Colombia’s organic agriculture movement has less than a 1% share of total agricultural land in the country, making it the smallest in South America, according to a study by the Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and statistics of the Colombia’s Agricultural Institute (ICA).
Organic production area in Colombia during 2013 was equivalent to roughly 84,000 acres while countries like Uruguay — a leader in organic agriculture — grow over 2 million acres, or a 6.3% share of their total agricultural land, the report experts at FiBL read.
According to Professor Tomas Leon Sicard from Colombia’s National University, “if Colombia decided to promote agroecology, solutions will be found to many of the problems the agriculture sector face, and could even be a path to reach peace.” Agroecology is a holistic approach to sustainable farming with many of the principles of organic agriculture.
|“The objective is to recuperate the social fabric that has been damaged by more than 20 years of the armed conflict.” -Organic farmer|
Food systems have failed
This year has been declared by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as the International Year of Family Farming. The FAO and other NGO groups have been engaged in several projects around Colombia promoting small scale sustainable farming with mixed support from the Colombian government.
Earlier this year, a special rapporteur on the right to food presented his report to the UN General Assembly after six years of research. The report states that, “The food systems the world inherited from the twentieth century have failed.” The current food system is focused on producing five staple crops: corn, wheat, rice, soy, and potatoes.
The second recommendation of the special rapporteur after urging nations to reinvest in agriculture, is to support agroecology.
“Moving towards sustainable modes of agricultural production is vital for future food security and an essential component of the right to food. Agroecology has enormous potential in that regard,” he said.
Even though extreme hunger has dropped close to 9% globally, according to the FAO, it does not take into account short term malnourishment that can stunt growth and mental development. Instead data on hunger is collected based on simple calorie intake, not taking into account the lack of essential vitamins and minerals, one of the leading causes of malnourishment.
Arguments for Colombia’s sustainable farming
Sustainable farming promotes biodiversity, small scale family operations, the formation of cooperatives and associations, and food security. Small scale sustainable farming depends on diverse crops to prevent disease and pests from devastating a whole crop as is the case in many mono-crops farming operations where the producer must depend heavily on pesticides and fungicides.
The resulting diverse crop production allows the small farmer to reach food security and sell off the rest of the produce at a stable price that is not dependent on the international price fluctuations of crops and chemicals.
Colombia blows its neighbors out of the water when it comes to the use of agrochemicals, according to data provided by the World Bank. Ecuador and Venezuela used an average of 190 pounds of fertilizers in 2010 per acre compared to Colombia’s average of 515 pounds per acre.
The agrochemical use in Colombia is poorly regulated and farmers’ dependence on them has been a factor in the nationwide agricultural strikes, which hit the country in April when farmers asked the government to reduce fertilizer prices.
Farmers in the middle of civil conflict
A farmer in an organic agriculture development project stated, “we search for independence and empowerment to avoid being again displaced victims. The objective is to recuperate the social fabric that has been damaged by more than 20 years of the armed conflict in the region,” according to El Espectador newspaper.
Colombia’s rural farmers, or “campesinos”, have been largely affected by displacement in the 50-year long armed conflict between the government, armed guerrilla groups, and right-wing paramilitaries. The current government of President Juan Manuel Santos has been holding peace talks with the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, in a bid to end the conflict.
However, the first round of presidential elections which took place on May 25 may have an effect on the continuation of the peace talks as Santos’ main rival in the upcoming second round elections, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, seeks to end the dialogue with the rebels.
Colombia ranks 11th worst in the world concerning land distribution as 80% of the land is owned by 14% of the population, according to an Oxfam report.
- Special Rapporteur on the right to food (UN Report)
- The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends (FiBL)
- Colombia, el único país donde decrece la agricultura ecológica (El Espectador)
- Divide and Purchase (Oxfam)
- Consumo de Fertilizantes (World Bank)