Working on the fields until you’re ready to drop, but never enough to eat on the plate: that was the reality for a long time for many people in the Colombian Boyacá Department. For instance, in the hinterland of the town of Mongua, which has 3,000 residents, poverty, malnutrition and even hunger were familiar issues for the local population until very recently. When the women farmers converted their production to organic produce thanks to SWISSAID’s farming courses, and massively cut back on the use of chemical fertiliser, as well as boosted the fertility of the depleted soil, their lives improved. They learned to build simple greenhouses to protect tender plants from the cold air in the Andes. Many started breeding rabbits and sheep as a sideline. Together the families also worked to provide a functioning water supply. But it was a challenge to market their fresh produce and without ready money in Mongua you can neither buy school materials nor clothing.
Organic trend here, farmers there
Corpovertice, a social organisation from the region that campaigns for farmers’ causes, then had the bright idea of direct sales to local towns with regular orders for organic veg deliveries. The organic trend among Colombia’s upper and middle-classes played into their hands. Corpovertice turned to the farmers’ organisation “Huerta Alto Andino de Mongua”, which SWISSAID supports, and found 47 women farmers and 4 men farmers who were keen to sell their surplus harvest in the cities. Since then the organisation has supervised the entire logistical process; it checks compliance with organic guidelines and ensures that customers receive their veg boxes every two weeks.
No selling agents
The delivery service only has advantages for the farmers: they don’t have to drive into the cities to sell their produce and are no longer reliant on the expensive services of selling agents. Most importantly, they have the security of finding buyers for their harvest and achieving a fair price. The system also works for the consumers: they pay the same as in the supermarket for conventional food, yet they receive fresh organic products delivered directly to the front door.
Rediscovering old varieties
Another thing has improved since the introduction of organic veg box deliveries: the farmers produce more old vegetable varieties again and they are moving away from the potato monopoly on their fields. This not only meets customer demand, but also does the soil good. The farmers’ families enjoy more varied and healthier food – malnutrition is noticeably decreasing.
Tips for preparation
Eggs, different cabbage varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, oranges, cheese, artichokes, beetroot, radish and traditional root vegetables from the Andes – the contents of the deliveries are colourful and varied. But how are the more unusual vegetables prepared? Corpovertice organises tastings and provides tips and recipes. Here is an adapted recipe for roast vegetables that can be created with Swiss vegetables. The online store Pro Specie Rara, for example, offers many old organic vegetable varieties. Roast vegetables make an excellent side dish with meat, fish or grilled cheese in the colder season.
Recipe: Roast vegetables à la Colombienne
Serves 4 people
- 800–1000 g winter vegetables, e.g. different varieties of carrots, beetroot, parsnips, pumpkin, onions, fennel and almost any other available root vegetable. Peel, prepare and roughly chop the vegetables into chunks.
- 1–2 pears, as preferred, coarsely cut
- 2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
- 5 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 200° C. Combine the vegetables well with the other ingredients. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes. If you prefer the other vegetables not to colour red, place the beetroot pieces at the edge of the baking tray. Depending on the oven, occasionally turn and cover with aluminium foil just before the end of the roasting time. Serve and enjoy!