Gámeza and Mongua are two municipalities located in the department of Boyacá (Colombia). According to the population projection of the National Administrative Department of Statistics in Colombia – DANE, more than 4,900 people live in those territories. Their economic livelihood depends mainly on agricultural activities, among which potato cultivation stands out.
Collective sustainable production
With the purpose of contributing to the sustainable development of these municipalities, in 2015 the Swiss Foundation for Development Cooperation SWISSAID created Montañas Vivas. A project that through collective participation strategies, engages in the recovery and proper use of the ecosystems of the Leonera and Saza basins.
“We seek an integral development of the territory for the peasants, with an approach of participation by men and women of the countryside. The fundamental purpose is to improve their living conditions, including productive, economic, environmental and social aspects,” says Rubén García, general coordinator of Montañas Vivas, with conviction.
To achieve this goal, SWSSAID has formed a technical team that advises and trains peasants from five community organizations:
- the Asociación Campesina Comunidad en Acción – ACCA
- the Asociación Campesina Manos Unidas
- the Asociación de Mujeres Campesinas Proactivas
- the Asociación Huerto Alto Andino
- the Asociación Integral Campesina de Tunjuelo, Dintá y San Ignacio
In the organizations, peasants acquire knowledge and tools on topics such as the identification of social, economic and environmental problems, territorial planning and agroecology. According to García, this has enabled the communities to take ownership of their territory, giving rise to a collective planning unit.
Fabio Salamanca is a farmer living in Mongua, Boyacá. He used to work in mining, but today he works on his farm, where he grows various agroecological products in the greenhouse, ensuring sustainable production. He belongs to the Huerto Altoandino association:
«This would be a new approach to offer an alternative to the people here in Mongua, who are in a difficult economic situation. They could make a living thanks to agroecological production and become a profitable business. To this end, the association developed a project in which my farm would be a showcase within the community for others. We wanted to start with 11 people. Currently, about 7 people are involved in the project, but new people are constantly coming with new ideas and showing interest in the project.»
This has generated significant changes, including the implementation of organic crops, vegetable gardens and greenhouses for the recovery of ancestral species and seeds. In addition, this has allowed peasants to build biological corridors made of living fences for the protection of water basins.
This great commitment has managed to recover 18 types of ancestral seeds of chava potato, cubes, turnips, ibias, black wheat, red wheat, creole peas and creole lentils. Peasants use them for self-sufficiency and local marketing. The seeds thus strengthen food security and income generation for more than 300 families.
Strengthening the role of women
Montañas Vivas has set out to strengthen the role of women in the communities, according to García. “We further the participation of women so that they are recognized as fundamental actors in the conservation of the territory and the production of food for the family. They occupy a very important place. We develop training and empowerment processes with them in technical, productive, social and political aspects.”
This project is a clear example that territorial growth is closely linked to collective work, and that the inclusion of communities in development plans is necessary to generate positive transformations that not only benefit the environment, but also improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.
(Original article: Montañas Vivas, un sueño comunitario basado en la protección ambiental, El Campesino, 12 July 2021. Photo: Oscar Yair Suárez)