Working with the indigenous Pasto people in southern Colombia
Since 2007, AVSF has been working in southern Colombia with indigenous organizations of Pasto people and civil society organizations that carry out activities for: land development and local development on autonomous Indian lands, encouraging a shift towards more agro-ecological production, and promoting local smallholder products.
With a total land area twice the size of France, Colombia is the third most populated country in Latin America and the fourth biggest economic power in the region. Nevertheless, the poverty rate in rural areas is over 60% (2006), extreme poverty is over 20%, and Colombia has a structural food deficit. Nearly 70% of farms are smaller than five hectares and account for less than 4% of the country’s agricultural land, which highlights the extreme level of inequality in terms of access to land. According to many analysts, this land-access inequality may be one reason behind an armed conflict within the country that has endured for over a half a century now. Despite chronic insecurity, Colombia is a country that offers many opportunities thanks to a high level of education among its population and relatively stable institutions. Colombia is also a pioneering country: its Constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous populations (3.4% of the total population) and grants them some autonomy in managing their lands.
Agro-ecology, short cupply chains, and democratic management of rural land
Since insecurity persists in many rural areas of Colombia, AVSF’s work is limited to the Nariño department in the south of the country. This region is very closely connected, both socially and economically, with northern Ecuador, where AVSF’s engagement is stronger and has been in place for a longer period of time. But the indigenous Pasto people have always resided on both sides of the border that separates these two countries.
Since 2011, AVSF has therefore been working with Pasto communities and the Agro-ecologic Movement of Latin America (MAELA) on a cross-border project to provide technical assistance to 400 smallholder families for the improvement of highly-diversified and organic production systems. Several producer organizations were created or strengthened to take charge of smallholder markets and other systems of direct sale.
Finally, AVSF facilitates exchange and dialogue between Indian organizations and government authorities, particularly local authorities, so that these organizations’ proposals with respect to land development and standards for the sustainable management of natural resources are taken into account.