In Colombia, long-standing violence, natural disasters and land tenure problems have threatened food security and continue to worsen the vulnerabilities of those affected. FAO is trying to help vulnerable communities better withstand the effects of displacement by armed conflict, climate change and natural disasters. The main victims of natural disasters are usually the most impoverished who tend to lose everything. FAO is supporting vulnerable communities by restoring their capacity to grow food and by strengthening their ability to respond to these disasters.
Violence and forced displacement
Colombia is one of the most stable democracies in Latin America. Almost 50 years of continued armed conflict though, have led to the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the western hemisphere and the second largest displaced population in the world after Sudan, with estimates placing the numbers between 3.9 million and 5.4 million in the last 27 years. Afro‐Colombian and indigenous people, who make up nearly 13 percent of the population, are particularly affected. At least 34 indigenous communities are considered at risk of extinction (Constitutional Court, Auto 004/09) due to conflict.
Part of the consequences of the conflict are the increasing number of rural communities that are forced to remain on their lands, without access to markets or their crops due to the presence of land mines and movement controls by illegal armed groups. These communities are sometimes confined or blocked for months, causing their food security and health situation to rapidly deteriorate and particularly affecting young children and pregnant and lactating women.
The analysis of the food security and nutrition situation of those affected by the conflict in Colombia, points to problems centred on access, consumption and use of food. In addition, other factors are also affecting IDPs, such as: caloric intake deficit; low food consumption diversity; low weight of children at birth; low educational level and work overload of the mother; unequal distribution of food within the household; access to health services and sanitation; and teenage pregnancy.
The "Evaluation of Food and Nutrition Security in Vulnerable Populations in Colombia", carried-out in 2011 by the World Food Programme, established that some 223 000 people affected by the conflict are highly food and nutrition insecure (an additional, 60 000 are moderately food insecure). In general, studies report that the IDP situation is worse in small and intermediate cities, in remote communities with indigenous and/or Afro-Colombian populations and where there is a high presence of illegal armed groups.
Responding to natural disasters
Colombia is prone to a number of natural disasters, which include floods, landslides and storms that have derived from the effects of climate change. Even with the significant level of food production in the country, pockets of food insecurity persist, particularly for indigenous, Afro-Colombian, isolated rural populations and IDP communities. FAO’s actions focus on rapidly restoring agricultural production, small-scale livestock farming and the protection and restoration of assets, services and productive resources.
FAO’s proposed activities include:
- develop technical analysis of land-use and response models at the community level;
- implement activities concerning animal health, shelter and food;
- distribute seeds, tools and other materials that will enable families to immediately resume agricultural activities and technical assistance to better prepare for future emergencies;
- rebuild productive infrastructure in communities that do not have access to credit or subsidy mechanisms; and
- strengthen institutional capacities of local Government agencies, as well as community-based organizations.
Disaster Risk Management
Currently FAO Colombia is coordinating and collaborating with the Government´s National Disaster Risk Management Unit in adapting FAO´s emergency response to the needs of communities in planning, prevention and risk mitigation within the agricultural sector, as well as assisting affected populations in filling their food security gaps in remote regions of the country.
The methodology includes training participating families, beginning with awareness and include topics such as adjustment in the planting dates, integrated pest management, the inclusion of new crop species, adaptation and recovery of seeds and soil rehabilitation.
The project accompanies the community in selecting planting areas that are most suitable and have the least risk of flooding or climate variations. Capacity building is carried out in demonstration training centres that serve as farmer field schools, where staff share different agricultrual techniques with community organizations to help them protect crops from possible flooding. Households apply the knowledge learned in their own fields. Prepared to face future disasters, they are ready to resume their productive activities with a higher awareness of the risks associated.
Accessing land rights
Although the country has experienced economic growth and is a middle-income country, significant inequalities persist. About half of the population lives in poverty and about 6 million people are living below the extreme poverty line. The high concentration of land ownership has meant that many small farms, with inefficient production scales, work alongside large estates with underutilized lands. These small-scale farmers produce food for themselves but do not have access to enough land to begin making a profit. Additionally, more than 150 000 IDP families are expecting that their illegally confiscated lands be restituted by the Government, and around 4 million IDPs continue to struggle to find social and economic opportunities.
FAO is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development that has been concentrating its efforts to manage, protect and restitute land rights to victims of displacement. The Victims Law and Land Restitution is a framework of eligibility that has recently been signed. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is creating 11 regional offices to process the claims made by IDPs. Although challenges will persist for small rural farmers, land tenure rights are an important initiative in Colombia.