EWEA mission in Colombia – Day 3

Third day, Montelara, municipality of Maicao (La Guajira, Colombia)

Today we leave even earlier from Riohacha, it is 6.30 and like every morning, we meet at our hotel. The hotel is not bad, although the air conditioning does not always work and the water is cold, or lukewarm, when we are lucky. The hotel where we wanted to stay was full … we could not compete with Angelina Jolie!

Jokes aside, in the car, as usual, I bother one of the Colombian colleagues to tell us more and this time it’s Luis Carlos Álvarez Ramos, an agronomist who is specialized in project formulation with an emphasis on agro-ecology. Some 300 families live in the community of Montelara, of which 78 are beneficiaries of the project: Colombian returnees, Venezuelans and Wayúu.

It is perhaps one of the communities where we have a greater representation of the three groups that FAO is supporting. We are 100 m from the border with Venezuela. Colombian returnees living in this area of La Guajira left from several parts of Colombia many years ago, during the violence, and have recently come back from Venezuela, but they stay in La Guajira without going far away.

Until a few years ago, they mainly lived off the informal economy, based on smuggling, the commercialization of fuel, food, liquor. Due to the economic crisis in Venezuela, and the policy carried out by the Colombian authorities, this type of business has declined generating much less income. So they have gone back to agriculture.

Under the agriculture component, FAO’s activities focused on the distribution of seeds, the rehabilitation of livelihoods with drip irrigation system, the adaptation of water points and training with community demonstration and training centres (CDC) – if you remember well, we’ll talk about these later. Under the livestock component, FAO mainly focused on animal health brigades and training. The nutritional part of the project was greatly enriched by the cultural diversity of the community of Montelara through exchanges of nutritional knowledge.

It is very hot, luckily the whole community is gathered under a hangar, and Luis Carlos begins explaining the purpose of our visit. And Luis Carlos starts with the questions. Anicia came to the community of Montelara because being Wayúu she had family members living here. She telling us: “our world fell apart, so I had to leave. I am a farmer but I had never learned to cultivate the land. Now I have learned to plant vegetables organically. I already know all the stages of production, from preparing the land, to sowing, applying fertilizers, irrigation, and harvesting. We are learning to live together, cultivating together in the CDC.” Anicia hopes that one day she will be able to live off her crops, and sell what she has, she also wants to pass on her knowledge to her family. She concludes by telling us that the work of FAO has been a blessing.

José, before being Colombian or Venezuelan is above all Wayùu, “we Wayúu have no borders”. He tells us that land preparation was difficult, that their life is very hard. “There is a shortage of food, there is little food for families. In a family, we can be about seven, but sometimes even 15 people”. Before the trainings, the land where the CDC is set up was a jungle, but now everything began to grow, the aubergines, the chili, the chives. And he concludes with some words we’ve heard many times since the mission began: “we are working, and this gives us self-esteem and dignity.”

Then the entire FAO team separated, and we each pull out our tablet for the individual survey. Alina is 50 years old, she is Colombian from the department of Córdoba, and lived in Venezuela for 30 years. She returned to Colombia five or six years ago and now lives in Montelara. She has five children and two young grandchildren.

Alina misses the life she had before. Her eyes look at me with such sadness when he starts talking about her grandson, Matías who was born with a disability probably due to the Zika virus that infected his mother during pregnancy. The little one does not walk. The house where she lives here in Colombia has only one room, so even if her children want to live with her, they sometimes have to return to Venezuela because there is no room for that many people.

In Venezuela she had a food business and lived well, she would like go back home. But her last words were of hope: “agricultural production helped me to have a roof. In spite of everything, being here is a relief. FAO has been a breath of fresh air.”

Read more about the next day of the mission.

The FAO EWEA programme has been supported by the kind assistance of the European Union through the partnership agreement contributing to strengthen the Global Network Against Food Crises.

Source : Fao