©UN CERF/Julián Arango

Colombia: Harvest after the floods


On the road to the small town of Recula, in the department of Córdoba, a cow forages for food in fields that have become lakes. The animal’s protruding ribs are evidence of the effects of some of the worst flooding in Colombia’s history which affected more than 210,000 people in Córdoba department.

The flooding problems are further exacerbated by armed conflict, as illegal armed groups and narco-traffickers battle for territorial control. According to the Government, there were 554 homicides and 17 mass displacements in the Córdoba department in 2011.

Now, flooding has dealt local communities an additional blow. Major rivers that cut across the farmlands of Córdoba overran, causing massive flooding that destroyed hundreds of homes and left thousands of families in the most at-risk areas with next to nothing.

Agriculture is the mainstay of approximately 70 per cent of the flood-affected population. The sector suffered a significant setback in Colombia, with damage to an estimated 70,000 hectares of agricultural land. The loss of home-stored seeds and animals, critical for ensuring household food security and nutrition, rendered farming households extremely vulnerable and food insecure. Restoring households’ capacity to provide for themselves and prepare for the next planting season was critical.

Diversifying food sources

In response, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is implementing a food-security project in Recula, supported by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). Eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables serve as new sources of food and, in some cases, as commercial produce that provides subsistence for families.

“Before FAO’s project we had no future, we saw no way to get ahead. We had no resources to start over, to eat” says Damaris, a project leader. The project seeks to teach the community to find new food sources by diversifying their crops to ensure a quick harvest. According to FAO, some 70 per cent of families included in the initiative will be able to recover their small plots of land and thus satisfy their basic food requirements in the future.

Damaris adds: “The most important thing for us is to know that we can help ourselves find food and become self-reliant.”
CERF has provided US$5.9 million to UN agencies in Colombia during the last year. FAO has received more than $962,000 to ensure food security and emergency support for vulnerable people affected by violence and natural disasters. In addition to ensuring a rapid response to the crisis, CERF funding was an important means of leveraging partner resources for Colombia.

Malachy Dottin, FAO Representative in Colombia, says: "The contribution of the CERF has been decisive for implementing food production activities, and promoting the food security of people affected by violence and natural disasters. CERF has also helped us mobilize resources from other donors to improve our capacity to respond in the country. The CERF- funded project has not just brought material well-being to these families, but also psychological relief and a sense of self-reliance.”

As local farmers gathered to collect their fresh harvest, Maria, a longtime resident of Recula said, “In the midst of this crisis, to see how, despite everything, our little plants are growing  and soon we’ll have cucumbers and tomatoes is a joy that you can’t even begin to imagine.”