We recently had the opportunity to interview Adri Senior, the President of CCI (Corporación Colombia Internacional). This an organization that works to strengthen production and sustainability of small farmers in Colombia. During our conversation, we touched on the peace deal with FARC, sustainable agriculture, and the role that CCI plays to empower small farmers in Colombia.
How did CCI originate?
When CCI was first established in 1992, it was modeled after an organization working with small farmers in Chile. It is a public private partnership. From the government side it has representation from the Ministry of Agriculture, ProColombia (the government’s export agency) and the National Dept. of Planning. On the private side it has representatives from some of the country’s largest industry groups.
What was happening in rural Colombia at the time that CCI was established, and how has that changed with the signing of the peace accord under President Santos?
Colombia experienced internal armed conflict for 54 years. 6 major regions in the country were occupied by guerrillas. In many places all the main economic activities were related to violence, such as the traffic of illicit drugs and gun running. There are many stories of kids as young as 12 being taken away from their parents to join the conflict. The presence of guerrillas slowed down the country’s economic development for decades, especially agriculture as small farmers were forced to participate in the drug trade by growing coca leaf. The outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos made it his goal to sign a peace accord with the FARC, the largest guerrilla group. In their agreement document, which is over 200-pages long, the very first article is about the re-allocation of lands. Another point that is very clear in the agreement is that cocaine production is illegal, and all activities related to it will be punishable by law. This means that small farmers will have to go back to growing legal crops. Although other armed groups like ELN are still operating, these are not anywhere near as large as the FARC. Therefore, we can say that the era of violence in Colombia has ended, and the country has become a great destination for foreign visitors and investors.
What has been CCI’s main contribution to Colombian small farmers?
When Adri became President of CCI she learned that most small farmers, which make up the majority of growers in Colombia, were living in poverty and greatly victimized by guerrillas and paramilitary groups. One of her first initiatives as President of CCI was the creation of a model named MACS (Sustainable and Competitive Agro-enterprise Models, for its acronym in Spanish). At the heart of this model is a reframing of the role and identity of small farmers, from victims of the external circumstances into empowered and competitive business owners. They do this by formalizing critical activities such as land ownership, financing and cooperation, empowering farmers to effectively become actors in the economic fabric of the country. In its first year, the MACS program reached 365 farmers. Today MACS reaches over 500,000 farmers, impacting the lives of millions in the countryside.
What economic opportunities does the peace accord create for the agro sector in Colombia and for CCI?
Colombia has 26 million hectares that are ready for agricultural production, but currently only a little over 7 million hectares are being utilized. With the lowering demand and production of oil, agriculture is where people’s eyes are. The peace deal’s article on reallocation of lands was written to ensure that this is done both fairly and sustainably.
The future of CCI is innovation. In the midst of the slowing down of the economy and the lack of funding, the organization’s new focus is innovation as a way of creating new sources of added value beyond only helping farmers be more productive and sustainable.
For investors in the agro sector, the current economic opportunities in Colombia include:
Production of fruits, especially what’s considered “exotic” fruits that only come from tropical areas. We have received lots of requests from investors in other countries.
Cocoa, due to the shortage of cocoa around the world. As of 2016 Colombia was an importer of cocoa, but with growing production, the country is trending towards becoming an exporter of cocoa.
trans:form:ed Bogota 2019 participants will see firsthand how small farmers that participate in the MACS program have effectively reframed the way they have identified themselves as victims of the circumstances, and instead become active and critical players in an industry that is essential to the economic development of the nation. We will also explore the topic of sustainability, both economically – to ensure that farmers lead successful businesses in a context of global competition - and environmentally – to ensure that the allocation of lands for agricultural use is done in a way that guarantees its productivity for generations to come.