Rural development sowing peace in Colombia

By Alan Bojanic, FAO Representative in Colombia

The municipality of Caldono has been able to re-emerge after decades of armed conflict, thanks to a joint project between FAO and the Territorial Renewal Agency (ART) which promoted rural development among indigenous, campesino and Afrodescendent communities. ©FAO


Caldono, located in the mountains of the department of Cauca, southwestern Colombia, was one of the municipalities hardest hit by the country’s armed conflict.

But after more than three decades of violence, the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 gave Caldono’s indigenous, campesino and Afrodescendent communities hope for a better future.

To contribute to this endeavour, FAO and ART collaborated with the communities of Caldono on multiple productive and agricultural projects that were both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

To this end, they strengthened the socio-entrepreneurial and commercial capacities of the organizations, provided technical assistance and promoted market linkages to foster local development and investment.

FAO targeted its efforts on rural development, enhancing the productive capacities of indigenous, campesino and Afrodescendent communities through technical assistance and infrastructure investments, so that these communities would not have to uproot themselves, but would be able to find prosperity for their families in their own territory instead.

Between July 2017 and December 2019, the FAO-ART partnership supported over 1,000 families in the municipality of Caldono, generating indirect benefits for nearly 5,000 families.

FAO and ART implemented a territorial value chain strategy that made it possible to invigorate the local economy. The strategy prioritized the municipality’s main sources of income and employment, the production of coffee, fique, sugarcane and blackberries, all of which had potential for higher yields per area planted.

FAO and ART implemented a territorial value chain strategy that made it possible to invigorate the local economy. ©FAO

The DNA of the Nasa-Paez indigenous peoples

Fique – a plant fibre native to Colombia and considered the DNA of the Nasa-Paez indigenous peoples— was one of the commodities promoted by FAO-ART.

The department of Cauca is Colombia’s largest producer of fique: support from the FAO-ART project has enabled 132 fique-producing families to improve their harvest and post-harvest processes and upgrade their agronomic and environmental practices.

Seventy-five hectares of fique have served as the epicentre of a process that continues to grow today, through replication among the municipality’s producer families, which have expanded cultivation of the crop to a further 83 hectares.

Production was boosted by the provision of eight fique decorticating machines and the 68 water treatment systems received through the project, which, in conjunction with the knowledge and experience acquired, are currently their main productive asset.

 The success of this initiative gave birth to a commercial partnership between the communities of Caldono and two packaging firms, Empaques del Cauca and Empaques de Medellín, with which they market fique-fibre sacks for packing coffee and other foods, for use in wholesale trade.

The coffee value chain, which is the zone’s main productive activity, was strengthened by the construction of the Regional Coffee Training and Agribusiness Centre. ©FAO

A major boost to coffee

The coffee value chain, which is the zone’s main productive activity, was strengthened by the construction of the Regional Coffee Training and Agribusiness Centre, which is run by a specially created second-tier association named Un Grano para la Paz [A Bean for Peace]. The association comprises nine grassroots coffee-grower associations (five campesino, four indigenous) encompassing a total of 4,915 producers.

Moreover, two collection centres were set up, and a youth and women’s group received training in good harvest and post-harvest practices, as well as a course to train as coffee tasters.

As a result of this project, and thanks to the perseverance of the coffee-growing families, the Cauca Indigenous Cooperative Association (Cooperativa Indígena del Cauca - CENCOIC), administrator of the Regional Agribusiness Centre, is still expanding. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the centre managed to export 32 containers of coffee to 10 countries.

The product of our own land

Another of the processes supported by FAO-ART was the remodelling of the Ñuxspa processing plant,[1] which is managed by the Caldono Ukawe’xs Nasa Çxahb Indigenous Councils Association.

The plant produces blackberry juice, orange-pineapple juice, water and jams. Since being remodelled, the association - which is recognized by 121 indigenous councils (cabildos) in Cauca and has ties with 11 indigenous associations - has been able to satisfy processing standards and good manufacturing practices (GMP), thereby enabling it to participate in local, regional and national markets.

The Ukawe’xs Nasa Çxahb Indigenous Councils Association has been able to introduce new varieties and adopt sustainable processes in the production of sugarcane on 93 hectares of land cultivated by 80 families.

Organizational strengthening has enabled these families to keep their foothold in the production industry; and today they also have 46 tool stores and 43 composting bins for the production of organic fertilizers from sugarcane by-products, as well as two sugarcane mills and machinery.

Between them, these interventions have considerably contributed to the local economy and have fostered the reconstruction of Caldono’s valuable social fabric.

[1] Ñuxspa means “product of our own land” in the Nasa language.

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth