Rural livelihoods lay the foundations for long-lasting peace in Colombia

FAO is working with communities in the department of Chocó to restore livelihoods in the aftermath of conflict

FAO and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund are working with communities in Colombia to rebuild and secure villagers’ food security and livelihoods after a 2016 peace agreement aimed at ending the conflict. ©FAO


Over the years, life has been complicated for the residents of the tiny community of Cedro, in Colombia’s Pacific department of Chocó. Their region has been battered by destructive floods, illegal crop cultivation and waves of armed conflict, sometimes forcing them to flee their homes or leaving them without means of subsistence.

In recent decades, the violence has left millions of Colombians internally displaced. A peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 marked a significant watershed. Yet six years on, in the historically conflict-affected provinces, violence and displacement have continued, leaving 7.35 million people in the country still in need of food security assistance.

But at least for the villagers of Cedro, daily life recently has had a calmer and more normal feel to it. "Today the children keep an eye on the chickens. When the hen clucks, they go and collect eggs; when the sun rises, the women go and collect their vegetables. We save money because we have the crops right here; we don't need to buy onions or tomatoes," says Edgar Mosquera, one of the community leaders.

He has supported the implementation of a project by FAO and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help provide for the villagers’ food and livelihood needs and get them on a path back to normal life. In this settlement founded 20 years ago, the 11 families who reside there have known each other all their lives. Edgar says it has been relatively easy to meet the varying needs of community members. “We are very united; what we say is approved by all of us and that is why we work very well,” he emphasizes.

Cedro is just one of 37 communities, comprising 1 161 families (5 805 people in total) in Chocó and the department of Nariño to have received the FAO/CERF support. The assistance focused on rapidly re-establishing production of basic crops essential to their food and nutritional security and a pathway to peaceful, legitimate livelihoods.

That was done by setting up 23 demonstration training centres, as well as vegetable gardens and family livestock production systems focused on poultry, fish and guinea pigs, with weekly training sessions on practices to minimize food loss and waste, reduce risk to disasters and adapt to climate change. In some of the project areas, the activities were carried out directly by FAO and in others, it had the support of the implementing partner, Corporación Integral para el Desarrollo Comunitario Corpocaminar.

FAO/CERF assistance in the departments of Chocó and Nariño focused on re-establishing farming of basic crops through vegetable gardens and livestock production, both essential to their food and nutritional security. ©FAO

These initiatives are clearly paying dividends. For example, the community of Almendró, which was hit by historic floods in January 2020, managed to avoid damage or losses to family vegetable gardens and livestock production units, thanks to the implementation of practices for disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change.

As well as the hens providing a steady supply of eggs, “the families already have vegetable gardens, diversified plots with all the food we may need,” including pineapples, guava and lulo (a distinctive orange-shaped local fruit), Edgar says.

The families have also implemented bigger plans, with an initiative to produce panela, or cakes of raw cane sugar for sale, and were selected for another project financed by the European Community Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). This allowed them to be trained in financial education, entrepreneurship, socio-entrepreneurial skills and risk management.

One of the key successes, says FAO technical supervisor in Chocó, Servando Cuesta Mosquera, stemmed from the fact that local people marketed their products in the communities themselves. Food items produced included eggs, broiler chickens and pork. “The project also provided support to fishing groups, who were given artisanal fishing kits allowing families to earn an income.”

But the initiative contributed much more than just food security and economic prospects to Cedro and other communities. "The project helped us revive customs that we were losing. We received inputs and training that helped us to achieve many things, and I always told my people, ‘Let's try to take advantage of the training because the knowledge will last us a lifetime’,” Edgar says.

FAO project technical supervisor Servando Cuesta Mosquera, a native of the Chocó region and a victim of the violence, is applying his firsthand experience of the conflict to the project’s work with the communities. ©FAO/Harben Quint

This department is one of Colombia’s poorest and most wracked with violence, where thousands of people have at times had to flee their homes amid conflict involving armed groups. It was crucial that, “We had psychosocial support and that is very important because this community was displaced, and we could never go to a psychologist who could give us guidance. The community felt very supported by the FAO and by Corpocaminar," added Edgar.

In order to gain the trust of the communities, having staff members with deep roots in the area has been essential, says Servando: “We have grown up here and we know a lot about the dynamics of the communities and that allows us to have the wisdom to serve the communities in the best way.”

Although violence continues to affect many parts of the department, "the work done by FAO and its partners to help communities secure their livelihoods gives people a very real stake in peace and their aspirations for a normal life going forward, which is an important contribution to the long-term prospects of the region," says FAO Representative in Colombia, Alan Bojanic.

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2. Zero hunger, 10. Reduced inequalities, 16. Peace justice and strong institutions