Colombians about resilience and innovation. On less than one hectare, small farmers manage to feed themselves, create surpluses to sell and learn about the diverse Colombian soils and ecosystems through trial and error. And despite being displaced because of the armed conflict, it has been small farmers who have opened the agricultural border in the country, and started their lives from scratch, in the country with the greatest internal displacement in the world—worse even than Syria.
In the value chains of the drug trafficking industry, small farmers have become the first link. Indeed, it is the most vulnerable link in a chain characterized by the predominance of activities that leave Colombia with nothing but social burdens: land concentration, idle lands ownership, diminished productivity and at-risk national food sovereignty and autonomy.
In the Peace Agreements, small farmers are recognized as victims of the armed conflict. A political framework to reduce the gaps between the countryside and the city was designed, guaranteeing the small farmers the right to political and economic participation and decision-making regarding the future of their territories.
In points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreements, Comprehensive Rural Reform and Comprehensive Solution to the Drug Problem respectively, multiple political and legal instruments were created. These include the land fund for Comprehensive Rural Reform, the multipurpose cadaster; Development Plans with a Territorial Approach; and Comprehensive Nations Plans for Substitution, among others.
Although the implementation of these political and legal instruments has been slow, they have become novel tools to rethink small farmers as a strategic actor in the territorial planning to restore peace, the conservation of the territories and the guarantee of security, sovereignty and food autonomy.
In 2013, there was a national agrarian strike in Colombia, supported by the main farmers’ organizations, as well as workers from other areas, which over time managed to get the recognition of the citizens. Since then, Colombians who live in cities have shown growing empathy towards the small farmers’ movement, appreciating the producers of the food they have on their plates daily, as well as the need to rethink and re-territorialize cities to stop the growing trend of food deserts, which put at risk the right to food, especially for the most vulnerable. These transformations have become more necessary than ever in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
This is a country whose rulers have lacked the gallantry to guarantee its citizens the right to food, and to preserve the country’s rich biocultural diversity. They have succumbed to globalization and progress in the short term, at the expense of resources that give us life.
In these days of covid-19, we have witnessed two trends that are two sides of the same coin.
On the one hand, we see citizens who increasingly demand healthy, local and sustainable food, and who are more willing to consume food from small farmers, family and community agriculture.
On the other hand, small farmers continue to face the traditional challenges of the agricultural Colombia: the appalling road and telecommunications infrastructure, the persistence of the armed conflict, the murder of social leaders, insufficient healthcare system that increases the risk of infection and death due to the epidemic, price speculation and misinformation, among many other challenges.
Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, the creation and strengthening of collaborative networks between the territories, the building of close relationships between producers and consumers, the possibility of resuming peace dialogues between the National Government and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate food distribution and the consolidation of small farmers and/or agro-ecological markets as viable and secure supply alternatives, even in times of epidemic.
The reader may be wondering, how can I put my grain of sand? It is very simple, buy local! Buy from small farmers, family and community agriculture! Go back to the farmers markets, go to meet the producer so you give him your vote of confidence to stay in the territory feeding hope to the country.
In Colombia, The National Network of Family Farming (RENAF) leads the national campaign “Yo llevo el campo Colombiano (I carry the Colombian countryside) that seeks to make visible the farmers markets that exist throughout the country.
By eating local and seasonal food lime the uchuva or the curuba, and supporting the small farmers, Colombians can put their grain of sand in the construction of peace in Colombia.
We are an organization that contributes to the strengthening of marketing and logistics of products from small farmers, family and community and/or agroecological agriculture in Latin America. We work for the construction of sustainable farming that’s connected to the cities in Colombia and Latin America. We seek out and involve producers of healthy food and agro-ecological products so consumers have easier access to these foods. We visit and guide food producers to improve their marketing channels and ensure that we work with ethical and responsible organizations.
Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís and a business administrator and sociologist from the Javeriana University of Bogotá, apprentice for the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at the University of Uppsala and the International Course on Food Systems at the University of Wageningen. She has worked for Colombian Caritas in the implementation of “Article One” of the Peace Agreements, and on projects for UNDP, UNFAO, EU and the Suyusama Foundation.