The forum for land and rural development has begun, as part of the on-going peace process, in order to solicit views and opinions on food production and land limitaion in Colombia, reported El Tiempo Monday.
There have been mixed opinions regarding the forum with certain parties refusing to attend as they believe the discussions will deepen the differences between rival groups.
President Rafael Mejia of the Colombia Agricultural Society (SAC) represents the landowners, and said his initial reaction was to reject the invitation to attend as he thought more problems would surface because of the talks.
The problems Mejia referred to are those which are dividing wealthy land owners and peasants. The former favour large farms and industrial crop production, while the latter desire limits on land concentration and prioritization of food production.
However after some consideration Mejia changed his mind, “as long as discussions will not involve debates on private property or the market economy,” said Mejia.
President Jose Felix Lafaurie of the Colombian Federation of Livestock also represents landowners, but has taken a far more hardline position. “We’re not going to the forum, it is a useless exercise due to the rival position of the FARC on the one hand, who favour smallholdings [and food production], and ourselves on the other who favour producing for globalization [via industrial production],” said Lafaurie.
President Julio Armando Fuentes of the Agricultural Bureau represents 20 peasant organizations, and while he takes no issue with making the farming sector profitable for the benefit of all Colombians, it should not be done at the expense of the peasants.
One could see discussions between the organizations of Fuentes and Mejia being constructive. They may hold opposing views, but they both appear willing to open a dialogue.
For his organization’s part, Mejia emphasises their desire to work with campesinos to continue to reduce rural poverty, “to [give them access to] social security, pensions, and education,” to “partner with them to create wealth [and to] teach them to be entrepreneurs,” said Mejia.
When asked if he opposed peasant farm collectives which prevent land concentration and focus on food production, Mejia responded in the negative, but emphasised that rural development should always follow a path which “produces wealth for the peasant and the country.”
Fuentes’ main argument is Colombia should produce the food they consume, but the emphasis on cash crops by wealthy landowners in combination with a lack of government subsidies has resulted in net food imports.
The lack of subsidies puts Colombia’s agricultural sector at a distinct disadvantage with their heavily subsidized competitors in the US or Canada. Fuentes does not object to cash crops in principle, but said they must not take prioirity over food production.
Lafaurie argues the forum would, “rather than help the [peace] process, damage it due to the opposing views on the rural development model.” He also opposed the conversion of new land for peasants, arguing profitability should be the motive. However the motivating reason to reject the invite to the forum was that any conclusions drawn from the debate would be taken to the FARC at the negotiating table.
The forum takes place Monday December 17th in Bogota.