The challenges and complexity of climate change and its impact on food security is very noticeable in the Montes de Maria, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. This is predominantly an agricultural region where farmers depend on crops such as corn, cassava and ñame to survive. It is also a region that suffered intense violence due to paramilitary and armed groups during the late 90’s to the early 2000’s. This violence displaced a large majority of the population. Since the violence, returned farmers and their families have struggled to regain a dignified life. In recent years, they have had to confront a new challenge: climate change.
Climate change has caused significant rainfall in some areas and no rainfall in other areas. The rainfall also arrives at different times of the year than in the past, which is a challenge for farmers to know when to plant and when to harvest. Intense rainfall has caused major road damage and has made it almost impossible for certain farmers to sell their products. In the Montes de Maria, there are farmers that live in isolated areas, high up in the mountains. Imagine trying to get your 20 bags of cassava down a mountain with a donkey and then trying to cross 6 major rivers, in a small truck?
Climate change is no joke. It is a frustrating, challenging and unpredictable.
What options do these farmers have? How can they adapt to the challenges that climate change presents? The farmers are trying to find the answers themselves by experimenting with different methods to continue cultivating and surviving.
One organization in the Montes de Maria that is working closely with these farmers is MCC partner Sembrandopaz. Sembrandopaz is a local, grassroots organization that has accompanied communities in the Montes de Maria since 1996. A fundamental concept for Sembrandopaz is ‘buen vivir’ or ‘good living’. Community sustainability is one of Sembrandopaz’s main goals. However, for Sembrandopaz, sustainability does not just mean ecological and environmental conservation, it means creating the social, political and economic conditions that constitute well-being and good living. The Economy for Good Living team in Sembrandopaz seeks to address this by supporting the communities in alternative productive projects that respect the environment while providing a dignified life for the farmers and their families.
Etelvina Salas, director of the Economy for Good Living team, says that:
A way to confront the effects of climate change is to start by changing the way you think. Instead of using aggressive and chemical farming practices, change them for practices that are kinder for the environment, that not only respect nature but also care for the health of people.
Etelvina and her team have been implementing several different strategies in the communities to accomplish these goals.
Firstly, the Economy for Good Living team is following a strategy of the agroecology school, ‘EPPA’ by working with a small group of farmers in each community and teaching them about agroecology. They have taught practices such as traditional seed use and alternatives to burning the land and using chemical fertilizers. The idea is to choose an agricultural promoter for each community out of this group of people. The promoter is responsible for teaching the practices to the rest of the community by giving workshops as well as implementing their own ecological garden.
Beyond this, Etel says that “Sembrandopaz is also implementing rural technologies such as biodigestors (the use of manure and water to create natural gas to cook, as well as produce an organic fertilizer), agroecology farms, plant diversification, harvesting rainwater, identifying tree species that are good for water conservation, and a river diagnostic.” All of these techniques help farmers become more conscientious of their actions and provide them the knowledge and ability to use alternatives farming practices that allow them to confront climate change, continue to farm, and have a higher level of food security.
In Febuary, Etel took part in an encounter with other MCC partners in Haiti. The encounter mainly focused on food sustainability and climate change. Being in Haiti allowed Etel and the other MCC partners to learn and see completely new things, based on the Haitian culture and context. Beyond this, all the MCC partners have different experiences and come from different work environments so they had the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with each other as well.
Etel was struck by some of the productive projects that the organizations in Haiti are initiating because of how truly transformative they are. One project the partners visited on the outskirts of Port au Prince, is transforming moringa into oil as a form of generating funds for a sports school. Sembrandopaz has been promoting the use of moringa in the communities as a nutritional benefit for families, but had not previously thought of using the moringa to generate funds before Haiti. Currently, Sembrandopaz is looking to purchase a machine to make oil out of moringa leaves.
Sembrandopaz, among many other organizations in the Montes de Maria, is choosing to confront the issues climate change presents to food security by being creative, finding alternatives to harmful farming practices, and being open to learning new ideas. It is important that we never think food security and climate change are too complicated to confront. We need to push through the challenges and continue to find solutions that work to sustain farmers and their families, the people that feel the effects of a changing world most profoundly.