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

5 Nonprofit Organizations Founded By Celebrities
Movie stars, singers, athletes and comedians spend a large portion of their time entertaining people, giving interviews and writing autographs. On top of that, many celebrities participate in charity events like fundraisers or benefit concerts, some even going as far as to create their own organizations to give back to those in need. Here are some nonprofit organizations that celebrities founded to benefit the world’s most vulnerable.

Charlize Theron – The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project

Charlize Theron is a famous Hollywood actress and U.N. messenger of peace who cares about charity. She has especially been working hard to fight AIDS in Africa. While the disease continues to be an immense issue throughout the entire continent, it remains the most prevalent in South Africa, which is Theron’s home country. She established The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in 2007. The organization aims to raise awareness of the disease and contribute to its prevention. CTAOP especially focuses on younger people and collaborates with local programs to inform and support the youth in Africa. Furthermore, CTAOP partners with several companies and nonprofit organizations to successfully provide preventative means and guidance to South Africans.

Shakira – The Barefoot Foundation

The Barefoot Foundation is one of many nonprofit organizations that celebrities founded. Famous pop star Shakira has shown the impact nonprofit organizations can have. As such, she created the Barefoot Foundation in 1997. The organization acknowledges the importance of education and provides organizational and financial support to assure that children can go to school. In addition, the Barefoot Foundation also partners with the Pies Descalzos Foundation, an organization from Colombia that shares the same mission.

The Pies Descalzos Foundation opened its fifth Colombian school in 2009 to provide education, advice and general support in life to 1,800 students in the country. In 2010, Shakira promised that the Barefoot Foundation would build a school in Haiti and assured that the children attending the school would be able to obtain their academic and basic life needs.

Rihanna – The Clara Lionel Foundation

Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in 2012. Its name is a homage to her grandparents Clara and Lionel. The organization’s goal is to provide education and guidance to children and teenagers all over the world. The approach of Rihanna’s nonprofit organization is to tackle problems on both a local and global level. She wishes to raise awareness of several kinds of issues that the world’s youth is facing. Moreover, CLF is working closely with government organizations and companies to be more efficient and help as many people as possible. The organization has successfully established programs to provide basic education in places like Malawi, Senegal and Barbados. Furthermore, it provides a scholarship program to support students in their pursuit of higher education.

Bono – ONE and RED

ONE and RED are two nonprofit organizations that Bono created. The lead singer of the Irish band U2 has put a lot of effort into his charity work over the years. He has specifically focused on tackling important issues in Africa. ONE’s mission is to completely eradicate extreme global poverty and improve the lives of the poor. Bono’s lobbying efforts and the organization’s financial support have established programs. These programs aim to prevent the deaths of millions of people.

RED is a sister organization to ONE. It aims to spread awareness about AIDS and has successfully raised around $650 million to treat the disease in Africa. On top of that, Bono also co-founded The Rise Fund, a financial program that focuses on supporting progress for social and environmental matters.

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore – Thorn

Actress Demi Moore and actor Ashton Kutcher founded Thorn together in 2012. The couple’s goal was to fight against child sex trafficking. A documentary about the issue in Cambodia motivated them to create Thorn. Thorn’s approach is to develop technologies for free and share them with law enforcement and federal agencies in order to save children. The use of technology against child sex traffickers has proven to be very successful since the organization’s establishment. Moreover, Thorn’s technologies helped identify 5,894 kids who were victims of the crime in 2017. Moreover, Thorn rescued more than 10,000 children rescued one year later.

These organizations that celebrities founded have shown vigor in countering numerous challenges from AIDS to providing child sex trafficking. The endeavors of the prominent celebrities above have led to improvements in the lives of many across the globe.

– Bianca Adelman
Photo: Flickr

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia
For more than 50 years, Colombia grappled with a civil war that left more than 220,000 dead and millions displaced. The protracted issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) continues in the country despite the 2016 Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in rural Colombia. Here are nine facts about IDPs in Colombia.

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia

  1. In 2019, there were approximately eight million IDPs in Colombia. This does not include the additional 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees in the country.
  2. There are still citizens being displaced since the peace agreement in 2016. As of 2019, the number of people of concern in Colombia has increased by 13%.
  3. The government lacks control of many rural regions of Colombia. Although FARC largely demobilized in 2016, there are other armed groups still controlling large swaths of the country that are perpetuating the IDP crisis. These groups are funded by the lucrative cocaine trade, which continues to thrive in unstable regions.
  4. Environmental impacts also play a role in the IDP situation. Colombia has the fourth-highest rate of deforestation in the world, a majority of which occurs in areas of origin for IDPs. Criminal elements and the government share responsibility for environmental degradation.
  5. Human rights activists are at risk. Since the 2016 Peace Accord, more than 400 human rights activists and environmental defenders have been killed in Colombia, many of which were from indigenous communities. These advocates are crucial in establishing crop substitution programs and helping resettle and empower IDPs.
  6. For IDPs living in urban areas, UNHCR and national NGOs have implemented the legalization of informal settlements. This has helped provide better access to government services, energy and the sewage system, along with lessening the stigma of not having ownership titles for housing. This UNHCR project has been ongoing since 2015 and has benefitted more than 24,000 IDPs.
  7. The Opción Legal NGO assists IDPs with reintegration into rural communities through legal means. Reintegration was included in the 2016 peace agreement but it is still in need of better implementation. With the help of funding from UNHCR, Opción Legal operates programs encouraging and strengthening political participation for IDPs. This NGO has assisted IDP populations in regions like Atlántico and Bolívar.
  8.  The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement. The agency is seeking out durable solutions to conflict, such as education and job training. The programs have benefitted more than 10,000 Colombians directly and 235,000 indirectly.
  9. USAID is working to build institutional trust in regions with high levels of IDPs. Vulnerable populations in addition to IDPs, such as women, community leaders, migrants and ethnic minorities, are all considered crucial populations for funding and empowerment. USAID also has a strategy to build capacity for youth leaders, which is viewed as a possible long-term solution for peace and self-reliance.

Looking Forward

The 2016 Peace Accord was a big step in working to improve livelihoods for millions of IDPs in Colombia. Although many challenges remain in implementation, the legal frameworks are in place for the country to continue toward its ultimate goals of peace and stability.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Colombia’s indigenous people An effort to bring virtual education resources to Colombia’s indigenous people helps students learn in their native language and creates opportunities for them to break the cycle of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has created food insecurity and economic challenges for many indigenous communities in Colombia and Latin America. Education has also undergone disruption as 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean are staying home from school. Fundación El Origen is addressing this lack of education during COVID-19 by bringing virtual learning to indigenous children in Colombia.

COVID-19’s Impact on Colombia’s Indigenous People

In Colombia, the economic toll of the pandemic has hit the indigenous people of Colombia especially hard. Across Colombia, an estimated 1.5 million indigenous people account for 3.4% of the total population, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

The largest indigenous group in Colombia, the Wayuu people, live predominantly in the region of La Guajira in northern Colombia along the border of Venezuela.

The pandemic has been so detrimental to the indigenous people of Colombia because it has shut down the tourism sector and 90% of people in La Guajira work in informal sectors like tourism. At the same time, remote work or school is nearly impossible as only 10% of people have access to the internet.

Fundación El Origen: Virtual Learning

Fundación El Origen is trying to break the cycle of poverty by making virtual learning an option for all students and by focusing on other educational challenges faced by indigenous and rural youth living in La Guajira. Spanish is the official language in Colombia, however, estimates have determined that people speak 70 different indigenous languages in the country. This presents a challenge to indigenous students who may have grown up speaking a native language and then have to attend classes that teachers teach in Spanish.

To even the playing field for indigenous students, especially during the pandemic, Fundación El Origen has supplied students with tablets that offer instruction in their indigenous wayuunaiki languages. Roughly 260 children from the Wayuu tribe of La Guajira received tablets.

The tablets use a virtual learning program called O-Lab. This program teaches students in Spanish and in their native language. Moreover, it works without an internet connection.

“They have to adapt to an education system that was not made for them,” said Tania Rosas, executive director of Fundación El Origen, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

In Colombia, more than 100,000 kids dropped out of school during 2020, largely because of the financial hardships of the pandemic, Rosas said. The problem is daunting and organizations like Fundación el Origen can only help a small portion of students in need. So far, Fundación el Origen has brought online learning to 2,000 children and hopes to reach even more children in 2021.

Access to virtual learning is the latest education barrier but education is not a new fight for the indigenous people of Colombia or Fundación el Origen.

The Importance of Education for the Indigenous

“We have been fighting for many years to have the rights to our lands and have the right to access quality education for our communities,” Rosas said. Rosas sees education as the best way for Colombia’s indigenous people to have a voice in government and for an entire community to leave poverty.

“If we give them access to education programs to help them understand those problems and create solutions, we are eventually ensuring access to sustainable development in their communities,” she said. “We think that education is the best way to empower them and give them the tools to ensure sustainable development.”

Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchairs in Colombia
The country of Colombia is a land with four distinct geographic locations. In its Pacific and Caribbean lowlands are rolling hills that stretch east and reach the Amazon Rainforest. Both the Andes Mountains and the Cordillera Central mountain range run through the country as well. However, it is difficult for those who suffer debilitating physical injuries to travel around the country. As a result, wheelchairs in Colombia have improved many lives.

Colombia’s Half-Century of Conflict

The government of Colombia has conflicted with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) since the 1960s. As such, the conflict between the Colombian government has resulted in the displacement of 5.7 million people along with many deaths and disappearances. Additionally, there have also been paramilitary groups operating in the country that have contributed to the violence.

Improved Mobility for Victims of Conflict

Survivors of this long conflict have ended up with serious physical injuries. Many people have lost the ability to walk. This is especially troublesome when it comes to navigating around a country with various landscapes. In Colombia, around 200,000 people were living with a physical disability that resulted from the conflict. About 12,000 of them sustained injuries from anti-personnel landmines.

Researchers from various universities in Colombia realized that many of their fellow countrymen can no longer walk and have no way to get around their own country. Thus, these researchers set forth to create a solution called the All-Terrain Chair. These wheelchairs in Colombia had the specific design of helping people who suffered injuries from the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, these wheelchairs largely comprise magnesium, which is not only a strong material but extremely affordable as well.

MATT

The Colombian startup that people know as Mobility, Accessibility, Time and Work (MATT) has helped people with physical disabilities by providing them with employment. For example, MATT has organized three-hour wheelchair tours throughout the city of Medellin. People who can and cannot walk are welcome to join the tours. Furthermore, people with physical disabilities lead these tours. Wilson Guzman lost the use of his legs at the age of 17. Thus, these tours not only allow him to see the sights of Medellin but also gives the tourists who can walk a perspective on what it is like to not have the use of their legs.

Colombia’s economic productivity is low and has caused the economic growth of the country to lag. Additionally, Colombia has a sizable infrastructure gap. Despite the dire economic circumstances that the country is in, the government is doing its absolute best to provide jobs and a mode of reliable transportation for physically disabled people. The implementation of these wheelchairs in Colombia is a great first step in improving people’s lives.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Agroecology in ColombiaPoverty levels in Colombia have decreased by almost 15% between 2008 and 2018, yet significant inequality persists as poverty continues to disproportionately affect rural communities. In 2019, 36.1% of the Colombian rural population lived in poverty and 15% lived in extreme poverty, double the rate of poverty in urban areas. Effects of rural poverty in Colombia are greater among Afro-descendant people, indigenous groups, women and those with disabilities. The transition to agroecology in Colombia will positively impact farmers, especially rural farmers. It has the potential to mitigate environmental risks, protect farmers’ health, strengthen food security and preserve the ecosystem, reducing poverty overall.

Colombia’s Agricultural Industry

Over the past 60 years, the Colombian agricultural industry has greatly contributed to the growth of the economy, providing 16.45% of the country’s jobs. Colombia has the highest use of fertilizer and the second-highest use of pesticides in Latin America. Colombia spends 35% of total food cost production on agrochemicals with pesticide use nearly quadrupling since 1990. Agrochemicals affect the health of people and the health of the land. Integrating sustainable agroecology in Colombia presents an opportunity to protect people’s health and the ecosystem while minimizing environmental risks.

Health Risks of Agrochemicals

Agrochemicals can have adverse effects on the human neurological, immunological, respiratory and reproductive systems. The risks of exposure can result in long-lasting, chronic health outcomes for farmworkers and can especially affect pregnant women, children and older family members. In 2017, reports determined the existence of 8,423 pesticide-associated poisoning cases and 150 pesticide-associated fatalities in Colombia. Ruben Salas, a toxicologist at the University of Cartegena, predicts that chronic diseases in connection to pesticide exposure are frequently undiagnosed and underreported.

Despite the evident adverse health and ecological effects of agrochemicals, not all embrace the adoption of agroecology in Colombia. A study investigating factors that contribute to Colombian Campesinos’ use of pesticides found that pesticide users do not believe pesticides are detrimental to human health nor the environment.

Fighting Environmental Challenges

Reports determined that pesticide use causes damaging environmental events, leading to agricultural depletion and socioeconomic conflicts. According to risk analysis, predictions have determined that changing weather in Colombia will affect food security by 34.6% and human habitat by 26.2%. As the majority of Colombian’s in rural regions are already facing water shortages and land instability, an urgent need exists for sustainable solutions.

Sustainable Development Initiatives

To protect human health and the environment, efforts to implement agroecology in Colombia have proficiently provided alternatives to substitute traditional agricultural methods. The Food and Land Use Coalition, Yara International and Ecoflora are examples of groups that have developed effective strategies to diminish agrochemical use and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) working group prioritizes the development of sustainable and capable agricultural applications. In collaboration with the government, biotechnology companies and research institutions, FOLU is working toward certifying farms in Good Agricultural Practices, developing bio-inputs, bio-protection and agroecology throughout farming communities.

Yara International is a fertilizer company that assists farmers to promote sustainable crop practices. Yara agronomists collaborate with local crop nutrition experts to provide an individualized solution for farmers. Through engagement, market research, trials and meeting, Yara ensures farmers experience sustained success.

Ecoflora is a biocontrol company that creates natural color technologies while focusing on sustainable and ethical practices. In Colombia, Ecoflora has developed alliances with communities of African descent, indigenous people and those in rural regions. Ecoflora encourages the use of natural resources and sustainable practices within these communities to preserve the environment and ensure equitable social benefits.

Going Forward

The marginalized communities of rural Colombia are more vulnerable to the consequences of agrochemical use. An increase in farmer’s understanding of agrochemical impacts, education on effective and sustainable agricultural management and novel technology training would promote the uptake of agroecology in Colombia. The government should continue supporting the integration of agroecological practices to protect the health and well-being of historically neglected communities. Furthermore, agroecology promotes sustainable food security, addressing food shortages, hunger and poverty overall.

Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Colombia
Many often ignore the marginalization of the elderly in benighted areas of the world in favor of other more current events. This is a phenomenon affecting almost every developing nation. The increase in life expectancy around the world does not necessarily mean that people are living better quality lives, especially in countries without sufficient resources to care for their elderly population. Below is some information about elderly poverty in Colombia.

The Current Situation

Colombia is a country of roughly 50 million people and a growing elderly population. However, it only has 80 geriatric centers to attend to its senior demographic. Furthermore, only 28% of the total senior population in Colombia can access a center specializing in their medical needs. According to the Medical Department of La Sabana University, the remaining 72% of elders cannot access proper medical attention or a trained caregiver. Most of this demographic inhabits isolated rural areas where access to specialized centers is quite distant. Elderly poverty is an underlying issue in Colombia, and very few organizations have committed themselves to the improvement of this situation.

Impact on Income

Poverty not only impacts Colombia’s senior population medically but also financially. In fact, around 59% of people over 60 rely solely on the pension system and have no stable income source. The elderly poverty rate in Colombia has reached the second-highest in the region, behind Paraguay, almost doubling the Latin American average. Currently, it is the nation with the third-largest elderly population without an income. Furthermore, social and familial networks are not strong enough to care for their elderly, as the aging citizenry becomes a burden for their families and immediate circle. Because only 4% of citizens over 60 years old have a pension and their own source of income, most of them rely on their descendants to care for them. However, given that 9.8% of seniors live by themselves, some do not have familial ties that support them.

Even though the alarming data on elderly poverty is bleak, it informs governments on where to address the issue. They must attempt to invigorate the quality of senior life and provide easy access to pensions. In addition, the government must work to strengthen the geriatric medical sector’s training and outreach. When trying to solve this structural issue, families and communities must also enter into consideration. They are essential to providing elderly support, ultimately decreasing the chance that anyone over 60 feels burdensome

Colombia’s Actions

Colombia is following the example of Spain and Mexico in including its aging population in socio-economic life. It has employed and trained seniors to perform tasks and activities in sectors such as tourism, culture and entertainment, granting them a stable income and bettering living standards. Additionally, it is also increasing seniors’ quality of life as they stop feeling obsolete. Responsible government spending regarding the elderly and the civilian population’s inclusivity towards its aging citizens must accompany this “longevity revolution.” For example, Bogotá City Council created the Municipal Elderly Council back in 2015, a community-based organization focused on advising the Mayor’s office matters impacting seniors. The council represents the elderly; it has been a successful platform in promoting dialogue and advocacy for senior civil society.

Foundational Efforts to Combat Elderly Poverty Issues

Currently, two prominent organizations working to diminish elderly poverty in Colombia are the British NGO HelpAge and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). They are joining efforts to provide the elderly living in rural areas with humanitarian aid and psychosocial help from gerontology professionals. Both organizations have a commitment to working on-site in Colombia, in regions like Nariño and Valle, where armed conflict displaced over 400 seniors. HelpAge and AECID also provide legal aid to elders seeking to be indemnified because of their displacement.

Both foundations work hand-in-hand with Paz y Bien (Peace & Righteousness), a Colombian NGO in charge of aiding displaced elderly populations in precarious situations. Together, they discovered that householder mothers were willing to earn extra income by taking care of their communities’ elderly. Thus the foundations provided women proper training to care for seniors, not only to grant them basic medical attention but also to keep them company in a new community. This model benefits both parties, as they are able to form new societal ties. So far, this joint project has yielded excellent results over the last six years.

Many often ignore elderly poverty in Colombia to prioritize other issues, such as ending the six-year ongoing armed conflict. With the pension system’s flaws, it is crucial for civil society to keep taking action. With efforts to attend to elderly poverty in Colombia, the future is promising, as emerging projects create a more dignified life for seniors.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr