The project launched by the Colombian alliance “Guardianas de los Páramos”, of which SWISSAID is a member, aims to protect the ecosystems of six municipalities in the Boyacá region. The focus is on the rehabilitation of traditional agricultural varieties and techniques, the protection of biodiversity and the strengthening of the role of rural women. Fernando Chaves Valbuena, journalist for elcampesino.co, tells us about it through the women who carry this project.
The project aims to contribute to the sustainable improvement of the quality of life of women and men in six municipalities of Boyaca, particularly in the paramos of Tota-Bijagual-Mamapacha and Pisba. To achieve this objective, the project has three main axes: promoting traditional crops and commercializing them, protecting the environment and biodiversity, and strengthening the position of women in governance and leadership.
This project is co-financed by the SDC program contribution.
“I consider myself 100% a farmer and I’m proud to be. I am very happy to live in the countryside, to be in an environment where you feel free, where you can breathe clean air, have a connection with nature, grow your own food, which is healthy, varied, and allows you a better quality of life.”
Rosaura García is an agronomy student and technical assistant for the Guardianas de los Páramos project. She puts her passion at the service of the project, which is spread across six municipalities in Boyacá and aims to protect ecosystems. To do so, it promotes adaptation to climate change, encourages food sovereignty of families, strengthens 34 social organizations and develops economic autonomy and empowerment of women.
The project was born from the convergence of objectives and dreams between the peasant organizations of Boyacá and three international entities active in the country: the Global Environment Facility (GEF) (Programa de Pequeñas Donaciones del Fondo para el Medio Ambiente Mundial), the Corporación Mundial de la Mujer and SWISSAID.
Páramos are a form of vegetation characterised by grasslands above the tree line in the tropical high mountains of South America. Páramos can store large amounts of carbon and water and are an important natural water reservoir. Subpáramos are located somewhat lower and form the transition between the Andean high forests and the alpine páramos.
Joint efforts for food security
Within the 6 municipalities, agriculture has declined. The reason for this is the ever-increasing import of food and the use of land and people for coal mining, which also degrades water sources. Rubén García, SWISSAID’s coordinator for the Boyacá region, describes the paradox : truckloads of food from the cities pouring into these rural areas, which have been numbed by potato monoculture and the abandonment of traditional markets.
One of the main objectives of the project is to introduce agroecological practices and restore lost varieties. Families can then ensure a healthy and varied diet. “We promote agroecological and low impact systems for the páramo. To do this, we are building greenhouses and vegetable gardens to increase the production of a variety of foods, and we are reintroducing native species and potato plants for the families’ consumption as well as for sale in the markets,” explains Ana Beatriz Barona, GEF coordinator in Colombia.
Within the framework of the project, a school for seed keepers was created in Boyacá. This school is in close contact with the network of schools that SWISSAID has in other parts of the country. In addition, 284 vegetable gardens have been created. These gardens have been transformed from a potato monoculture to a variety of corn, wheat, potatoes, quinoa, beans, peas, lentils, cabbages and other products, thus restoring the value of a traditional diet that was long considered to be “the food of the poor”.
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As a result, the family diet has grown from less than 10 to more than 30 different products. Effective sales techniques taught through marketing strategies have enabled farmers to generate income from the sale of surplus crops in the 13 project markets. In addition, 15 pig production units, 36 community beehives, 55 greenhouses and 51 irrigation systems have been established.
Traditional techniques are also being revived, such as the use of stone mills to produce wheat and corn flour. These flours are marketed by a network of artisans and could give a new impetus to these crops that have fallen into disuse due to imports and public policies.
For Walquiria Perez, representative of SWISSAID Colombia, this economic component is very important. “Projections have been made on how the farm can generate income for the family, on possible diversifications, crop plans, as well as the amount consumed and marketed. It is important to think in terms of sustainability so that you are not dependent on one source. And that the income obtained from agriculture can balance the lack that used to come from the mines, and that people get more involved.”
In addition to feeding the families, the project promotes the raising of small livestock, such as the sheep in this case, which has a triple function: 1. it provides meat, 2. it provides wool, which generates income for the families, and 3. it provides clothing, as the wool is used to make ruanas (ponchos), which are adapted to the cold climates in which the project families live.
Photo: Rosaura García, technical team of the project
Participants in the project were supported to build greenhouses and vegetable gardens to obtain a greater variety of production. Native species and potato plants have also been reintroduced. All these measures allow the inhabitants to improve their food security.
Here, Carlos Humberto Rincón, secretary of the TDS association of Mongua, presents the greenhouse productions.
Photo: Rosaura García, technical team of the project.
Before the start of the project, the Páramos areas were in a desolate state. Large areas were deforested to gain pastures for cattle breeding. In addition, the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides was high, soil quality continued to decline and rivers were polluted by the chemical and solid waste.
To date, seven community tree nurseries have been established, eight water pipes have been optimised, eleven water sources have been protected, 16 indigenous species have been propagated and 6,700 trees have been planted. Most importantly, communities have been sensitised and trained in the sustainable management of soils and water sources, which has raised awareness of environmental protection.
Empowerment and recognition of women
Involving about 6,000 women and 5,000 men, the project depends on women’s empowerment. “We have a vocation to work with women and we are convinced that when women are empowered, their whole family benefits. This generates development in the communities and regions where we work,” says Ana Lucía Jiménez of the Corporación de la Mujer. The social component thus focuses on promoting gender equality, women’s participation in local political spaces and decision-making, the fight against domestic violence and economic independence.
As Walquiria Pérez points out, “The role of women in this process is very important, because they are more open to change, more daring, more willing to learn, more diligent, and they respond to challenges much more quickly. At the community level, organizations are aware that they are on sensitive ground, but where there is a will to change, there are politically empowered women who are beginning to influence development plans.”
And the young Rosaura concludes: “The best thing about this project is that I can help people and encourage other boys and girls around me to bet on the campaign. This marks a before and after in my life.”
Text by Fernando Chaves Valbuena. Volunteer journalist. Original and complete article: Guardianas de los Páramos, liderazgo femenino en defensa de la vida, elcampesino, February 28, 2022