The hope that forges development of Colombian rural communities

The story of an organized peasant community that resists peacefully on and for the land.

“This is our vocation, and it’s something our family enjoys as well,” were the words of Oscar, a peasant from the community of Puerto Carreño in San Alberto, Cesar. Over eighty peasant families have organized themselves for more than twenty years to defend and protect their rights and lands, including food sovereignty of subsistence crops that flourish particularly well in the region.

In early 1948, several peasant families arrived in these lands and settled. With the particular love that only peasant hands knew how to give, a bond was created between them and the land. They began cultivating cassava, banana, corn, and beans and planted fruit trees, allowing families to grow their agricultural activities in a balanced and fair manner among themselves. A rootedness to the land started pulsating throughout the community because what would a campesino community be without land to cultivate? This deep-rootedness is actually what allows us to have food on our tables today. But one day, in 1958, after establishing itself for nearly ten years in these territories, the oil palm industry arrived to Puerto Carreño forcefully and quickly. It was greedy and monstrous, as only large corporations knew how to be. This is where everything started to change.

The palm industry affects biodiversity and pollutes water and air, and that only covers the environmental impacts. At the same time, it damages and tears apart the social and organizational fabric of peasant communities. These communities are threatened, stigmatized and stripped of their lands by large corporations and this is precisely what happened in Puerto Carreño. Two large palm oil companies, Palma San Alberto and Agroindustriales El Palmar, have attacked the farming community to the point that many families have barely 1.25 hectares of land for their agricultural activity. In Colombia, according to the Unit for Family Agriculture (UAF for its initials in Spanish), the minimum amount of land needed for a family to subsistence farm is between four to ten hectares; this puts the families of Puerto Carreño in a severe crisis of land and the development of their peasant vocation.

It was at this point when the community decided to organize, forming ASOPRODAGRO (The Association of Agricultural and Livestock Producers of the district of Puerto Carreño) in 2003. Their motto focuses on the hope that together, they will forge the development of the Colombian rural region, and it is through unity among people that significant changes can be achieved in the community and the world. These families have stood up to the monstrous palm industry, defending their work, crops, animals, families, and the land; how valuable is the land for those who genuinely care for it and love it! 

A couple of months ago, CPT visited Puerto Carreño, and a woman named Edilmaris, with a strong and cheerful voice, jokingly shared with us how she had resisted against the company the day they tried to put up a barbed wire fence. Edilmaris usually had her cows in the pen, but that day, she had let them out to graze among the oil palm trees which is the only way to feed the cows since the families have access to such minimal land to cultivate. The company, after occupying lands that did not belong to them and then increasingly suffocating the community to the point of leaving them with almost nothing, was not happy about the cows and began to fence in and enclose the farms at will. But Edilmaris, eloquent, articulate, and brave, raised her voice, stood before the company security guard, and cut the barbed wires. She insisted that she would do it as many times as necessary because “the land belongs to the community and this land deserves to be cared for by its true owners. These lands are the fruit of our years of work, and the land has witnessed our struggles and the inexhaustible love of our families who are resisting here.”

How true are the words of Edilmaris and Oscar. Today, the struggle and resistance continue in these territories. Communities like ASOPRODAGRO think, live, and resist resiliently day after day. They are the ones who inspire, and they are the ones who forge that hope for genuine progress in rural communities. 

CPT will continue to accompany communities whose stories must be told and heard. We are grateful for the work done by ASOPRODAGRO to build true progress and for allowing us to accompany them in their struggle. It is time for everyone to value this arduous work and to participate in policies that defend peasants as subjects with rights. It is time to be more empathetic because their stories should be ours too, to value the products we find in the local markets which are available only because of people like Edilmaris and Oscar. As Oscar said, “This is our vocation, the peasant vocation.”

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