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How Colombia’s Small Farmers Contribute to Resilience and Food Sovereignty in Post-Conflict and COVID-19 Pandemic Times

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.

About 3Colibrís

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. 

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No cultivamos porque está de moda: Cultivamos como resistencia, para la curación y la soberanía

Durante más de 150 años, desde las zonas rurales del sur hasta las ciudades del norte, las personas Negras han utilizado la agricultura para construir comunidades autodeterminadas y resistir las estructuras opresivas que las destruyen.

Hoy en día, la agricultura sigue desempeñando un papel importante en la vida de las personas Negras, por lo que vemos proyectos y programas de agricultura urbana en Filadelfia, Detroit y Washington D.C. y otras ciudades de los Estados Unidos. En todas estas ciudades, hay organizaciones lideradas por personas Negras que cultivan soberanía alimentaria y de la tierra ayudando a individuos y comunidades a recuperar su agencia y posesión sobre sus sistemas alimentarios.

Mi camino dedicado a la lucha de defensa y recuperación del territorio para la sobrebania alimentaria comenzó mucho antes de que yo naciera. Mis antepasados eran africanos esclavizados, obligados a cultivar en condiciones abominables en Carolina del Sur, Texas y Georgia. En 2012, comencé mi primer trabajo profesional trabajando en una organización sin fines de lucro dedicada a la justicia alimentaria e educación nutricional en Filadelfia.

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We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.

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The Moment for Food Sovereignty is Now

Last weekend, Kristin Davey received an unexpected shock upon entering her local nursery in Sebastopol, California, north of San Francisco. “The shelves were picked over. The vegetable starts were almost gone. And the seed racks were completely bare,” she said, “I’ve been going to nurseries for 15 years and I have never seen them so empty.”

Davey went home empty-handed that day, and she is far from alone. Just as panic buying is emptying grocery shelves around the country, “panic planting” has overrun nurseries and seed companies alike as people flock to stock up on seeds and seedlings to grow food at home. Nurseries, which are considered essential businesses in some states, are scrambling to keep up with demand, and some have begun to offer curbside pickup and delivery to respect social distancing guidelines.

Seed companies are also inundated. Late last month, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds closed their website to catch up on a record number of orders, while Johnny’s Seed Company co-CEO Gretchen Kruysman reported that the company has seen a 300 percent increase in orders since early March.

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How Fake Food Accelerates the Collapse of the Planet and Our Health

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it is grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food”. Good and real food are the basis of health. Bad, industrial, fake food is the basis of disease. Hippocrates said “Let food be the medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha”: the medicine that cures all disease. Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

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Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

KEEP READING ON INDEPENDENT SCIENCE NEWS

Elige FAO a México para impulsar agroecología y erradicar el hambre

El Gobierno de México debe contemplar en los programas que forman parte de su Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, el impulsar un modelo de producción agroecológico sustentable, que permita alcanzar los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible, planteados en la agenda 2030 de la ONU para erradicar la pobreza y hambre cero, y mejorar la calidad de vida de las familias campesinas.

Crispin Moreira, representante de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y Agricultura en México (FAO), informó que para lograrlo se requiere de un marco legal, un mayor presupuesto, control social, intrumentos operativos y políticas públicas que favorezcan el fortalecimiento de este modelo agroecológico.

Anunció que México junto con Senegal y la Indía, fueron elegidos durante el II Simposium que realizó la FAO en Roma,  para impulsar una agenda más concreta, sobre producción agroecológica que permitan alcanzar los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible de la ONU, en la erradicación de la extrema pobreza y hambre cero.

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Cooperative Agroforestry Empowers Indigenous Women in Honduras

Author: Monica Pelliccia | Published: April 16, 2018

GUALCINCE, Honduras — The Lenca call it a sacrificial stone, where their indigenous  ancestors went to make offerings to deities. A triangle of rock with different circles inscribed on its surface, it has remained intact despite the passage of time.

The woods that surround the village of Gualcince, almost at the border with El Salvador, bear marks of their past, too. It was here on Congolón Mountain that Indio Lempira, the famed Lenca leader of Honduran indigenous resistance, died. Lenca culture flourished here in the pre-Columbian epoch, and people still find ancient artifacts.

Despite the great depth of history, there are new traditions starting here as well. Amanda Abrego, a 36-year-old mother of four who lives near the sacred stone, is a board member of the Cosagual Lenca cooperative of women coffee growers. Like 21 other female cafetaleras, she is now cropping organic coffee under the shadow of timber- and fruit-yielding trees, following the traditional agroforestry system that the Lenca indigenous group — to which the famous environmental activist Berta Cáceres belonged before she was assassinated two years ago — developed before the arrival of Spanish conquerors, and they are selling it in a new way. In 2014, the women launched an all-female growers’ cooperative as a part of the Cosagual coffee growers’ organization.

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Josefa Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Published: March 28, 2018

Though life in Chunox may seem idyllic to some (birds chirping in the morning, exuberant kids playing marbles on the quiet dirt roads, no one walking around with their eyes stuck to their cell phones), it’s getting harder and harder to make a living here. The conventional sugarcane industry, where many have made their living, is crumbling. Due to overfishing, the daily catch is no longer as lucrative as it once was. No doubt about it, life in Chunox is tough.

For Josefa, adversity is nothing new. At age five, Josefa’s father died, leaving her mother to raise their six children alone. When her mother fell ill, Josefa was forced to leave school to take care of her. After third grade, she never went back. She speaks Mayan, Spanish, and some English, but she never learned to read or write. Though Josefa was twice married to capable, loving men, she’s also twice widowed, both of her husbands having succumbed to sickness. Now she has eight grown children, many of whom have children of their own. While Josefa has been able to support her family, it hasn’t come easily.

While Josefa’s mind may be at peace when a ranchera comes drifting through in the afternoon breeze or when she’s meditatively making corn tortillas so that all eleven members of her household have something to eat, these moments are fleeting. Before long, concerns about how to sustain herself and her family creep back in. Josefa seeks permanent solutions to food insecurity and poverty, not just temporary answers.

Despite these hardships, Josefa’s home has remained an atmospheric place full of joy and mirth. Hugs and laughter are available in mass quantities. Good quality food, however, is not always as abundant.

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Pawnee Corn Coming Back Strong

Author: Shay Burk | Published: March 26, 2018

For the second time in 143 years, Pawnee people are returning to the land of their ancestors where today their native corn has come back to life in a new way.

Pawnee corn has been growing and is now again thriving in the Nebraska after 15 years of work by both past and present Nebraskans.

Ronnie O’Brien, an instructor at Central Community College-Hastings, and Pawnee member Deb Echo-Hawk started their relationship in 2003 with the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project.

Prior to the start of that project, the Pawnees’ sacred corn, which was once used for everything from daily nutrition to religious ceremonies, had dwindled to a few precious seeds in jars stored in Oklahoma.

Through years of study and hard work on the part of O’Brien, Echo-Hawk and a dozen farmers across central Nebraska, the seed and the corn has returned.

That corn, the cultural significance and the importance of sustaining the land for future generations will all be highlighted at a special event in conjunction with Earth Day on the CCC-Hastings campus April 28.

“The more we learned about the corn, the more interested we got,” said CCC student Cecie Packard.

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