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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

Women's Empowerment in ColombiaWomen’s empowerment in Colombia has been steadily rising in the past few years. When measuring women’s empowerment, one looks at things such as political voice, completion of secondary schools, entrance into the workplace and capacity to shape law and policy on gender equality.

In 2012, 43 percent of women had joined the workforce, as opposed to 30 percent in 1990. In 2011, 94 percent of girls completed lower secondary school, a number that has been increasing and surpassing the percentage of boys, for years. Additionally, fertility rates have been reducing, with the average woman having two children in 2012. Thirty-two percent of the government’s cabinet was female, whereas in 1998 only 12 percent was.

As part of the Peace Accords of 2016, Colombia returned land to female victims of its 50-year conflict, indicating progress for women’s empowerment in Colombia. Additionally, the government provided start-up incomes to many women and families to kick-start their agricultural pursuits. Many of these women were forcefully displaced during the conflict. The return of their land shows an indirect step towards progress and an acknowledgment of women’s importance in the national economy.

The Peace Accords were also important because of a new commitment to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. This commitment was pushed, in part, and will be implemented by the Gender sub-Commission of the Havana Peace Talks Table. The agreement indicates an understanding of the importance of women in areas like rural development, political participation and the eradication of illegal drugs.

The United Nations Verification Mission works to effectively implement Resolution 1325 in Colombia. This resolution focuses on the participation of women in the negotiation and prevention of conflicts. The Colombian chapter of the Verification Mission has been one of the most successful in the world, with around 48 percent of the team made up of women. While this is an independent mission, it does collaborate with the Colombian government.

Ultimately, Colombia has made a lot of progress in terms of women’s empowerment and gender equality, but there is still a long road ahead. Women’s empowerment in Colombia has been improving, but it has benefited mostly upper-class urban women; women in poor, rural areas still face a lot of gender inequity. If the government continues to prioritize these issues and collaborate with the United Nations and other organizations, it has the potential to become a very progressive nation in terms of women’s rights.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

Development Projects in ColombiaIn February 2017, President Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) successfully completed a definitive cease-fire agreement which ended violence in specific zones of the South American country. This event raised many Colombian citizen’s enthusiasm. But, not all problems in the nation have been solved, as Colombia’s economy depends on oil, exportation and tourism, which have been negatively affected in recent years.

However, the Colombian government and other investors are attempting to reverse this situation, developing new projects in order to help the country’s economy to grow. New highways, ports, as well as advanced infrastructure and stylish developments in several Colombian cities will attempt to improve economy over the next 10 years. Here are the five development projects in Colombia that are changing the nation’s face.

  1. Alfonso Bonilla and El Dorado airports
    The Colombian government has invested $230 million in modernization for the Alfonso Bonilla airport. The remodeled facility will have a new international terminal and six new boarding bridges. In addition, the old terminal was redesigned and new public spaces were added. In total, the airport located in Cali, one of the most important cities in Colombia, will be around 55,000 square meters. In Bogota, a $200 million investment has improved El Dorado airport’s landing zones and infrastructure. Now, it has better logistics that allows aircraft traffic to move faster.
  2. Cartagena port
    In July 2017, the Colombian government approved an investment of $93 million for the Cartagena port. With this contribution, it is expected that the port will triple its cargo capacity thanks to the new infrastructure, better operation and giant cranes that can receive bigger vessels. President Santos defined the Cartagena port as the most important in the Colombian Caribbean, as in 2016, it moved around 201 million tons of cargo containers.
  3. Agora Convention Center
    The new convention center, located in the capital city of Bogota, is the third biggest center in South America in terms of capacity and the most modern on the continent. In October 2017, the building held its first massive meeting for the United Nations First Young World; this left an economic impact of 14 million pesos for Colombia. Conventions and meetings generate 27 percent of Colombian tourism economy. The Agora project cost 414 million pesos and created 15,000 jobs in its construction.
  4. Bogota’s Elevated Railway
    Among all transportation development projects in Colombia, this particular one is essential. The new elevated railway is a local public transportation project that has been in planning for almost 15 years in Bogota. The first construction attempt was in 2000, but multiple government branches failed to reach an agreement. However, this year, President Santos’ administration and Bogota’s authorities revealed the construction will begin in 2018 and that the trains will be electric. It is expected that 35,000 Colombians will use the railway every hour. Authorities commented that the elevated railway construction will finish in 2024 and will be the first development of this kind in the country’s capital.
  5. 4G Project
    The 4G project is the most ambitious road infrastructure project in Colombia. The four generation plan will connect the entire country, making mobility easier and faster for citizens. More than 7,000 kilometers of roadway will be constructed and rehabilitated over the next several years with an investment of $50 billion. In addition, this project will work on bridges and tunnels that link the cities and towns over the mountains of the country. Projects such as Conexion Pacifico 3 and Girardort-Honda-Puerto Salgas have already begun.

These development projects in Colombia will positively affect the country’s future, improving the lives of Colombians as well as the Colombian economy. Although some projects are still in development, within the next 10 years, the Colombia will certainly be one of the most developed nations in South America.

– Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in ColombiaColombia is divided into two different realities: the modern urban areas and the poor rural zones. In numbers, 40 percent of the Colombian rural population lives in poverty, which means that these communities lack basic services such as schools, roads and food.

The most visible problems that this social inequality creates are the education gap between rural and urban areas and the high rural malnutrition rates. Here are some organizations and solutions about how to help people in Colombia.

The digital divide is one of the problems that affect Colombia, impeding the education in rural zones. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia has one of the biggest gaps in internet access in rural zones. However, there are various organizations that are working to make this gap shorter.

One of them is Transformemos, a social organization that fights to provide education to vulnerable sectors. Among its achievements is the installation of 2,000 interactive rooms with a special education software that teaches general education. It has also implemented the first multilingual software in the country that has allowed education to indigenous communities.

Thanks to these efforts, Transformemos won the UNESCO Confucius Prize in 2012. Other organizations join the fight for education, such as Fundación Corona and Fundación Luker.

Another solution to reduce the gap in education is mobile applications. Eneza Education is an example of this advance. With its interactive multi-platform application, Eneza is already helping 2.6 million people in Africa. Technology like this can be adopted in rural areas in order to make education accessible and help people in Colombia.

Malnutrition still affects areas in Colombia, especially in places like La Guajira, home of the Wayú community. In this native settlement, 90 percent of the families have a cyclical food shortage. In addition, 2000 Wayú children under five years have severe problems of malnutrition, according to research conducted by El Tiempo.

The Foundation Wayuu Taya works for improving the living conditions of this indigenous community in the South American country. The organization accepts donations via its web page and it has also an online shop where it sells bags made by Wayú. All the resources it acquires help the Wayú community.

Fundación Pies Descalzos also provides better nutrition to children in poor communities, including the Wayú. It has developed a nutrition plan where the kids are able to have adequate levels of nutrition. The founder of this organization is the popular Colombian singer Shakira, who has also worked in other poor communities around the world.

The actual Colombian government struggles to erase the social inequality that exists between rural and urban zones. However, there are still problems that have to be resolved. The organizations and solutions presented above are ways to help people in Colombia, and the good news is that these foundations are looking for alternatives to reduce poverty in their country.

Darío Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

 Common Diseases in ColombiaAs a country with a tropical climate, Colombia is susceptible to all the illnesses and dangers that go along with such a climate. Mosquitoes abound, the heat and great heights cause rashes and altitude sickness and contaminated water can lead to many different illnesses. Luckily, Colombia has some of the best medical treatment in all of South America, and many of these diseases are on the decline. Still, the following illnesses are some of the most prevalent and serious threats presently facing the country:

  1. Zika virus
    Like all the diseases on this list, Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, though it can also be passed through sex. Zika currently poses the greatest threat to pregnant women; infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Pregnant women are therefore advised not to travel where mosquitoes are most abundant, which is anywhere below an elevation of 6,500 feet (which, unfortunately, comprises most of Colombia). Zika is also tricky to detect, as most people with the virus do not show symptoms. As of June 2017, there have been 1,342 reported cases of Zika in Colombia, a 60 fold drop from the previous year.
  2. Malaria
    Of the most common diseases in Colombia, malaria may also be one of the most serious and potentially deadly, and is, once again, spread mainly by mosquitoes. The disease occurs year-round, and is present everywhere below 5,577 feet. Travelers are advised to take preventative prescription medication, particularly if they venture into rural areas, where the risk is higher. Symptoms of malaria, unlike Zika, are fairly obvious, including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. In 2016, 83,356 cases of malaria were reported in Colombia.
  3. Dengue fever
    Another one of the most common diseases in Colombia, is contracted through contact with mosquitoes, most commonly during the day and often indoors. While most people only experience a rash, fever and muscle pain for about a week, dengue fever can be life-threatening for some. So far, 2017 has seen 14,152 cases of dengue, a 78 percent reduction from the previous year.
  4. Chikungunya
    This disease is fairly new to Colombia, having first arrived in 2014. Yet another mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya is most common in lowland population centers. Its symptoms are similar to that of dengue fever, but it is not, as of yet, known to be fatal. In 2017, a total of 619 chikungunya cases were reported, a whopping 96 percent less than the previous year.

As is evident, a large number of the most common diseases in Colombia are spread through mosquito bites, so it is crucial to the health of those in Colombia that preventative measures are taken. Most, though not all, of the above diseases have vaccines that protect against them, which is good news for Colombians who live in cities with access to medical care. Rural areas, however, are still lacking in healthcare facilities. Other preventative options include mosquito nets, which are widely used, and mosquito-repelling sprays, though neither of these present a completely foolproof solution. It will be important in the coming years, particularly as the Zika virus continues to spread throughout South America, to ensure that healthcare is available to all who need it.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Cost of Living in Colombia
Just like many countries, the cost of living in Colombia varies depending on the location, but, overall, the small South American country delivers a low cost of living to its citizens, while offering all the amenities of a more expensive country.

The low prices can be seen across the country in everyday expenses. Real estate ranges from as high as $1,250 a month in a major city to $350 in a small town. The same goes for buying property in Colombia. Land can sell anywhere from $1 million to about $250,000. Additionally, residents spend an average of $75 on utilities such as water, electricity and gas.

Although on average, expenses are generally higher in Bogota, boasting a price index of 88 out of 100, most places in Colombia boast cheap everyday prices for residents. Additionally, compared to major cities in the U.S., the cost of living in Colombia is generally 50 percent cheaper.

Low costs on everyday items are essential for native Colombians, as 27.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2015. Colombia also faces a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, both of which are caused by the social imbalances and unequal distribution of government programs.

However, with poverty steadily declining, Colombian citizens are able to enjoy more services, such as health care. Health care in Colombia is substantially cheaper than in developed countries like the United States. In fact, Colombian health care is reported to having procedure costs between 50 and 90 percent less than in the United States.

In addition, Colombia is a leading coal exporter, ranking as the world’s fourth largest coal exporter. The country also leads as the second largest coffee and cut flower exporter and is Latin America’s fourth largest oil producer.

The country’s GDP growth averaged 4.7 percent each year in the last decade. While Colombia has seen a recent rise in food and energy prices and an inflation spike, the country is still experiencing a 1.9 percent industrial production growth rate while boasting a $688 billion GDP in 2016.

Additionally, as the peso continues to drop due to the overproduction of oil, in 2016, one U.S. dollar could give residents up to 3,288 pesos, a 25 percent increase from the year prior.

With an increase in certain industries, such as coal and oil, and with the coupling of cheap healthcare and a low cost of living in Colombia, along with improved infrastructure, Colombia is quickly transforming from a country burdened with a high rate of poverty to a rising low cost country with all the amenities of a much more expensive country.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Pixabay

Strength of Words
Jose Alberto Gutierrez, a garbage man in Bogotá, Colombia, turns trashed books into treasure for the children in his community. For the past 20 years, Gutierrez has collected discarded books in the trash of the wealthier neighborhoods in Bogotá. He takes these books to his home in southern Bogotá, where he turned the first floor of his home into a free community library called The Strength of Words.

Gutierrez’s family could not afford for him to remain in school beyond primary. However, Gutierrez said his mother would still read to him every night and he credits her with his appreciation for books. So when he found a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the idea sparked. He began taking 50 to 60 books home with him each day on the job.

The Strength of Words now holds more than 20,000 books, all of which were found in the trash. Before the library, the children in his neighborhood didn’t have easy access to reading material. Now, they have unlimited access to books that can help them with their schoolwork and fulfil their other interests. Either way, The Strength of Words has made it easier for the children in his community to learn.

The library is not just for school children. Adults also have access to the wide variety of texts. They can use the books to learn skills they otherwise did not have, which can help them get jobs or advance in those they already have. Gutierrez also provides books for Colombia’s peace process after being contacted by a fighter from the FARC rebel group, who wanted books to help transition fighters back into civilian life and prepare them for jobs.

No longer able to contain the whole collection in his home, Gutierrez distributes books to other poor and remote towns throughout Colombia. He believes that there should be multiple libraries in every neighborhood in all towns, cities and rural areas. And he is making strides to see his dream become a reality.

The success of The Strengths of Words is an inspiring story of how one man recognized a need in his community and sought to fix it. Because of Gutierrez, many children and adults now have easy access to educational reading materials in their own neighborhoods.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Pixabay


The media’s obsession with Pablo Escobar and Colombia of the 1980s fails to highlight the massive achievements Colombia had in recent decades. Legitimate progress has been made in improving basic security and economic conditions. While Colombians in previous generations lived amidst some of the worst poverty and violence in all of the Americas, this has changed over the past 15 years. In 2016, the homicide rate in Colombia dropped to its lowest level since 1974.

International aid groups working with local communities were an indispensable part of these improving conditions. This stability has allowed for the government to seek a peace agreement with the FARC jungle insurgency that has been waging a guerilla war against the government for over half of a century. Here are five ways USAID can help build sustainable peace in Colombia.

  1. Delivering the $450 million of peace aid promised by the Obama administration that was recently allocated by Congress, can help achieve a more stable community. The Secretary of State still has the power to restrict funds and the Trump administration has considered reducing the total USAID budget by 30 percent, putting Colombia’s peace funds at risk. Colombian politicians to the right of conservative President Juan Manuel Santos have even tried to appeal to the U.S. Congress to freeze aid. A bipartisan effort must be made to protect the fragile peace in Colombia by continuing to grow the return on the aid investment in the country.
  2. Peace can be reached through increased protection of persecuted groups. Although homicides have been at a 45-year low, the targeted killing of labor organizers, human rights activists and former combatants has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2016, there were 116 human rights workers killed, and 7,000 FARC members have yet to be reintegrated back into society. These killings undermine the rule of law fundamental to democracy and silence those trying to make necessary reforms.
  3. Syria is the only place with more internally displaced people than Colombia. Whenever possible, USAID should facilitate ways to help people move back to their homes. One successful land restitution initiative depended on ensuring owners land deeds and then paying them to improve their own abandoned farms, this way poor farmers could afford to stay and invest in their home for the season.
  4. Supporting Crop Substitution Programs, like Cacao for Peace, help farmers develop a sustainable living by teaching them to cultivate alternative crops to replace the illicit drug economy. Areas deep in FARC territory were previously not eligible to receive development funds spent in “pacified areas.” The scorched earth policy of dropping pesticides on coca fields has not worked. Coca crops have increased by 38 percent since the beginning of Plan Colombia. However, USAID’s track record developing crop substitution in pacified areas has been stellar. USAID’s Nebraska Mission aimed to teach rose farming to poor farmers. Fifty years later, roses are a billion dollar vital export industry for Colombia.
  5. Displaced people in Colombia generally move from the countryside to the city. When displaced residents living in makeshift slums outside Cartagena organized for better conditions, they were able to convince USAID to purchase ground for them to build what would become known as the “City of Women.” Women learned construction techniques, built a city, and were rewarded with deeds to their own homes. This not only empowers women economically, it helps them compete in the labor market. Now, it’s a model the government wants to replicate in other parts of the country.

There are considerable challenges to building a sustainable peace in Colombia. From reintegrating FARC members from the world’s oldest guerrilla war back into society to helping the nearly seven million internally displaced Colombians find adequate housing. However, these challenges shouldn’t discourage us from acting. Critics should note that extreme poverty was halved in Colombia from 2002-2014.

In the 1980s, Colombia was a failing state, today it is a stable American ally with a growing economy and a young fragile peace.

Jared Gilbert

Photo: Flickr


Noting her country’s unrelenting stance on its budget, musician Shakira will be opening her seventh school to provide better education in Colombia for impoverished children.

Since the 1960s, education in Colombia has changed drastically, with government funding growing ten-fold. In fact, because government funding has increased 5.75 percent in 2015, Colombia’s primary school enrollment has doubled, secondary school enrollment has increased six-fold and university enrollment has increased fifteen times over.

In 2009, the country’s Education Minister, Cecilia Velez, noted that high school enrollment rose from 400,000 to 700,000 in the past five years. However, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, much of Colombia is still catching up to modern times and is still striving to lower poverty that keeps children out of school.

Approximately 30.6 percent of Colombia’s population lives below the poverty line, and Colombia ranks as the tenth most unequal country in the world. Among those most affected by poverty and inequality are children. In addition, of that 30.6 percent, 42.8 percent are impoverished rural people, while 26.9 percent live in urban areas.

Although Colombia has made great strides over the past few years in reforming education, little has been done to accommodate children in poverty trying to go to school. Students have even resorted to protesting on the streets, demanding a better investment in schools and making education in Colombia a priority.

However, Velez noted that achieving higher quality and more accessible education would take a greater investment by the government, and with a strict budget going toward security and defense rather than education, little can be done.

To combat this budgetary issue, Shakira and her foundation, the Pies Descalzos Foundation, have been building schools around Colombia for nearly 20 years. The singer specifically chooses rural, impoverished areas where the government has little to no involvement to give children the opportunity to attend school. She has already built six schools, and this time she’s focusing on her home, Barranquilla, where 25.7 percent of the town’s population lives below the poverty line.

Teaming up with FC Barcelona and La Caixa Banking Foundation, 1.2 million euros will be donated to build the new school, which will be named “Institución Nuevo Bosque.” The Colombian Ministry of Education and the City of Barranquilla have also volunteered to donate the remaining balance of the project.

Shakira noted that by providing education to children shackled down by their economic status, they are being liberated and having their minds opened to things they could never have imagined. In addition, the singer hopes that the opening of a new school will help provide jobs, security and peace to the conflict-ridden town.

With the construction of her seventh school, set to be finished in 2019, Shakira will be providing education in one of the darkest corners of Colombia.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr

FARC Peace Deal

In Colombia, the conflict between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has officially ended as of September, after 52 years of unrest. From Havana, Cuba, the historic FARC peace deal between the left-wing rebels and the Columbian government is a vital step on Colombia’s path to prosperity. For Colombians, peace has been given a chance at last, and it is now time for society to create new hope for its children.

According to the Fitch Ratings, the peace deal is already paying dividends, and will allow the government to rebuild its revenue base while also reducing debt. The cessation of conflict in previously-uninhabitable areas would prompt investment and allow space for new international markets, especially in mining and agriculture.

Furthermore, President Obama pledged $450 million in aid to Colombia in the next year. While many analysts do not expect a quick change, the economy itself has been recovering for the past decade. With the coming peace package, the economy will receive a much-needed boost.

The peace deal heralds great opportunities for Colombia, but progress will not come without considerable challenges. Reintegration, disarmament and a period of stabilization will have high costs to begin with. Alberto Ramos, head of Latin American Economics at Goldman Sachs, said that “over time, the economic peace dividend is expected to more than offset the initial costs associated with the disarmament and integration of the rebel forces into civil society.”

One possible threat to the FARC peace deal is the reconfiguration of rebel groups, since nothing is stopping guerrilla fighters from forming new extremist political groups and alliances. Violent groups and non-state actors could mobilize individuals to their cause, and set their sights on any political power vacuum created by the emerging peace. Therefore, a new security game plan for Colombia is required.

 

Noman Ashraf

Photo: Flickr