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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

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

Healthcare in ColombiaColombia’s healthcare system is not perfect but it also far from inadequate. Located in the northernmost part of South America, Colombia has estimable healthcare provision for the country’s people. With both public and private insurance plans, reputable facilities and well-equipped healthcare providers, Colombia sets an example of what sufficient healthcare looks like in a developing country. To understand this better, it is necessary to know some key facts about healthcare in Colombia.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Colombia

  1. Healthcare in Colombia ranked 22nd out of 191 healthcare systems in overall efficiency, according to the World Health Organization. For perspective, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany ranked 37th, 32nd, 30th and 25th respectively.
  2. Colombia’s healthcare system covers more than 95% of its population.
  3. Indigenous people are considered a high-risk population due to insufficient access to healthcare in indigenous communities in Colombia. Specifically, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to this lack of healthcare access and significant tourist activities in indigenous regions increase the risk of spread. Robinson López, Colombian leader and coordinator for Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), said in March 2020 that tourism in indigenous territories in Latin America should stop immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  4. There are inequities in the utilization of reproductive healthcare by ethnic women in Colombia, according to a study. Self-identified indigenous women and African-descendant women in the study had considerably less likelihood of having an adequate amount of prenatal and postpartum care.
  5. The Juanfe Foundation is a Colombian-based organization that promotes the physical, emotional and mental health of vulnerable and impoverished adolescent mothers and their children. So far, the organization has supported more than 250,000 people. The Juan Felipe Medical Center served 204,063 individuals — 20% of the population in Cartagena, Colombia. The organization also saved the lives of 4,449 infants through its Crib Sponsoring Program.
  6. In 2019, four of the top 10 hospitals in Latin America were in Colombia and 23 of the top 55, according to América Economía.
  7. Colombia secured nine million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in December 2020. Combined with the doses it will receive from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc, COVAX and other finalizing deals, Colombia will be able to vaccinate 35 million people within its population of 49.65 million, striding toward herd immunity.

Recognizing Colombia’s Healthcare System

Simultaneously recognizing the current inequities and challenges alongside the positives in Colombia’s healthcare system is the true key to understanding it and the individuals depending on it overall. Despite attention-worthy deficits, healthcare in Colombia stands out in Latin America and in the world as high quality, widespread and respectable. The country’s healthcare is contributing to the well-being of many and the future ahead looks promising.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

The Secret Truth of Mental Health in Colombia Colombia is home to some of the most unyielding forms of violence, such as assassinations, assaults and homicides. Significant acts of violence and conflict were first introduced during the La Violencia period. This occurred in 1948 when territorial and civil issues rose between property owners and poor farmers. Historically, violence has been a prevalent theme in Colombia and has heavily impacted many families and communities. Colombia’s low mental health rates increase in rural areas due to trauma, substance abuse and gang violence. Colombia has the largest population in the world of expatriates by an armed conflict, which can have a significant influence on the population’s mental stability. This article will discuss the silent truth about mental health in Colombia.

Trauma Causes Indefinite Effects

According to a scientific research report, the displacement process can cause “physical and psychological consequences associated with exposures to harm and loss during disasters and complex emergencies.” Crime and acts of violence predominantly occur in rural areas; however, the removal then requires significant adjustments to urban areas. Internally displaced individuals are often victims of armed conflict, so they are often removed from their own homes. These adjustments can increase the chances of mental disorders such as “depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.”

According to a study, anxiety disorders are prominent in victims who have experienced more vile acts of violence. Even so, side effects and symptoms begin to deplete after nearly five years. Individuals also experience more side effects if they have suffered trauma due to the actual act or witnessing of violence, rather than the loss of a loved one. Furthermore, pursuing or witnessing violent actions causes behavioral issues. These events induce physiological trauma, which then affects others directly or indirectly.

Substance Abuse Takes Full Control

There are many factors as to why individuals experience mental health issues. However, a pattern has developed among the type of issues between genders. According to a psychological survey inducted in Colombia, women experience a significant increase in depression, while men experience increased alcohol addiction due to violent behavior or witnessing violent acts. In terms of the drug market economy, Colombia is well known for supplying cocaine internationally. However, on average, alcohol is the most popular drug of choice, beginning at the age of 14, which leads to the vulnerability of alcohol abuse.

The continuous rise in drug addiction can lead to a lack of financial stability, which thus leads to poverty. In 2018, the poverty rate was 27.8%, a 0.09% decrease from 2016. The lack of finances can lead to more stress on individuals, which exacerbates mental health conditions and proves that the silent truth about mental health in Colombia has a continuous domino effect.

The Aftermath of Gang Violence

Violent gangs are a prominent vessel for drug transportation within Colombia and according to the United Nations, they have displaced over 800 people due to drug trafficking. After the repercussions of La Violencia in 1948, a peace treaty emerged. Nonetheless, it caused many Colombian natives to break apart into two political groups: paramilitary and guerrillas — both involved in drug trafficking. Gangs are the primary group engaging in drug trafficking and members typically acquire deadly weapons for many purposes. Moreover, weapons can cause years of psychological trauma for gang violence victims.

Street crimes such as robberies are currently the most predominant type of crimes in Colombia. However, gang members usually commit these criminal acts and increase the crime rate countrywide. Although crime rates increase for multiple reasons, including gang activity, Colombia’s government must take further action. The government must take measures to ensure that no more citizens fall victim to gang violence or the aftermath. The consequences of these experiences cause mental disorders for those involved in criminal acts and those associated with individuals involved.

Addressing the Issue

Although there has been a low rate of conflict in Columbia currently, according to a research report, 8 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. The Children of the Andes Foundation is working towards offering more basic rights and a positive environment for children suffering from exposer to violence. The organization was founded on the belief that every at-risk child should have the opportunity to better themselves.  The foundation offers a home to “62 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18.”

Furthermore, many health institutes have developed in Colombia to combat mental health disorders in hope of decreasing acts of violence. Nevertheless, until their government develops a solution for the ongoing violence, the silent truth about mental health in Colombia will remain.

–  Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

BetterTogether ChallengeSince 2015, roughly five million people have left Venezuela in hopes of finding a better life. This marks the largest displacement of people in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Its economic collapse has rendered the local currency practically worthless and thrown Venezuelans into rampant poverty and hunger. The average Venezuelan lost about 25 pounds of weight in 2017 when 80% of the population lacked reliable access to food. The BetterTogether Challenge aims to support struggling Venezuelans.

The Collapse of the Venezuelan economy

Despite having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the Venezuelan government’s mismanagement of its resources and economy led to a cataclysmic collapse. When measured by income, 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty and the average citizen lives off a paltry 72 cents a day. The 2019-2020 National Survey of Living Conditions found that 65% of Venezuelans live in multidimensional poverty, an increase of 13% from the previous year. Multidimensional poverty incorporates measurements such as access to health care and education, in addition to income.

A Mass Exodus of Venezuelans

The abject poverty Venezuelans have experienced has led to mass emigration to neighboring countries. Colombia and Peru collectively have had over two million Venezuelan immigrants. The integration of Venezuelans and their culture has been abrasive in countries such as Peru, where negative attitudes persist toward Venezuelans.

The displacement of millions of Venezuelans has disrupted a highly educated generation. A whole 57% of Venezuelans living in Peru have received higher education and roughly 25% have university degrees.

While negative views of Venezuelan immigration have limited the number of incoming Venezuelans, neighboring countries would be wise to recognize the inherent value possessed by the Venezuelan people. The displaced Venezuelans carry massive potential, which if properly harnessed, can have a substantial impact on local economies and innovation. Furthermore, the integration of Venezuelans into the labor markets of their host communities would provide additional cash flow that could boost local economies.

BetterTogether Challenge Empowers Venezuelan Innovation

As a strong and steady champion against poverty, USAID has partnered with the InterAmerican Development Bank to create the BetterTogether Challenge to support Venezuelans. The goal of the challenge is to fund innovative solutions from Venezuelans to support their resilience, test solutions to be integrated and promote communication between Venezuelans and their new communities. In August 2020, the BetterTogether Challenge Award winners in South American countries were collectively awarded $2.97 million.

The BetterTogether Challenge awardees are focused on increasing social cohesion, fighting xenophobia, empowering women, improving employment opportunities and improving access to health care, education and food. These solutions are crucial to rebuilding Venezuela and reducing poverty in their communities.

International Rescue Committee in Colombia

One of the most impactful organizations chosen for funding was the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Colombia. Nearly 1.5 million Venezuelans have found refuge in Colombia, with roughly 35,000 crossing into Colombia daily to purchase supplies. The IRC supports Venezuelans in Colombia by providing safety, access to healthcare and economic assistance while protecting the women and children that may be disproportionately vulnerable. A key initiative launched by the IRC is the Families Make A Difference Program, which provides essential management and support to children who have been harmed and educates families to prevent harm.

Supporting organizations such as the IRC are vital for fortifying Venezuelan resilience and providing people with life-changing resources during times of need. Furthermore, initiatives like the BetterTogether Challenge empower Venezuelans while addressing poverty.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Cafe Femenino FoundationEstimates place women’s involvement in coffee production at as high as 70% of all the labor, making women an integral part of the coffee industry. However, women face high levels of gender discrimination within the industry in terms of access to “land, credit and information”, resulting in lower incomes and crop yields when compared to men. The Cafe Femenino Foundation looks to change this.

Cafe Femenino Foundation

Noticing the inequity, Garth and Gay Smith founded the Cafe Femenino Foundation in 2004 to empower women working in the coffee industry. The nonprofit organization provides grants to women’s coffee collectives in nine countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Sumatra. The grants can be used for a vast range of initiatives including food security, income diversification and health, to empower women socially, politically and economically.

Food Security Initiatives

Cafe Femenino Foundation provides grants to combat food insecurity in multiple countries’ coffee-growing regions, which also helps women earn extra income. In Peru, training sessions teach women how to preserve fruits to prevent spoiling and extend the period during which they can be eaten. Preserved fruit can also be sold at markets when the supply of fresh fruit is diminished, allowing the women to sell for higher prices. Women who participated in the training sessions went home with 10 cans of each fruit they preserved, which is credited with helping lower rates of child malnutrition in the regions.

Similarly, in the Dominican Republic, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants supported women’s coffee collectives to start growing passionfruit and breed both cows and goats. Passionfruit is used in many foods and drinks, making it popular among the women themselves and at the markets. Since 2009, more than 200 women and their family members have benefitted from access to passionfruit. The goat and cow breeding initiatives provide women with milk and meat to feed their families and to sell for additional income. As of 2013, almost 30 women participated in the animal breeding programs.

Health Initiatives

In Colombia, grants have been given by Cafe Femenino Foundation to the COSURCA coffee cooperative to improve women’s health through kitchen remodeling. Since kitchens are traditionally women’s spaces, they are often not remodeled and are constructed of poor materials with dirt floors. The kitchens of 18 women have been remodeled as of 2013 to include outdoor ventilation that prevents smoke inhalation and running water to improve cleanliness and hygiene.

Cafe Femenino Foundation has provided similar grants in Peru to improve health conditions by improving stoves. The new stoves decrease smoke inhalation and respiratory illnesses that occur as a result.

Women’s Empowerment Initiatives

Also in Peru, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants have supported the building of community safe spaces, called Casa Cafe Femenino, for women in multiple coffee-growing communities. These spaces provide women with opportunities to meet and talk in places that are not “borrowed from the men”, promoting women’s independence and agency. Casa Cafe Femeninos are also able to act as temporary shelters for women facing domestic violence. As of 2013, these spaces benefitted more than 800 women from two coffee collectives.

Cafe Femenino Foundation also supports the education of women. In Peru, the nonprofit helped five women complete training to be promoted to the role of internal coffee inspector, giving these women more power within the coffee industry. In the early years of the nonprofit, a grant provided scholarships for 600 girls, all of who were the daughters of coffee producers, to attend school.

Equality in the Coffee Industry

The coffee industry is made up largely of women yet these women face gender discrimination and inequality. Cafe Femenino Foundation strives to eliminate the gender gap in coffee production by providing grants to women’s coffee collectives in a range of areas, including food security, health and women’s empowerment based on the needs of the women. The projects, while benefitting the women, also help to teach leadership and problem-solving skills through a democratic process of distribution, furthering women’s empowerment.

– Sydney Leiter
Photo: pixabay

Venezuelan MigrantsThe poor living conditions that have escalated in Venezuela since 2013 have led to a surge of Venezuelan migration into neighboring Colombia. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an especially dangerous and difficult time for these Venezuelan migrants and refugees, humanitarian organizations are working to support their needs.

The Current Situation for Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Since 2014, the number of Venezuelans pursuing refugee status increased by 8,000% due to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, coupled with a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. There are currently 1.8 million refugees and migrants in Colombia.

Colombia has put containment rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited opportunities for Venezuelan migrants to find employment and access food. Because the majority of Venezuelan migrants do not have stable employment contracts, their reliance on daily jobs, which are now more difficult to find, has left many families without the proper income to afford basic necessities. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Bucaramanga, a city in north-central Colombia, already had malnutrition rates of 20% in children and 5% in adults. The following humanitarian organizations have helped provide for the unmet needs of this population.

The Start Fund

In April 2020, the Start Network, a nonprofit committed to localizing funding and innovation for humanitarian action, developed the Start Fund COVID-19. The initiative has been able to tackle challenges from the pandemic that is “neglected or underfunded.” It is with the Start Fund COVID-19’s financial support that prominent humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide relief for Venezuelan migrants.

Fundación entre Dos Tierras

Fundación Entre Dos Tierras is a Colombian humanitarian organization that emerged to support especially vulnerable Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga. Before the pandemic worsened conditions for this community, volunteers already hosted the Programa Tapara, which provided food, clothing and medicine, along with three other programs. Fundación Entre Dos Tierras has become a local partner to two international humanitarian organizations to combat food insecurity for Venezuelan migrants attempting to return to the Venezuelan border.

Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International

As a result of the current health crisis, many Venezuelans have had to live in hotels or congregate in parks. Venezuelans in Colombia who are homeless or have experienced eviction are the target population of Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International’s work. Each day in Bucaramanga, 750 people receive two meals and 800 people obtain hygiene kits.

Because of the complications for employment that Colombia’s containment rules have caused, some Venezuelans are attempting to return to Venezuela. Of these returnees, 1,600 migrants are to receive hygiene products and enough food to last 48 hours.

Solidarités International

Solidarités International has also constructed rehabilitation programs for Venezuelans along their migration journeys. There are four shelters present on one of the main routes that go through Bucaramanga to Medellín and Bogotá. The humanitarian organization, in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale, has increased the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and WASH services. As a vulnerable community during COVID-19, sheltering in these spaces creates a safer refuge along their journeys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated food and housing insecurity for Venezuelan migrants and refugees residing in Colombia. The collaboration between Fundación Entre Dos Tierras, Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International has created temporary aid for thousands of Venezuelans. It is imperative that this vulnerable population continues to receive support throughout the pandemic.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Colombian agribusiness
As of June 2019, approximately 4 million Venezuelan refugees had fled their home country in search of shelter from the “State-Sponsored Terror” of dictator Nicolás Maduro; by the end of 2020, this number could increase to as many as 8.2 million total Venezuelans seeking refuge. Already, around 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees have sought shelter in neighboring Colombia, creating an overwhelming demand for food and other supplies in regions closest to the Colombia-Venezuela border. In response to this emerging humanitarian crisis, a Colombian agribusiness has found an innovative solution that ensures Venezuelan refugees receive food and humane treatment while also helping struggling local economies. What exactly is this solution? The agribusiness of imperfect potatoes.

Agribusiness In Motion

The Colombian agribusiness company Acceso works to revitalize the economy of a nation whose rural poverty rate is 35%. Acceso’s success derives from its business model, which links rural farmers to urban marketplaces and provides a variety of resources to farmers–from startup cost aid to seed access–to ensure that they turn a profit.

Essentially, Acceso acts as a middleman between small Colombian farms and larger stores. Acceso buys crops in bulk from small Colombian farmers in order to resell them in commercial marketplaces. However, in doing so, Acceso often ends up purchasing products like “imperfect looking but edible potatoes.” Despite their imperfections, these potatoes hold the key to the success of Acceso’s entire operation.

Crops that are too small or have visual defects like scratches are still nutritious and viable; their defects, though merely visual, impair the ability of farms and Colombian agribusiness firms to sell them in commercial marketplaces. For the small farmer, growing imperfect crops elicits a loss of money. In normal farmer-market relationships, imperfect crops either have to be sold by small farmers in local markets for a lower price or they go to waste.

Because Acceso buys all of a farm’s crops regardless of their condition, they assure that farmers are adequately compensated for all of the crops they grow. An Acceso partnership can increase the revenue of an individual farm by as much as 50%. It maximizes the profit of small farms because Acceso pays more than normal consumers would for every piece of produce grown, enriching every sector of Colombia’s farming industry and helping stabilize the economy of rural Colombia.

Colombia’s agricultural GDP has increased by 1,502 billion Colombian pesos (about $400 million) since late 2019. An increase of this quantity illuminates how the growth of Colombian agribusiness keeps small farmers from falling into poverty, rewards them for their hard work and expands the Colombian economy.

Kitchens Without Food

In 2017, 8 out of 10 Venezuelans reported having a reduced caloric intake due to a lack of food at home, and around one-third of Venezuelans eat less than three meals each day. This explains why many Venezuelan refugees in Colombia–especially children–come across the border severely undernourished.

As they cross the border into Colombia, these refugees–some of whom have only eaten salted rice for an extended period of time–need nutrition urgently. This creates immense demand for food in border cities like Cúcuta, which have seen a massive influx of Venezuelan refugees. The Colombian government has partnered with NGO’s to establish relief kitchens on the border such as Nueva Ilusión in Cúcuta in order to meet the nutritional and humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees.

Unfortunately, these border kitchens still struggle to find adequate funding. International relief aid for the Venezuelan refugee crisis has only totaled $580 million, a number woefully short of the amount needed to ensure humane treatment for all refugees entering Colombia. To remedy this, the Colombian government has launched over $230 million in credit lines to invest in border cities with high numbers of refugees.

Albeit, even an amount that large might be insufficient to meet the needs of the incoming refugees. Many border kitchens providing nutritious meals to Venezuelan refugees lack the appropriate financial resources to provide enough of it.

Supply? Demand.

Each organization mentioned thus far faces an issue. Acceso has acquired imperfect crops that they cannot sell. Border kitchens lack funding and need nutritious foods to turn into meals for Venezuelan refugees.

This is where supply meets demand.

Recognizing the gravity of the malnutrition crisis among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, Acceso partnered with border kitchens like Nueva Ilusión to give Venezuelan refugees the dignified treatment they deserve.

Instead of throwing away the imperfect crops that they cannot sell, Acceso now donates these crops to border kitchens. As of March 2020, the Colombian agribusiness contributed over 480 metric tons of fruits and vegetables to border kitchens, making 4.3 million nutritious meals.

On a daily basis, the products donated by Acceso are made into around 2,000 meals per day per kitchen, 600 of which are served to malnourished children fleeing from Venezuela. By donating food to meet the demand of border kitchens, Acceso has helped make progress towards alleviating the nutritional crisis that plagues Venezuelan refugees both young and old.

With their agribusiness, Acceso links the needs of two impoverished groups in Colombia and assures that their needs are met with reciprocal flourishing. In conjunction with both the farmers and kitchens, Acceso confers economic benefits to small Colombian farms while also ensuring that border kitchens have enough food supplies to provide refugees.

Acceso’s work linking the needs of small Colombian farmers and Venezuelan refugees has helped to fill the gap in relief created by a lack of funding for humanitarian aid efforts in this region. Its successes with rural farmers and malnourished Venezuelan refugees have shown how the most impactful relief can often be found in the most dignified mediums of exchange.

Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in ColombiaMacroeconomic trends show there has been equitable growth in Colombia. While as of 2017 Colombia holds the second-highest wealth inequality rate in Latin America, only slightly better than Brazil, it has been on a downward trend since 2000. Additionally, poverty in Colombia dropped by 15% between 2008 and 2017 to a low of 27%. Extreme poverty was cut in half from 2002 to 2014, with more than 6 million people moving out of poverty. This put more Colombians in the middle class than in poverty for the first time. Finally, between 2008 and 2017, the country’s gross domestic product grew at a rate of 3.8%. This is more than twice as fast as the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Problems

However, increasing exports drives much of the recent growth and reduction in poverty in Colombia. Commodity prices have risen significantly over the past several years. This growth is unsustainable, as a recent drop in prices has hindered the export industry. Colombia has also been struggling with such issues as a lack of financial inclusion, low productivity, low-skilled workers and a large informal economy.

The informal economy consists of such jobs as farmworkers, taxi drivers and street vendors where “they make no direct tax contributions, have no security of employment and do not receive pensions or other social benefits.” As of May 2014, informal workers made up nearly two-thirds of the Colombian labor force. This means millions do not possess a dependable income. They do not have the opportunity to contribute to or receive a pension fund or other government benefits. For these reasons, the large informal sector is also a big contributor to inequality and poverty in Colombia.

Another major issue holding back Colombia has been its decades-long internal struggle for peace. Nearly a quarter-million Colombians have died from the conflict, with 25,000 disappearing and nearly 6 million being displaced. Although a peace agreement was reached in 2016, tensions are still high in the country between the government and the rebel militia.

Solutions

Nonetheless, steps are being taken to ensure that Colombia is able to continue its recent progress. With nearly 6 million people displaced because of the internal conflict, land restitution is a key step to make. With the help of the World Bank, 1,852 land restitution legal cases were held by the end of 2014. Additionally, the World Bank helped the Colombian government give reparations to those affected by the conflict, with a focus on Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups who were disproportionately affected.

Digitalization and use of technology are being used to help formalize businesses by simplifying the registration process and making tax collection more efficient, enabling businesses and individuals to pay taxes and contribute to the pension system and providing them access to many social benefits. Digitalization also provides greater access to financial services. This is done by providing micro-credits, expanding the outreach of banking services, lowering the cost of financial services and simplifying electronic payments.

USAID’s Role in Poverty Reduction in Colombia

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also been involved in helping decrease poverty in Colombia by increasing the presence of democratic institutions in the country. Through this, the USAID hopes to “foster a culture of respect for human rights, promote access to justice, increase public investment and provide services to historically underserved and conflictive rural areas.” This organization fights for inclusive growth and encourages investment in rural areas. Additionally, it helps producers expand their market, provides financial services and helps restore the land to its original owners before the conflict.

All of these efforts and many more are being made to reduce poverty in Colombia. The goal is to keep the country on a path toward equitable and inclusive development that leads to a reduction of inequality.

Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr