agricultural-big-data-in-colombia-arai-yegrosMitigation and adaptation to climate change can take many forms. One of them is through technology and big data: information can help detect valuable patterns for decision-making that are crucial for agricultural products worldwide. By targeting issues such as food security, malnutrition and environmental degradation through data, creative and innovative solutions can be found for the most pressing agronomic problems of the 21st century. This is where smart agriculture through data is born.

Data and Agriculture

The effective use of data through analytics and modeling is an important tool of the U.N.’s Sustainable Goals; after all, data can help in locating solutions for myriad problems. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is committed to targeting agricultural problems with evidence-based big data tools.

Examples of CIAT’s actions include projects to improve Colombian agriculture, particularly working with Fedearroz, the largest association of rice producers in the country. CIAT’s researchers have been working in Colombia with the aim of granting local rice farmers independence from the limitations that agriculture often confers, such as climatic variability.

Colombia’s Rice Farmers

In 2014, an estimated $1.7 million in losses were avoided since Colombian rice farmers took CIAT’s counsel into account and did not farm for the first two seasons of the year. CIAT, employing Fedearroz’s agricultural yield and climatic data collected during the course of 20 years, created a big data model explaining how climatic and soil variation impact yearly rice yields.

CIAT advised farmers in three different regions of Colombia that they could avoid crop failure by not planting at all during their usual seasons. Instead, it suggested they use stronger rice varieties that are not as sensitive to solar radiation and rain variability. This resulted in the avoidance of great economic losses in more than 1,800 hectares for more than 170 farmers who relied solely on their rice yield.

Rice farmers in Colombia already struggle to stay competitive at an international level as rice production has fallen from 6 tons a hectare to 5 tons since 2007 due to climate variability. With big data modeling aiding with uncertainty, losses can be prevented and better planning can be employed for higher returns. Big data made from seasonal forecasts and prediction tools can let farmers know in anticipation what and when to plant while avoiding losses.

U.N.’s Global Pulse

CIAT’s big data scientists were awarded for their project in Colombia at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit for their wielding of data to soften the impact of climate change. By harnessing the power of big data towards climate variability, it is possible to create area-specific models in the future, including those that attempt to cover Colombia’s most productive agricultural sites.

Even though CIAT’s scientists only covered rice yields in this study, more big data simulations are being built to extrapolate this model to other crops such as beans and maize. Potentially,  projects such as this one could propel a new era of agricultural big data in Colombia, a country deeply affected by rainfall variability and climate change in the past 20 years.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Wayuu Artisans in Colombia
La Guajira, an arid peninsula located on the northeastern border of Colombia and Venezuela, is home to an indigenous clan known as the Wayuu. This region is one of Colombia’s most impoverished and underdeveloped regions, and poverty in La Guajira remains incredibly high. With Venezuelan refugees and local coal mines depleting resources, the Wayuu rely on ancient weaving techniques to support their communities. Min and Mon is a company that empowers Wayuu artisans in Colombia to rise out of poverty by utilizing their craftsmanship skills and culture.

Who Are the Wayuu?

In the desert of La Guajira, the Wayuu reside in traditional housing structures called rancherias, or huts built from palm leaves, mud and dried cane. Indigenous to Colombia, these clans are typically matriarchal. In other words, women hold important political, spiritual and economic roles. As others typically expect women to preserve the traditions of their tribe, young girls prepare for this task as soon as they begin to menstruate. Over the course of several months to a year, girls go through a ritual known as confinement during which they may only contact their female family members or prominent women in the community. During this time, they inherit Waleker — the gift of weaving.

Wayuu, meaning “people of the sun, sand and wind,” communicate their ancestral roots through the act of weaving and trade handwoven goods in exchange for food or money. Due to drought and extreme poverty, the Wayuu tribe has had to transition from a self-sustaining agricultural economy to finding jobs in local factories or the service sector. The inequality present in rural areas of Colombia has deeply affected indigenous communities and ravaged their access to basic resources. With a poverty rate of roughly 84%, the Wayuu suffer from high infant mortality rates, child hunger, drought and a lack of opportunities to progress.

Hanging by a Thread

While rural areas across Colombia experience extreme poverty, the Wayuu remain disproportionally affected due to their proximity to the Venezuelan border. At the turn of the century, many Colombians flocked to Venezuela in search of promising economic opportunities. However, the current Venezuelan humanitarian crisis has prompted many to flee the country and return to Colombia. The presence of smugglers operating in the desert has created an influx of refugees settling in or around La Guajira, thus forcing the Wayuu to share already limited resources with a growing population.

The Cerrejón coal mine, which has been operating in the area since the 1980s, exacerbated this problem. As the world’s 10th largest mine, daily drilling operations, explosions and water demand have run La Guajira dry. Cerrejón uses nearly 4.2 million gallons of water per day, running an already tight supply very low and leaving the coal dust to contaminate what remains. In 2019, only 68.2% of people had a water connection and 96% lacked access to clean water as existing wells were either dried up or polluted.

Malnutrition in La Guajira

Limited resources have also led to an increase in malnutrition, making conditions especially difficult for child poverty in La Guajira. Human Rights Watch estimates that one out of every 10 Wayuu children under the age of 5 die of hunger; a rate that is six times higher than the national average. In 2019 alone, La Guajira accounted for 7% of the country’s deaths from malnutrition. Corpoguajira, an environmental agency in the area, reports that three-fourths of families face food insecurity with many children eating roughly one meal a day. While various organizations have attempted to work with the government to initiate change, the lack of a proper census withholds accurate case data on deaths from malnutrition and dirty water.

Weaving a Legacy

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, policy amendments have emerged to help regulate emergency sanitation concerns and provide access to necessities. Though this has helped indigenous communities to an extent, it has done more to isolate them from nearby cities that they relied on in the past to do business. Without an outlet to trade their handwoven goods, the Wayuu tribe has had to find other ways to make money.

One such way has been the partnership between Wayuu artisans in Colombia and company Min and Mon, which has allowed Wayuu artisans in Colombia to reach an international audience. Founded by a “husband and wife team,” Min and Mon is committed to preserving Colombian traditions of craftsmanship and is inspired by the ancient leathercraft native to the area. Min and Mon have newly partnered with Wayuu communities, commissioning them to produce unique designs crocheted by tribes in La Guajira. Not only has this project been able to support Wayuu artists but it has given them a crutch on which to grow their businesses and provide for their families.

In aiding poverty reduction in La Guajira, Min and Mon empower Wayuu bagmakers to continue a sacred tradition passed down for generations. Though the fight to end poverty in rural regions of Colombia wages on, giving communities a chance to help themselves is a step in the right direction.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Colombia Tax Plan
On July 6, 2021, Colombia’s Independence Day, President Ivan Duque presented a new $4 billion tax plan. The plan aimed to help pay for social programs and pandemic-related expenses. Due to Colombia’s new tax plan, thousands marched through Colombia’s main cities in protest. Many are angry at their government since it did not solve any of the populations’ problems. Colombian citizens believe that the new Colombia tax plan is not doing enough to help their people.

Tax Reform

This new tax reform is much smaller than the previous $6.3 billion packages that the Colombian government presented in April 2021. The government withdrew the larger package due to mass demonstrations and lawmaker opposition. Even after many protests and marches, President Ivan Duque insisted that this plan is vital at a time of rising debt. The Colombian government must pass the plan to help social programs stay afloat.

As Duque opened Congress’s second legislative period of the year on Colombia’s Independence Day, Duque told legislators the “social investment law, which we will build between all of us, is the largest jump in human development in recent decades.”

The new reform places a higher tax burden on the company’s earnings. It discards the $6.3 billion package to impose a tax on basic items ranging from coffee to salt. The reason for protests for the new plan is that the plan seems to not be able to do enough for spending on education and job creation. In 2020, the economy contracted 7% and pushed an additional 3 million people into poverty, worsening conditions in Colombia.

The People of Colombia

Francisco Maltes is leading one of the groups of anti-government demonstrations while serving as the president of the Central Union of Workers. Malte’s union is part of a collection of unions that plans to present congress with 10 proposals on addressing Colombia’s social and economic crisis. Dissolving the nation’s riot police is part of their plans as well. This is creating a basic income program for workers that would make monthly payments of $260 to 10 million people. Maltes and his union tie directly into the recent string of protesting. Maltes has stated that protests will continue because President Duque has failed to solve Colombia’s list of problems.

During the Independence Day demonstrations, protestors also stated that they wanted justice for the death of many youths who police recently killed. Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy for human rights. It is currently collecting data linking police to the deaths of 25 confirmed young protesters during the recent wave of demonstrations. The number of deaths still remains a mystery due to many local organizations stating that the death count could be higher.

Withdrawal of New Tax Reform

After many months, the Colombian government unveiled Colombia’s new tax plan, much to the Colombian people’s dismay. The purpose of the Colombia tax plan is to address the social and economic crisis. However, the verdict across Colombia’s population is clear. The verdict on the impact of the reform punishes the middle-working-class and ruins any hope of economic recovery. This will push many people into poverty. Unless an agreement comes to fruition in Congress in the coming months, Colombia could risk its post-pandemic social and economic recovery.

Colombia has a rare opportunity to create a better and more ambitious tax reform through the current circumstances. The leadership of President Duque must bring Colombia together and come to a consensus, to make a version of this proposed reform bill a reality.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr

city planning and poverty reductionWhen Bogotá, Colombia, elected Enrique Peñalosa mayor in 1997, Mayor Peñalosa faced an uphill battle. Informal settlements, faulty public transportation and congested roads increased poverty and reduced the quality of life for Bogotá’s citizens. Mayor Peñalosa had a plan, though, and his success in fusing city planning and poverty reduction provides a blueprint for developing world mayors around the globe.

Bogotá’s Challenges in the 1990s

Bogotá faced many challenges as a city in the 1990s. With a lack of city planning, informal settlements dominated the landscape. Nearly 200,000 illegal water connections existed and only 60% of the population had access to the main sewer system. Fearing crime and the bustle of moving cars, many could not enjoy the streets on which they lived, with impoverished neighborhoods lacking accessible public spaces.

With these challenges, Peñalosa knew there was only so much he could do. He realized that in his one term as mayor, he would not be able to lift every citizen of Bogotá out of poverty. Thus, he decided to look at the implications of poverty. To him, development constituted a “better way of living, not being richer.” The lack of access to water, food, housing, transportation and green space, which the wealthy class enjoyed in plenty, constituted poverty, not just a low monthly income. By addressing those issues directly, Peñalosa could combine city planning and poverty reduction without aiming to increase wages.

Formalizing Informality

One of the biggest problems urban populations face in the 21st century is informality. As of 2019, according to the United Nations, nearly one billion people live in informal housing or slums. Informal housing commonly leads to community marginalization and decreased access to food and water distribution networks. Fortunately, city planning and poverty reduction strategies can rectify these situations, and, Peñalosa did just that.

During his tenure as mayor, Peñalosa formalized 322 neighborhoods and provided nearly 700 sewers for informal settlements, drastically improving the livelihoods of those living in these neighborhoods. Utilizing many city planning strategies, he also provided better transportation access so that those living in these neighborhoods could access the amenities of the wider city. His strategy of focusing on formalizing and connecting informal settlements rather than increasing wages allows for a greater return on investment as the wider access to the city will naturally boost the quality of life.

Sustainability and Public Spaces

Peñalosa entered his tenure as mayor with the goal of developing Bogotá around people and not cars. In a city where just about 30% of people drove cars, designing a city entirely around this vehicle would be illogical. He especially wanted public spaces suitable for the most vulnerable, the elderly and children, aiming to reduce poverty by increasing standards of living.

Peñalosa focused on three types of public spaces for reducing poverty. He first focused on a common city planning and poverty reduction strategy: transportation. In his tenure he built roughly 220 miles of protected bike lanes, opening up the streets to more than just cars. He also formalized the public transportation network to allow more equitable access.

His second strategy for city planning and poverty reduction covered educational space, building libraries and public schools to accommodate 200,000 new students. The educational infrastructure serves as one of the most important tools in fighting poverty and boosting literacy.

Third, he focused on leisure spaces, ordering the construction and restoration of public parks. Access to these three spaces combined —  transportation, educational facilities and leisure spaces — can greatly reduce the impacts of poverty. Furthermore, the public status of these amenities meant that access would not depend on an individual’s wage.

Implications for Fighting Poverty

Mayors around the world can use Peñalosa’s tenure as a blueprint for their own cities. The strategies for city planning and poverty reduction that Peñalosa used were innovative at the time, but further research has shown their efficacy worldwide. Formalizing informal areas and expanding green space has become a norm for urbanists across the globe. While not without its flaws, Peñalosa’s strategy to combine city planning and poverty reduction helped fight poverty by focusing on raising living standards rather than pure income measurements.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia

Demining in ColombiaThe Colombian people and economy have suffered greatly from landmines placed around the nation in the 1990s by guerrillas, paramilitary organizations and drug traffickers. One estimate finds that mines are responsible for “12,000 injuries and deaths” since 1990. Their looming presence continues to hinder access to education, healthcare facilities and essential services. Governments and NGOs are having a difficult time with demining in Colombia due to the irregular and unpredictable placement of the mines. This complication makes funding for demining in the 63% of Colombian municipalities currently plagued by mines an international priority.

How Landmines Impact Civilians

Armed groups have targeted largely rural areas in mine placement. While mines were intended to harm military personnel, civilians in the rural communities have predominantly faced the tragic consequences. The lingering threat of hidden mines hinders daily life and safety in many municipalities. Due to landmines, communities suffer sudden deaths and mutilations even as Colombia progresses to a time of peace.

The percentage of civilian landmine victims went up from 45% in 2019 to almost 70% in 2020 despite widespread extraction efforts. It is also important to note that civilian deaths and mutilations disproportionately affect indigenous populations of the rural areas.

Global Demining Efforts

The United States is currently responsible for most of the funding for global humanitarian demining. Since 1993, the U.S. has allotted $4 billion to “conventional weapons destruction efforts” internationally. In 2020, the United States set aside $228.5 million for humanitarian demining efforts across 40 nations, including Colombia. Similar funding has successfully removed 1.4 million landmines across 376 square miles of land since 2016.

The funding from the U.S. is essential for the success of demining efforts in Colombia and the U.S. plays an important part in rallying other nations to contribute. As of May 2021, Colombia is the second-most densely landmine-filled nation after war-torn Afghanistan. Given the dire need for extracting landmines in Colombia, the funding provided by the U.S. is necessary to achieve economic stability, community development and improved security.

The United States is not alone in funding demining efforts. Norway is also a strong leader in supporting demining in Colombia, investing $20 million from 2016 to 2020. The United States and Norway also successfully garnered further support from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the European Union, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. The nations have all been collaborating since 2016 with the goal of ensuring Colombia is completely mine-free by the end of 2021.

Benefits of Demining

Some of the most prominent successes of this international cooperation appear in the municipalities of Nariño and La Unión, which are now completely clear of landmines. The two areas are home to more than 31,000 Colombians across 200 square miles, making the complete removal of landmines a significant victory for these communities.

In 2019, HALO (Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization) began a study to uncover the impacts of demining on local communities in Nariño and La Unión. Its study finds clear correlations between humanitarian demining in Colombia and socio-economic development that directly benefits the most financially vulnerable families.

Average housing values increased by more than 500% alongside a 38% increase in average household incomes. The study also found that 88% of newly cleared land was used productively for community development, agriculture and transportation. The communities consequently saw a return of 772 formerly displaced families as well as a substantial increase in household spending.

Beyond the quantifiable benefits to impoverished families, demining improves access to healthcare facilities, schools and other social services as previously dangerous land is clear for transportation.

Looking Ahead

Essentially, the U.S.-funded demining efforts prove to have strong economic benefits for many Colombian families, which include formerly displaced and homeless people who were most economically vulnerable. Demining successes in Colombia stand to show the significance of proper funding for humanitarian demining in order to protect impoverished populations and aid communities formerly devastated by conflict. Removing landmines has clear links to restoring security to communities trying to move past conflict and violence as well as improving economic stability.

While the recent successes from U.S. funding are promising, more funds are still needed to demine the rest of Colombia. Most importantly, the recent victories show the importance of increased funding for these efforts. Some areas, including Choco and Antioquia, have not seen the good fortune that Nariño and La Unión have and are still very much plagued by landmines. Further commitment, funding and assistance are a beacon of hope to impoverished or displaced Colombian families living in mine-strewn municipalities. U.S. funds and initiatives in Nariño and La Unión show the possibility of a mine-free future for the entirety of Colombia.

Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Yoga to Combat Poverty
In a small Chinese village called Yugouliang, the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga has transformed the lives of hardworking villagers. They have started using yoga to combat poverty.

Yugouliang

Yoga has become part of Yugouliang’s identity as a small village in China with a population of less than 100. Most of the villagers are elderly farmers, many of whom suffer from poverty and depression. Lu Wenzhen, a government official, started an anti-poverty mission in Yugouliang to improve the quality of life for residents. Initially, he worked to advance trading networks, but he was unsuccessful because of transportation costs. He eventually turned to yoga to combat poverty.

Wenzhen, who had no yoga experience before this initiative, said he first noticed yoga when he saw a woman sitting cross-legged for over an hour. He began to contemplate the possible healing benefits yoga could offer to Yugouliang.

Locals were hesitant about yoga and confused as to why Wenzhen was not providing more financial relief, but nonetheless, they showed up to practice daily. When they noticed improved strength and flexibility as well as higher energy levels, they were able to work longer hours farming and expand their practices.

Villager Stories

Ms. Ge, a Yugouliang yogi, believes yoga relieved the pains that affected her ability to work in the fields. “Now, I don’t have to take a single painkiller,” Ms. Ge said to the New York Times. Wu Qilian, a 73-year-old woman, said that practicing yoga for two years helped alleviate her knee and waist pain. Yoga’s help with physical pain relief has eased medical costs for the villagers.

After a few years of regular group yoga routines, people now know Yugouliang as a “yoga village” that features drawings of poses on various walls. Wenzhen hopes this reputation will create tourism revenue, although the village is in a rural, hard-to-reach area of China.

Combating Poverty in Yugouliang

Yugouliang still suffers from poverty and needs economic relief in addition to structural changes. However, practicing yoga daily has given the villagers something to look forward to. They now have a mode of physical and emotional empowerment that has improved their mental health and ability to work.

Global Citizen Writer Joe McCarthy reflected on Yugouliang’s new culture of yoga to combat poverty, stating that it provides holistic benefits to the villagers’ wellbeing. “Yoga is certainly not a silver bullet for ending poverty, and providing people with benefits such as food, shelter, and health care go a long way toward improving people’s lives. But Yugouliang holds a lesson for people around the world and helps to situate poverty in a more holistic sense of well-being.”

Originating in India, yoga continues to spread across the globe as a means of spirituality and both physical and mental wellness. Yugouliang has adopted the practice of yoga over the past few years and, in turn, has created a community of healing and progress. Other anti-poverty yoga initiatives are emerging around the world in places like Kenya. Hopefully, more communities like Yugouliang can use yoga to combat poverty in the future. 

– Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Solidarity Work in ColombiaGuerrilla warfare has been particularly devastating to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia. These groups number more than 1.5 million people and comprise 3.4% of the country’s total population. Of the 7.5 million internally displaced people in Colombia, there are 192,638 Indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombian people. Organized crime groups and paramilitary organizations target both displaced populations. Dr. Jessica Srikantia suggests that some humanitarian aid is inadvertently escalating the problem because of its approach and suggests alternative methods for effective solidarity work in Colombia.

Harmful Instead of Helpful

The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Jessica Srikantia, an associate professor at George Mason University who spent years participating in solidarity work in Colombia with Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. She witnessed firsthand the consequences of structural violence on vulnerable communities.

To combat the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, global aid organizations have primarily funded the Colombian government to support nutrition and economic development. Although these organizations may have good intentions, according to Dr. Srikantia, they may contribute to ongoing human rights violations. In a process she labels “self-interested aid,” these humanitarian organizations may be doing more harm than good.

A common form of damaging humanitarian intervention is the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into local agriculture. The use of pesticides and GMO crops threatens the biodiversity of countries like Colombia, home to more than 30 species of maize. Grassroots organizations are trying to eliminate the use of GMO crops. As an alternative, grassroots groups advocate for providing local farmers with access to seeds and funding to preserve and expand the existing crops.

“Decolonizing” Aid

To conduct her solidarity work in Colombia, Dr. Srikantia had to “decolonize” her mind by learning to understand what communities need rather than implementing western “developed” methods. She stresses the distinction between on-the-ground grassroots organizations and organizations that work from a distance through existing power structures.

The first type of organization works with communities to be self-sufficient and maintain their identity. The other type tries to assimilate communities into the global economy, which can be detrimental to local culture and identity. Real solidarity happens when an organization builds a relationship with a community, she says.

Dr. Srikantia’s solidarity work in Colombia took the form of an urgent action response plan. This included organizing people, calling Congress, raising awareness and actively working on the ground. She referred to what she was doing as “putting out fires.” She also lobbied for policy reform to prevent damage to vulnerable communities.

Reclaiming What is Sacred

Dr. Srikantia believes the key to ending human rights violations can be found when “we reclaim what is sacred.” In Colombia, she witnessed communities that lived with respect for the interconnectedness of all living things. The current global development paradigm focuses on privatizing to create wealth. A better method, however, is to help communities by allowing them to keep their cultural identities and current way of existing.

Dr. Srikantia suggests that instead of trying to integrate groups into the global economy, humanitarian organizations should teach them to be self-sufficient and help them be content with what they have. Instead of teaching insecurity, which will only harm vulnerable communities, people need to learn to reclaim what is sacred: living with respect for the interconnectedness of life.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

Land grabbing has been a problem in Colombia for several decades, particularly for those living in rural areas. A mixture of political and business corruption, rebel groups, paramilitary organizations and drug smuggling has led to the displacement of many Colombians from the properties they own or inhabit. At their peak, land grabbers of varying organizations illegally held almost 15% of the land in Colombia. As a result, between 6 and 7 million people have had no choice but to leave their homes in search of alternative dwellings. As of 2011, that has all begun to change with land restitution efforts.

Law 1448

In 2011, Colombia introduced Law 1448, also known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The objective of the law is straightforward: return illegally held land to its rightful owners. As a direct result of the law, the government established a Land Restitution Unit. This unit aids Colombian citizens in the court system to help them understand how they can file for land restitution. The law also provides some leeway for those who might no longer have the physical documents that prove they own the land, which is frequently the case.

Resolution 181

Two years later in 2013, Colombia also passed Resolution 181. This law is designed to prevent land grabbing in the future. It helps new landowners properly obtain titles and registration documents to ensure that their land cannot be illegally taken or abused. It is another law that works at the judicial level to give proper guidance to those who might not be well versed in property law and related regulations. Both of these laws are designed to work in conjunction with one another to look after those living in impoverished and/or rural communities. They ensure that if and when land grabbing issues do arise, the courts will be able to review official documentation that clearly proves who owns what.

Technology Helping These Efforts

In addition to these laws, the National University of Colombia has designed a system that is significantly safer for storing land-related documents. Land titles and registrations now go directly into a blockchain designed exclusively for property owners. Blockchain technology is highly regarded as being the safest way to save information since everything is decentralized. That means that no single entity controls the data. In a blockchain, every user can see any new or old activity and monitor if something looks suspicious.

Hacking a blockchain is extremely difficult and no one in history has ever managed to do so. Hacking a blockchain is so difficult because any time a new block is created, there is information that links it back to every existent block. So if a hacker wants to change the code of a block in order to sign over a land title to himself rather than the intended owner, every single block in the chain needs to be manipulated to agree with that change. It also needs to be done before anyone notices that a change has occurred. There could be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of blocks in the blockchain for Colombian property ownership.

Next Steps

Colombia is moving in the right direction. Law 1448, Resolution 181 and blockchain implementation have been vital to land restitution efforts. Since 2011, rightful owners have reclaimed over 740 thousand acres of previously stolen land. While that number might sound large, more than 5 million acres of land still remain in limbo. To make land restitution efforts as effective as possible, Law 1448 and Resolution 181 must be enforced far beyond 2021. The proper framework is in place, but the Colombian government has to remain active in helping its citizens reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Casa PintadaMany communities in Colombia have been decimated after more than 50 years of conflict. Despite the signing of a peace deal between the Colombian Government and rebel groups in 2016, violence persists in many parts of the country. Rural communities have been disproportionally impacted as government services are almost non-existent in these areas. Many programs have been initiated to assist victims of the conflict, one of them being the Casa Pintada project. This project involves members of shattered communities coming together to rebuild and repaint buildings that have been destroyed. It seeks to re-establish the sense of community that has been lost in the conflict.

Overview of the Colombian Conflict

The Colombian conflict began in the 1960s with the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). These two far-left militant groups embarked on a violent campaign against the Colombian state for more than 50 years. Kidnappings, assassinations and drug trafficking were commonplace during this time and at least 220,000 people have been killed.

The signing of a peace deal in 2016 was lauded around the world and then-president, Juan Manuel Santos, even won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, violence has continued as many of the promises made by the Colombian government have not been kept. Rural areas still are not receiving basic assistance and this has convinced many militants to resume fighting.

The Casa Pintada Project

Blumont undertakes the Casa Pintada project, an organization that provides developmental programs around the world. In the Casa Pintada or painted house project, people restore and repaint damaged buildings in various communities throughout Colombia. Focusing specifically on the Caquetá, Cauca and Córdoba states, it seeks to help the residents of these areas restore the sense of community among themselves by rebuilding their communities from the ground up.

At least 740 families have benefited from Casa Pintada and these benefits have gone far beyond rebuilding damaged infrastructure. The project also provides psychological assistance to those who have experienced years of violence and displacement. The act of repainting homes as a community breaks down barriers that have gone up over the years by instilling a sense of pride among residents of these areas. This helps to reestablish connections between neighbors, which in turn, goes a long way in healing the trauma caused by decades of conflict.

The Closing Gaps Program

Casa Pintada is a part of Blumont’s larger Closing Emergency Gaps to Aid Displaced People program. Called the Closing Gaps program for short, it is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. This program seeks to aid victims of displacement in Colombia by strengthening the local government’s ability to care for refugees while providing for their basic needs and representation. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the Casa Pintada project, Closing Gaps is also concerned with treating the psychological impacts of displacement.

The Casa Pintada project reflects the multifaceted issues that arise from violent civil conflicts. The Colombian conflict lasted for more than five decades and left an indelible impact on much of the population, especially in rural areas. While the physical toll the Colombian people have suffered received much attention, Casa Pintada aims to address the psychological effects of the conflict. By having people repaint and refurbish damaged buildings in their neighborhoods, it helps heal the trauma they have endured by instilling a sense of community among them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Slow Fashion In Colombia
Colombia is a South American country that ranks first place in Latin America for ethical practices and sustainable development. It supports international certificates such as ISO 14000, ISO 900 and BASC to ensure fair trade and environmental initiatives. In 2015, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, Colombia ranked second in social responsibility for its support of national artisans, indigenous communities and single mothers. Learn how slow fashion in Colombia helps artisans escape cycles of poverty.

Slow Fashion

Colombia benefits from slow fashion because it stimulates the economy and improves artisanal living conditions. However, these highly skilled workers are losing their jobs because of automated garment manufacturing fueled by fashion brands making cheap clothing at a rapid pace and at low costs. Consumers that support slow fashion in Colombia help empower artisans and fight extreme poverty. They also help preserve artisans’ cultural skills by supporting their handcrafted goods and allow them to work close to home.

Partnerships are vital in elevating slow fashion in Colombia. According to Aspen Institute, the second-largest source of employment in African and Latin American countries is from artisanal craft. However, artisans remain in poverty due to poor access to distribution channels and quality materials. Since fast fashion has forced artisans to seek different sources of employment, the loss of artisanal jobs risks that their cultural traditions be lost forever. This makes artisanal products reaching global markets and artisans receiving a fair wage critical for their livelihoods and for the preservation of their culture.

Growing Artisanal Sector

According to Artisanal Alliance, artisanal goods sold in international markets doubled between 2002 to 2012. Artisans are often women and informal producers that lack basic financial tools and market access to increase the production and sale of their goods. This is important because 65% of artisanal work happens in developing countries. These artisans could have better access to the global markets if they had the proper resources, tools and business partners needed to produce and sell artisanal goods. This would make it easier to sell goods to consumers interested in supporting Colombian artisanry and uplifting artisans.

Benefits of Slow Fashion

Slow fashion in Colombia empowers artisans, such as Leopoldina Jimenez. In 2017, she was recognized by Artesanías de Colombia with the Medal for Craftsmanship ‘Master of Masters’ for 48 years of work toward the elaboration of woolen fabrics. Her work has helped elevate artisanal craft while inspiring women to continue the legacy of their culture. She also finds it important to use her platform to provide greater visibility to rural artisanal communities in Colombia. Sopó Mayor’s Office fair highlighted her previous work and recognized her work with Exportesano with a Quality Seal.

Slow fashion in Colombia has also prospered through collaborative efforts like the Agua Bendita’s AB Hearts Initiative. This collective of 700 women artisans is empowered to take old Colombian beading and embroidery techniques and turn them into a business. Lead artisans distribute the work among the women and create prints that reference Colombia’s history and culture. This allows them to work at home and specialize in either beadwork and embroidery to complete requested design work.

Moving forward, it is essential that slow fashion in Colombia and around the world receives support and continues to grow. Slow fashion enables better livelihoods for artisans and is one way consumers can help alleviate global poverty.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr