Colombia: In Putumayo, the future tastes of cocoa
The communities that live along the banks of the San Miguel river in Putumayo department (bordering Ecuador) are isolated and have few livelihood options. On top of this, the presence of armed groups in the area has brought periodic outbreaks of violence, making the lives of the civilian population very difficult.
“Life here hasn’t been easy,” said Daniel Muñoz-Rojas, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Florencia, Caquetá. “In humanitarian terms, the most serious consequences of the armed conflict today are linked to the use of explosive devices, which hamper people’s movements around the area and restrict farmers’ access to their crops. Another problem is the lack of livelihood options for the local communities, which has led to despair and stood in the way of development.”
Cocoa is an alternative that promises to restore the prosperity and hopes of local families. With support and advice from the ICRC, farmers have now planted over 500 hectares of cocoa in the region. However, the farmers did not immediately strike gold with their choice of crop. “After coca, we tried peanuts, but many people’s crops failed. Then we turned to a starch-rich tuber known as malanga, and finally we began to plant cocoa. This is our future,” said José Cundar, a community leader in the town of La Unión.
It all started with the 349 hectares of cocoa planted by 320 families in 13 areas near the San Miguel river. The ICRC’s approach has been to pass on knowledge from farmer to farmer, using a language they all understand. “We trained 24 promoters to pass on what they had learned to their communities,” explained ICRC agro-ecological engineer Anderson Peña. “This approach works very well, and we see people conducting their own experiments. There is a constant exchange of knowledge which enables us to improve their crops day by day.”
Production has risen thanks to pruning, disease control and the use of organic manures and biofertilizers. Although there is still a long way to go, the farmers are enthusiastic. They have set up an association and many farmers who did not originally take part in the project are starting to plant cocoa too. There is now joy and hope in the eyes of the new cocoa farmers. “We have more peace of mind now. People have a new and more positive outlook,” summed up Fabio, a resident of La Unión and owner of one of the most prosperous cocoa farms in the region.