Facts About Hunger in Colombia
The Republic of Colombia, better known as simply Colombia, is a country located in the northwestern region of South America. With a population of 49 million as of 2019, it is the second-largest country in South America with the third-largest economy on the continent. Colombia is one of the most populous countries in South America. Over the last 25 years, the poverty levels have decreased by over 50% to under 30%. Because of such a sharp increase in the poverty rates, food sources for citizens have been scarce. Access to food has remained scarce as decades of civil unrest have led to constraints on deliveries in large parts of the country. Despite these sharp increases, global efforts from various organizations have helped improve these rates and contributed to an expected overall decrease in hunger in Colombia. Here are six facts about hunger in Colombia.

6 Facts About Hunger in Colombia

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: A study from the Colombia Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development showed that in 2005, over 85% of Colombians had a calcium deficiency. In addition to this, 62% had a zinc deficiency, 22% had a Vitamin C deficiency and 32% had a Vitamin A deficiency. Recent studies have shown that these numbers have decreased, with 14% of Colombians having a Vitamin D deficiency and 24% having a Vitamin A deficiency. Despite these improvements (as a result of outside assistance from organizations and advocacy-based groups), zinc deficiency is still a pressing issue in Colombia, with 43% of people living in Colombia suffering from a zinc deficiency.
  2. Affected Populations: Hunger in Colombia has statistically affected more ethnic populations than others. Indigenous people take the brunt of this impact, with 30% of the population living in extreme poverty and 79% of indigenous children suffering from malnutrition. In addition to hunger, indigenous populations suffer from other issues such as forced displacement and drug trafficking.
  3. Effects of Immigration: Colombia has high levels of immigration from other Latin American countries. The majority of these immigrants come from Venezuela, with over 1 million Venezuelans immigrating as of 2018, though some estimates could be as high as 2 million. The majority of these immigrants live on the border between the two countries, and nearly half of them live in regions characterized by extreme violence, which leads to the deprivation of these resources. Advocacy groups working in these regions, like Action Against Hunger, have helped to alleviate these issues by monitoring nutrition levels and providing monetary assistance to help people have access to these basic resources.
  4. Maternal and Child Health: Malnutrition heavily affects children in Colombia. The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) conducted a study that found that 13% of children under the age of 5 showed growth delays. Further, over 30% of all children have shown to suffer from distinctly low heights. Malnutrition also targets pregnant women and women of childbearing age. One out of every three pregnant women and one out of every five menstruating women suffer from iron deficiency.
  5. Organization and Advocacy Efforts: The largest organization working to combat hunger in Colombia is the World Food Program (WFP). Though the WFP has been in Colombia since 1969, it implemented the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, which focuses its hunger efforts on areas that war conflicts heavily affect. The WFP has assisted nearly 330,000 people in January 2020 alone by providing access to healthy food and directly addressing the Venezuelan migrant crisis directly. The organization Action Against Hunger provides various forms of aid to Colombians affected by political instability and natural disasters. Action Against Hunger has assisted over 83,000 Colombians through projects such as providing clean water, and implementing nutrition and food security programs.
  6. Decreasing Hunger Rates: According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, the number of people suffering from malnutrition in Colombia was 4.2 million between 2004 and 2006. This number has decreased to 2.4 million between 2016 and 2018. These decreasing rates contradict Latin America as a whole, compared to an increase from 39 million people to 42 million suffering from malnutrition in the same time frame of 2016 to 2018.

These facts about hunger in Colombia show that it is a concerning issue that disproportionately plagues poorer and migrant populations. Though organizations such as the World Food Program and Action Against Hunger are helping to combat this issue, much work still lies ahead to entirely eliminate hunger. However, with the persistent help of these organizations, the crisis of malnutrition and hunger in Colombia can hopefully come to an end.

– Alondra Belford
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Colombia
Colombia is a fast-growing country with a population of 49 million. In the last 10 years alone, the population has increased by 5 million people. As a result of the added pressure on the country’s infrastructure, many citizens may not have access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. In recent years, Colombia has been working to increase its population’s access to WASH facilities. The country continues to develop initiatives on how to increase this accessibility. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Colombia.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Colombia

  1. Access to Clean Water: Exactly 1.4 million citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. This accounts for around 3% of the population. There is a large discrepancy between urban and rural populations and their access to clean water. In fact, 100% of the urban population has access to basic drinking water. In the rural population, however, only 86% have access to basic drinking water.
  2. Increase in Water Access: Colombia has seen an increase in the population that has access to basic drinking water services from 90% in 2000 to 97% in 2015. The Colombian government plans to increase water accessibility to rural regions such as La Guajira by 2024. Additionally, in 2019, over 8,000 indigenous people living in rural Colombia gained access to basic water facilities through the development of reservoirs and ancillary infrastructure.
  3. Rural Water Usage: Around 19% of the rural population use water from rivers, lakes or wetlands for drinking, washing and cooking. Colombia has over 514,800 sites where farmers raise livestock. Unfortunately, the animals easily contaminate water from natural resources such as lakes and rivers. This can lead to illness and disease in these rural areas. 
  4. Rural and Urban Water Management: There is currently a discrepancy between the access to clean water between rural and urban communities. In 2017, 81% of water access in urban areas had a designation of safely managed while 19% had basic water management status. In comparison, rural areas only had 40% of their water with a safely managed label and 46% had basic water management.
  5. Health Implications: Due to poor access to WASH facilities, 2% of the national GDP goes toward health-related costs. In 2016, there were 366 deaths due to the poor sanitation and water conditions in Colombia. In 2012, there were 119 deaths in children under 5-years-old due to inadequate access to water and sanitation. 
  6. Toilet Access: Currently, 4.9 million people do not have access to a toilet in Colombia. In rural areas, three in 10 people do not have access to safe toileting facilities. Tierra Grata is an organization that is helping rural communities by installing waterless eco-toilets. These eco-toilets aim to decrease the pollution of natural water-ways and increase the population’s health and well-being.
  7. Household Hygiene: Out of a population of 49 million, only 28 million people in urban communities and 3.3 million people in rural communities have access to basic hygiene services. Basic hygiene includes access to bathing facilities and the ability to wash hands prior to food preparation and after toileting. Between both rural and urban communities, there are 14 million citizens who are without access to hygiene facilities.
  8. Hygiene at School: UNICEF identified the issues that prevented student hygiene as an inconsistent water supply, poor sanitation systems and lack of hand-washing facilities. Only one in five schools had both soap and toilet paper available for student use. The School Sanitation project was able to improve school hygiene and decrease diarrhea-related absences by 30%.
  9. Sanitation Improvement: In 2000, 12% of urban sanitation was managed safely and 66% had basic management. In 2017, this number had risen to 15% having safe management and 77% having basic management. In rural areas, open defecation decreased from 25% in 2000 to 13% in 2017.
  10. Water Recycling: El Salitre wastewater treatment plant is on the Bogotá River. The river collects wastewater from 10 million people. The plant is currently treating and recycling the river water to provide for safe water access to millions of households. Studies show that water treatment plants increase both public and environmental health. 

Despite the improvements, there is still a large number of Colombia’s population that do not have access to safe or basic WASH services, especially when considering the country’s rural communities. Luckily, with the government and organizations continuing to work to improve sanitation in Colombia, a brighter, cleaner future is on the horizon. 

– Laura Embry 
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Colombia
Officials have reported 16,295 cases of COVID-19 in Colombia and 592 deaths as of May 19, 2020. In an effort to contain the virus, the government has closed all international travel. It has also recently extended its nationwide stay-at-home order through May 25. Testing is available at the Colombian National Institute of Health facilities.

Most public locations remain closed. Individuals over the age of 70 will need to self-isolate until at least the end of May 2020. Municipal authorities allow one hour per day of exercise, at prescribed times, for individuals ages 18 to 60. Though the virus poses a nationwide public health threat, here are three particularly at-risk groups in Colombia.

COVID-19 in Colombia: 3 At-Risk Groups

  1. Indigenous Peoples: With historically limited access to food, shelter and health care, indigenous communities on the outskirts of cities and towns remain unprepared for the pandemic. A scarcity of clean water and hygiene products has left many without the means to maintain personal cleanliness and prevent infection. In addition, some of these semi-nomadic groups are now at risk of starvation. Due to quarantine restrictions, indigenous communities cannot move around to access their means of subsistence. They may be unable to grow their own food or survive by working temporary jobs. Organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) are working to raise awareness about this urgent issue and garner support from Colombian authorities. Along with the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, AI petitioned the government to deliver food and supplies to at-risk indigenous groups. In response to these efforts, Colombian officials initiated a campaign to provide indigenous communities with food and supplies. The first round of deliveries went out in April 2020 but still left many without aid. AI and partner organizations will continue working with leaders of the campaign to reach more people in future deliveries.
  2. Refugees: Venezuelan refugees are another group at high risk due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colombia. The virus has compounded instability from low wages and rampant homelessness. Many have lost temporary jobs as economic concerns heighten nationwide. With fear and social unrest on the rise, refugees also face increased stigmatization. Some states, for example, are forcibly returning refugees in response to the virus. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Migrant Organization (IOM) have instigated a call to action. Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, explained in an April 2020 statement that “COVID-19 has brought many aspects of life to a standstill – but the humanitarian implications of this crisis have not ceased and our concerted action remains more necessary than ever.” U.N. representatives are seeking out innovative ways to protect Colombia’s migrant population and provide refugees with information, clean water and sanitation. Some organizations have also set up isolation and observation spaces for those who have tested positive. Others, including the World Health Organization (WHO), are distributing food and supplies to refugees and their host communities.
  3. Coffee Farmers: As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout South America and the world, Colombian coffee farmers are grappling with new economic uncertainties. Since extreme terrain limits the use of mechanized equipment, these farmers tend to rely on manual labor. In a typical year, some farms hire between 40% and 50% of their workforce from migrant populations. Now, however, travel restrictions have left many with a shortage of manpower. Large-scale farms are seeking out unemployed retail and hospitality workers from local areas, offering pay rates at a 10% to 20% increase. On smaller farms, family members can manage the crops. However, medium-sized operations, in desperate need of labor and unable to match the wages of larger competitors, are feeling a significant strain. Even the largest farms could struggle to meet their expected harvest in 2020. Public health officials have ordered strict distancing measures in the fields, which reduces picking capacity. Though disruptive in the short term, these efforts should help contain the spread of the virus and allow farmers to resume full operation as soon as possible.

COVID-19 in Colombia has undergone rapid growth, bringing economic and social challenges in its train. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon world leaders to support vulnerable populations in Colombia and help the nation emerge from this world crisis.

– Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Health Crisis in Venezuela

The extreme shortage of medicine and medical supplies in Venezuela has forced many people to seek refuge in neighboring countries in the hopes of getting the medical care that they need. More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country and the number continues to rise. With the continued lack of aid and action from the government, Venezuela’s health crisis shows no signs of disappearing. These are six facts about the health crisis in Venezuela.

6 Facts About the Health Care Crisis in Venezuela

  1. Because of the lack of available vaccinations, preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria are spreading throughout the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that diphtheria had not been reported in Venezuela for 24 years until 2016. Measles had not been seen since 2007. Unfortunately, these diseases are once again affecting the citizens of Venezuela. As of 2018, there have been 2,170 suspected cases of diphtheria with 1,249 being confirmed. There have been reports of 287 deaths due to this preventable disease. Out of the 7,524 cases of measles that had been suspected between 2017 and 2018, 6,252 were confirmed. At least 75 people have died from measles as of 2019. The toll of these diseases could have been prevented if the people of Venezuela had the vaccinations that they needed.
  2. In 2018, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Venezuelan Ministry of Health noted that new cases of HIV had increased by 24 percent. Between 2010 and 2016, deaths due to AIDS increased by 38 percent. In addition, around “87 percent of the 79,000 registered individuals living with HIV” do have antiretroviral treatment because of the shortage of medicine in the country.
  3. Cases of malaria have increased by 76 percent. There were 240,613 reported cases of malaria in 2016 in Venezuela. In 2017, that number increased to 406,000 cases, the largest increase worldwide. WHO estimated 280 deaths due to the disease in 2016. Venezuelans fleeing the country to Colombia and Brazil are taking the disease with them and escalating the spread. The United Nations agency is urging those countries who are hosting Venezuelan refugees “to provide free screening and treatment regardless of their legal status to avoid further spread.” Because so many Venezuelans are fleeing, these diseases are reaching neighboring countries as well. The re-introduction of measles in Manaus, Brazil resulted in 1,631 cases as of November 2018.
  4. Expecting mothers are unable to receive the prenatal medication they need. Many are forced to have unsafe labors. According to a 2017 report by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health, infant mortality has increased by 30 percent and maternal mortality has increased by 65 percent.
  5. Although these neighboring countries are trying their best to provide aid to the people of Venezuela, their healthcare systems are also taking a toll. Many HIV-positive immigrants have reached Brazil only to find that local hospitals were already overwhelmed with AIDS patients dying from infection. Colombia is currently hosting the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants with an estimated one million as of November 2018. Public hospitals are struggling to accommodate refugee health care needs such as vaccinations and emergency services.
  6. The current government of Venezuela has not publicly recognized the crisis among its people, and therefore they are not allowing international relief agencies to enter the country. In Colombia, a huge supply of medicine and supplies from the United States waits to cross the border. Unfortunately, the current president of Venezuela won’t allow the supplies into the country. Colombia has organized many events to help raise money to aid their Venezuelan neighbors. A relief concert called Venezuela Aid Live was held in Colombia on February 22, 2019, to support and bring awareness to the crisis in Venezuela. In four days, the organization was able to raise almost $2.4 million. They plan to do the same next year to continue bringing awareness and aid to the people of Venezuela.

Despite Colombia’s struggle to accommodate refugees, the country is providing limited healthcare to Venezuelans who desperately need it. “In May 2017, the Colombian government declared that all public hospitals must provide free emergency” treatment for Venezuelan patients, which includes treatments for malaria and measles. Between 2017 and 2019, 29,000 pregnant women were able to safely deliver their babies in Colombia free of charge. This also means that their children will be getting free vaccinations plus a promise of healthcare due to their Colombia citizenship. Since 2017, Colombia has provided healthcare services to 340,000 Venezuelan immigrants.

Venezuela’s government officials still have a lot of work to do to help its own people, but thanks to countries like Colombia and Brazil, Venezuelans seeking medical treatment are able to get some assistance. Providing this healthcare, although straining, has made a difference to the three million Venezuelans who had no choice but to flee their country. Through this continued support and care, at least some of the health crisis in Venezuela can be alleviated.

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Linguistic Genocide in Colombia
Colombia has the second-largest population in South America and is host to more than 80 indigenous ethnic groups which comprise the country’s most vulnerable demographic. Amidst the tectonic power struggles that have persisted throughout Colombian history, the plight of indigenous peoples remains at the forefront. Ethnic minorities in Colombia are struggling to subsist. This began when the Spanish colonized the Colombian territory in the 16th century and continues presently in the form of cultural erasure, resource wars and forced displacement. Dozens of indigenous leaders have suffered murder in recent years. The historic Peace Accord of 2016 created various power vacuums in the country, allowing guerilla offshoots to invade remote, newly-vacated territories. In October 2019, five indigenous dignitaries from the Tacueyo reservation in southwest Colombia suffered assassination. A challenge is the linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Efforts for cultural preservation, however difficult, have helped quell instances of neo-imperialism and given Afro-Colombian and native indigenous populations teeth. Jonathan E. Bonilla, a researcher and linguistic preservationist from Instituto Caro y Cuervo, is among a small group of advocates working to give these minority communities access and representation to ensure their continuity. The Borgen Project interviewed Bonilla to discuss linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Interview with Jonathan E. Bonilla

TBP: How do efforts for linguistic preservation help alleviate poverty amongst indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups?

Bonilla: All indigenous languages spoken in Colombia are at risk because their speakers are in physical danger. For example, the systematic murder of social leaders, mostly indigenous, who fight for land restitution or are against mining, expansive livestock or illicit crops, has been proven. The rivers—sources of food and water for the communities— are getting poisoned with mercury for the extraction of gold and other precious metals. The indiscriminate felling of forests and the diversion of water resources has expanded the agricultural frontier. Many communities have moved to urban areas where the dominant language is Spanish due to the war and invasion of their territories. All these factors put the physical survival of the people at risk, their languages by default.

TBP: Why is the definition of poverty further complicated in the context of indigeneity?

Bonilla: Poverty is a concept of the West as it has to do with the daily purchasing power of a person or family. In the case of indigenous communities, the majority live from sustainable agriculture, the production and sale of handicrafts, the raising of domestic animals, fishing, hunting and harvesting of seasonal fruits. For this reason, indigenous communities always fight for the respect and expansion of their ancestral territories. The greater the amount of territory without exploitation for economic purposes, the greater food security. Poverty in the communities is evident when they are forced to leave their territories and relocate to unfamiliar ecosystems. To give an example, guerrillas, paramilitaries, coca merchants and ranchers displaced the Nukak, a hunter-gatherer people who currently suffer from extreme poverty.

Another reason that leads to indigenous poverty is the reduction or overexploitation of their territories. For example, the Wayuu have suffered the diversion of their rivers. Therefore, their lands have dried up and now they have no way to feed their children or raise animals for food. The problem of water scarcity in the deserts of La Guajira has led to malnutrition and the death of indigenous children.

Finally, I want to highlight a form of poverty that occurs due to changes in agriculture’s activities. With bonanzas of exploitation of resources, such as oil, cocoa or marijuana, many indigenous people abandon their crops. Individuals gain purchasing power thanks to the money they earn as day laborers, so they prefer to buy food. When these bonanzas disappear, young people do not want to re-sow land or do not know how to do it because they never had the opportunity to learn. This creates unstable food systems and situations of poverty.

TBP: Is it possible to recover lost languages on the brink of extinction? Is there any state-sponsored or private initiatives in Colombia that are working to do just that?

Bonilla: It’s possible, but requires the commitment of the community and the accompaniment of linguistic experts and pedagogues. For example, at the Caro y Cuervo Institute—a government entity attached to the Ministry of Culture—we are carrying out projects to document, revitalize and strengthen languages based on that of Native Languages (Law 138, 2010).

We are currently working on documenting the Kawiyari language which is at high risk of extinction and has less than 30 speakers in Vaupés. After documenting, the entire process of design and development for language teaching and teacher training will begin. I mentioned that Spanish (as the dominant language) poses a threat to indigenous languages. This year, we will offer certification classes in teaching Spanish as a second language in intercultural contexts. Training indigenous people to teach Spanish creates a precedent of additive bilingualism. That is, Spanish will no longer impose itself in a strange, hegemonic way, but rather, will be taught contextually and be used to strengthen the cultural aspects of the community. International private aids are usually only concerned with documentation and data collection. For example, ELDP from the University of London is a fund to collect audio samples of disappearing languages but is not involved in revitalization or recovery projects.

TBP: What is the relationship between indigenous languages and peacekeeping in postwar Colombia?

Bonilla: Many indigenous communities have oral formulas inbuilt in their ancestral knowledge, such as prayers, songs, declarations to attract good, to be happy, to achieve tranquility and to ward off evil. In these post-war times, it would be important for the government to give the floor to elders. For example, among the Sikuani, there are songs so that objects, such as bullets, do not cause damage. The Karijona and Uitoto have dances to forgive and receive enemies with open arms. Indigenous languages are full of strategies that have allowed indigenous peoples to survive endless threats since the colonial period and that can serve as models to bring us closer to collective peace in our country.

FEM (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional) is a Colombian nonprofit organization working to aid Colombia’s post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. It follows a bottom-up model, empowering marginal indigenous communities through sustainable development projects and horizontal dialogues between local leaders, stakeholders and government actors. Ethnic education is a large part of FEM’s mission statement; FEM is concerned with advancing Colombia’s immaterial heritage—such as songs, dances and the trades—that the conflict has jeopardized, which should help combat the linguistic genocide in Colombia. For more information on how to donate or get involved, visit http://www.femcolombia.com/.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia
Colombians often say that the biggest sport in the country is corruption. Since 1994, corruption in Colombia has steadily increased and as of 2018, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 99 out of 180. The following 10 facts about corruption in Colombia break down the issue by looking at the various affected sectors, the implications of corruption and potential solutions that the country has attempted.

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia

  1. One can trace Colombian corruption back to the early colonial legacies of the Spanish conquest. Many believe that the Spanish Empire had a corrupt and disorganized bureaucracy. As a colony of the Spanish Empire, Colombia adopted this system when it gained independence. During the early years, the elite members of society achieved a majority of their wealth through corrupt manners, and there was little punishment due to corruption in the judiciary court as well. Consequently, many aspects of society remained vulnerable in the future.
  2.  Eighty-one percent of the Colombian population believes that political parties are corrupt. Corruption levels have increased continuously since 2009, and as of 2019, corruption exists at every level of government, from local to national. Investigations for corruption have taken place regarding over 48,000 government officials across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, due to corruption in the judiciary system as well, a majority of these politicians avoid prosecution by using their own political parties’ budget to bribe judges.
  3. Colombia has lost up to 1 percent of its GDP annually due to corruption. There is a large amount of mistrust from the people when it comes to businesses and their products, as companies are often corrupt and there is no guarantee for a product’s quality or functionality. Furthermore, Colombia suffers from a trade deficit as other nations are reluctant to engage in business. Due to diminishing consumer interest, Colombia’s production, both domestically and internationally, has decreased.
  4. There has been a 39.7 percent annual increase in crime rates. Forty-nine percent and 61 percent of Colombians believe that the military and police, respectively, are corrupt. Due to military personnel, police officers and other armed forces repeatedly taking bribes, many crimes do not receive punishment. As a result, crime has become normalized and crime rates are climbing.
  5. Eighteen networks of corruption are in Colombia’s public health care system. The Colombian health care system has lost $160 million due to corruption. Doctors and other medical professionals manipulate medical records, including inventing fake patients or fake hiring employees, in order to acquire money for their own gains. The cost of corruption has increased treatment and drug costs and weakened health care performance.
  6. In 2012, audits prompted education secretariats to reveal the embezzlement of $125 million from school budgets. Corrupt officials are inventing ghost students, nearly 180,000, to secure money from the treasury for personal gains. Over the years, this number has decreased due to stricter regulations, but the practice continues to remain in effect; it is especially prominent in smaller areas, where school reports do not receive thorough checks.
  7. Only 2.9 percent of the population views the problem of corruption as a high priority. Corruption in Colombia has become normalized to the extent that most people disregard it, opting to focus on other issues such as increased crime rates and lack of health care. Unfortunately, many of these problems have corruption rooted in them. The widespread apathy from society enables corrupt behavior to persist.
  8. Colombia has put anti-Corruption policies into place such as the Anti-Corruption Act of 2011 and the Colombian Penal Code. These legislations redefined legal framework, criminalizing active and passive bribery, political corruption, foreign bribery, extortion and trading with confidential state information. The government’s goal in implementing such legislation was to increase prevention, investigation and penalty mechanisms against both, private and public corruption. By imposing more drastic measures, the government hoped that people would become more cautious and reports of corruption would increase.
  9.  President Santos created an Anti-Corruption Office in 2011. After the legislation improved, the government needed new agencies to tackle corruption. The Anti-Corruption Office maintains control and performs checks in order to ensure that others follow the legislation. The office intends to prevent conflict of interest and avoid nepotism, cronyism and patronage.
  10. Colombia has signed many international conventions to gain further assistance in addressing corruption. In 2013, Colombia signed the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. By signing such documents, the country sent an important message to the government, businesses and the people about the seriousness of the issue. Colombia has also taken part in the UNCAC’s voluntary Pilot Review Programme and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, both of which allow an external review of corruption in Colombia as a means to keep the country in check.

As the current government is understanding the repercussions of high corruption, it is taking steps to counteract the problem. Unfortunately, the problem of corruption has not decreased and the country’s world ranking continues to fall. Looking at the 10 facts about corruption in Colombia mentioned above, it is clear that the issue affects many different aspects of life in the country; a lack of further change will significantly hinder Colombia’s development.

– Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Flickr

Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

Cancer Detection in Colombia

Breast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women worldwide, affects more than 2 million women each year. In 2018 alone, 625,000 women died from breast cancer. According to the World Bank, although developed regions have higher rates of breast cancer compared to developing areas, rates are increasing in nearly every region across the globe. When looking at breast cancer survival rates, one thing is certain: early detection is key to lowering death rates and so early breast cancer detection in Colombia is changing.

A Possible Solution

With more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone, Colombian officials have been focusing on initiatives that target early detection. By launching a pilot program through Discovering Hands, an organization founded in Germany that empowers blind women with a heightened sense of touch to feel for breast cancer, early detection is exactly what Colombia focuses on.

Breast mammography, or a mammogram as it is known colloquially, is sometimes too expensive for women in developing countries. Additionally, they are only available to women in Colombia who are over 50 years of age. Instead of solely using the traditional method of breast cancer detection, the mammogram, Colombia borrowed from Discovering Hands. The country put visually impaired women to work as medical tactile examiners feeling for breast cancer. The surgeon who coordinates the Discovering Hands project in Colombia, Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, said of the program: “They [MTEs] have this gift in their fingers. If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used to help other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have any impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”

Results

Currently, in Latin America, only three visually impaired women work as medical tactile examiners, using their delicate sense of touch for early cancer detection in Colombia. These women have been proven to detect 30 percent more tissue variations in breast tissue than medically trained doctors. The Discovering Hands method is less expensive, more accurate and can find lumps that are 50 percent smaller than ones found by doctors. Additionally, some women in Colombia have expressed that they feel more comfortable going to women to have this examination performed versus male doctors.

These medical tactile examiners do not diagnose patients, rather they do an examination, then help set up an appointment with the doctor if they find any irregularities. This method of early cancer detection in Colombia is not only saving lives by early diagnosis of breast cancer, but it is also creating a fulfilling job for the visually impaired. As female patients are starting to flock to these medical tactile examiners, Colombia discussed expanding the program to provide more jobs for blind women. This would give more low-income women in Colombia access to breast cancer screening.

A Global Answer

Discovering Hands is currently in seven countries: Colombia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Austria and India, and already performed over 10,000 exams. As the model continues to succeed in helping women with early breast cancer detection as well as giving fulfilling jobs to blind women, Discovering Hands is discussing repeating the business model in new countries. This program is unique in that it gives to the community while also providing a living for women who previously could not contribute to society. As breast cancer rates continue to grow, Discovering Hands is doing its part to lower the fatality rate of breast cancer.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pexels

Cacay Oil
Amongst the incredible array of biodiversity which stems from the Amazon grows a small green fruit, the Cacay nut. A Google search for Cacay oil generates dozens of reviews by beauty blogs and skincare gurus who have tested the product. But what is Cacay and what makes it so special?

The Cacay Nut’s Uses

The Cacay nut, which is similar in size and color to lime from the outside, has three smaller nuts on the inside. The fruit grows on trees in Colombia and has a plethora of uses. People can use every part of the fruit, and this fact makes it a sustainable crop because there is no waste. It has a high nutritional value containing over 40 percent protein, all the essential amino acids and omega 3, 6 and 9. People can use the peel for compost or animal food, while the shell’s slow combustion properties make it a great source of biofuel. One can also make nut milk from the Cacay nut, which can serve as an animal milk substitute.

People mostly covet the Cacay nut for its beauty and cosmetic benefits. The oil from it contains 50 percent more vitamin E than argan oil, which is essential for skin moisturization. Additionally, it contains a high retinol and collagen content, which reduces signs of ages and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

Kahai Lifts Families Out of Poverty

Kahai, a Colombian-based company, has made it its mission to share the benefits of Cacay with the world and lift up the people who grow it as well. It sells Cacay oil for its incredible health and skin benefits and is the first to do so on such a large scale. Thus far, the organization has exported over three tons of Cacay oil worldwide. Kahai hopes that Cacay will take the place of many illicit crops that were previously a driving cause of deforestation across the region. The potential economic opportunities that farming Cacay will bring should motivate farming communities in Colombia to preserve their forests and plant thousand of more trees.

Kahai’s location in Bogota D.C., Colombia, is home to many impoverished peasant farming families. Because Kahai is seeking to farm the fruit on a commercial scale, it will utilize plantation-style harvesting. This has created over 200 jobs with sustainable incomes for the peasant families in this conflict-torn area. There is also the potential for upward growth within the company, with individuals who began working entry-level jobs now holding management positions.

Kahai’s Recent Initiative

Kahai’s recently launched initiative with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes may also assist in both the sustainability efforts and the community development efforts. The initiative’s goal is to partner with the government and privately-owned corporations in the region to provide payment for communities who reduce their emissions and demonstrate environmentally-friendly farming practices. This will further encourage this positive development and further support the local economy.

As the benefits of Amazonian gold become more apparent to the rest of the world, Kahai and its employees will reap the economic benefits as the first large-scale Cacay oil farming operation. It is the organization’s hope that farming villages that operate under sustainable practices and receive consistent sustainable incomes will only grow stronger.

Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

What You Need to Know about Fair Trade
Imagine being in the local supermarket, perhaps in the coffee aisle. There is an abundance of options, from decaf to french vanilla and everything in between. Some of the choices have a special seal marked “Fairtrade.” But what does that mean? Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

One fact to know about Fair Trade is the difference between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. Fair Trade is a set of social, economic and environmental standards for companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food millions enjoy each day. Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a trademarked labeling initiative that certifies a product has met the agreed Fair Trade criteria.

For farmers and workers, standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment. For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium. This premium can be used to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

How does Fair Trade combat poverty?

The Fair Trade argument is that the poor are being paid less than fair prices for their products in the free market trading system. The Fairtrade foundation states that its goal is to “empower marginalized producers to become economically stable and self-sufficient and to promote sustainable development, gender equality, and environmental protection.”

Offering decent prices for products can help support jobs and improve living conditions for producers, their families and the local businesses they buy from. It can also divert young men from involvement in militias. The intention is that this will ultimately decrease conflict levels in impoverished nations.

While not all poor states are volatile, data indicates that violent conflict contributes to poverty in a number of ways. It can cause damage to infrastructure, break up communities and contribute to increased unemployment and forced displacement of peoples.

Additionally, free trade boosts economic sectors, thereby creating more jobs and a source of stable increased wages. As developed countries move their operations into developing countries, new opportunities open for local workers. An increase in the general standard of living reduces hunger and increases food production. Overall, a higher income makes education more accessible, increases literacy, increases life expectancy and reduces infant mortality rates.

Fair Trade focuses on the exchange between individuals and companies. Fair Trade supply chains utilize direct partnerships that take into account the needs of individual communities. Often times, cross border supply chains strengthen ties between two or more nations. By bringing people together in mutually beneficial trade pacts and policies, Free Trade can contribute to a sense of peace in war-torn areas. Through cultural exchange, there is a rare absence of marginalization in this type of commerce.

What are the disadvantages to know about Fair Trade practices?

Although the Fair Trade movement has good intentions, it also has a few disadvantages.

Fairtrade targets farmers and producers who are financially secure enough to pay certification, inspection and marketing fees, which are necessary to ensure compliance with government regulations. Thus, the poorest farmers who would benefit most from Fairtrade certification are often excluded.

Fairtrade minimum prices and wages ensure fair payment of farmers. However, farmers for non-certified products are left at a considerable disadvantage. When prices fall in the world market, it is the non-Fairtrade certified farmers who suffer. That being said, prices in stores are not monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation. Thus, the producers receive only a small piece of the revenue from retail mark-ups.

Conversely, research conducted by various groups such as CODER, the Natural Resource Institute and Brazilian based BSD Consulting has shown positive impacts of Fair Trade practices around the globe. In Colombia for instance, a 2014 study by CODER assessed the impact of Fairtrade for banana farmers in small producer organizations and workers on plantations. The study concluded that Fairtrade, with the support of other organizations, contributed to a revival of the banana sector in Colombia and increased respect for human and labor rights. Other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fairtrade on worker empowerment in Ecuadorian flower plantations and the benefits of Fairtrade orange juice for Brazilian smallholder farmers.

Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade that can help consumers make informed decisions in their daily lives. Many everyday food items like coffee, chocolate, fruit and nuts offer Fairtrade certified options in local grocery stores. Change is already happening in the Congo where Fairtrade certified gourmet coffee is sourced from war-torn regions. Companies such as Tropical Wholefoods have begun to sell Fairtrade certified dried apricots from northern Pakistan. Just an extra minute in the grocery aisle and a few extra cents to choose Fairtrade can make a big difference.

-GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr