The Tierra Libre of Colombia is a model for sustainable agricultural practices

“My vision for the future has always been the same: to stay on the pitch. I didn’t know how to do it, but with the experience I had, I became convinced that it is necessary to implement a daily technological advance in the campaigns. I want to live in the countryside with a new vision, where young people feel welcome,” says Angie.

This is a key point and one of the main characteristics of the schools that Tierra Libre has founded in the region: responding to the challenge of ensuring that young people do not leave the countryside.

Young people between the ages of 14 and 18 make up some 12 million of Colombia’s population of around 50 million, according to the Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP). Among them, 22% are rural youth. One of the most pressing challenges facing Colombian society is keeping these young people in the countryside. The large urban population of the region results mainly from the abandonment of the countryside, which has become unsustainable and victims of industrial, agri-food and trade wars.

The future looks bleak. According to the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Center (Celade), in 1950 the rural population was slightly higher than the urban population. Today, it is expected that by 2050, less than 15% of the population will live in the countryside.

When young people leave the countryside, there is a shortage of productive labor, leaving only two options: abandonment or industrial exploitation, which has a negative impact on the soil and the market. Leaders like Angie and agroecological projects are the key to a sustainable future – teaching a new way of understanding, encouraging young people and providing useful activities.

“Here, women were encouraged to take on leadership roles, to love each other, to be strong and empowered,” says Angie. Women have become one of the structuring axes of the project. The publication ‘Andares de mujeres del Sumapaz’ explains how rural women are the key to the development of food sovereignty and the rural economy. Women are not only farmers and entrepreneurs, they are also responsible for the welfare of their families, including providing food, caring for children and the elderly.

Despite being the pillar that sustains peasant communities, women farmers in Colombia can only make decisions in 26% of agricultural production units (UPA), according to the 2013 National Agricultural Census. Another worrying fact, which shows the precariousness of women in the countryside, is that women only hold titles to 26% of the land. Empowerment processes for rural women, through schools and organizations such as Tierra Libre, are important to ensure a more balanced and sustainable production system.

Angie wants to further her education and pursue her dream of living in a fairer countryside where technology is the path to real sustainability for peasant economies.

Sarita, Guardian of La Huerta

Sara Daniela Martinez. | Andres Bernal

Sara Daniela Martínez, known as Sarita, is an administrator who manages the eco-shop La Huerta, one of the flagships of the Tierra Libre project. She works in economics and fair trade, which are the foundations of La Huerta, and also deals with gender issues within the organization.

Founded in 2016, La Huerta directly supports the local economy by selling only food grown by area farmers. Its main objective is to deepen the links between farmers and those who receive the food they grow. Its name is a tribute to traditional peasant houses with their subsistence vegetable gardens.

At La Huerta, every process is transparent; by interacting directly with the farmers who grow the food, people can understand the crop cycle. Sarita says that thanks to La Huerta, many farming families have stable livelihoods that they did not have before.

Sustainable supply chains, which provide workers down the chain with stable jobs through fair trade, have long been promoted by organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO). The importance of these chains is evident in the numbers. For example, coffee is grown in more than 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. About 80% of the world’s coffee is produced by 25 million farmers, mostly smallholders with less than five hectares of land.

This scenario repeats itself with different cultures in the region. The close proximity between producers and the market, eliminating middlemen who do not add value but add price, means that fair trade has become key to the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Rebecca R. Santistevan