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Rural Poverty Is Still a Scar on the Soul of Colombia, but a New Program Supporting Agri-Entrepreneurship Can Help Heal the Wounds

Jesus Quintana is LAC Subregional Head and Country Director for Colombia at the International Fund for Agricultural Development

Group of Afro-Colombian women in Guapi, Cali, showing the area where they will start a new banana plantation. Credit: IFAD

LIMA, Peru, Oct 14 2019 (IPS) - Rural poverty and inequality continue inflicting large swaths of population in Colombia, especially in rural areas. This situation, endemic since at least the beginning of the twentieth century, was at the root of the 50-year long conflict that shattered the country, leaving 220,000 deaths and 5.7 million displaced persons, and devastating a significant part of the rural areas, where government services and infrastructure vanished.

The effects of the civil war were particularly damaging for rural people, who suffered the worst kinds of violence and whose well-being was disproportionately affected. Illicit crops and criminal activities in rural areas, which boomed as a result of the conflict, have seriously compromised Colombia’s ability to sustain legal economic activities. This in part explains the great inequalities that exist between urban and rural areas in today’s Colombia.

Jesus Quintana. Credit: A. Prado/MADR

The peace process between the Government and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC), the country’s largest insurgent group, halted most of the violence in 2016, giving hope for a lasting solution to violence, deprivation and the lack of basic services, from roads to schools to running water, in the countryside.

However, three years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, the situation in the rural areas has barely improved. Poverty affects one-third (36.1%) of the rural population, more than double the poverty rate in urban areas (16.2%), according to the World Bank. Colombia still has one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world – in 2018, the country’s Gini coefficient increased to 52, ranking second in Latin America. More remote rural areas experience higher poverty levels. Social exclusion, mortality and food insecurity indicators are also significantly higher among rural women, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant populations.

To revert this situation, the Colombian government has presented its strategy – the National Development Plan 2018-22, “Pacto por Colombia, Pacto por la equidad” [Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equity] which is organized around three axes, aiming to boost equality, entrepreneurship and legality. The objectives for entrepreneurship include an alliance to enhance the development and productivity of rural Colombia, promoting a productive transformation with more innovation, increased labour and business formalization, and better public goods and services.

Framed within this overall response, the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has launched a new program, “El Campo Emprende” [Rural areas are enterprising], that benefits small producers, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, female heads of household, young people, and in general vulnerable families in the rural sector of the country, promoting economic ventures to reduce extreme poverty.

Beneficiaries of El Campo Emprende in Santiago de Quilichao, Cauca, presenting details of their Association for textile manufacturing. Credit: J. Quintana/IFAD

El Campo Emprende, with a total cost of US$ 70 million over six years, assists more than 36 000 families living in 134 rural municipalities of 20 departments, including the worst affected areas by the armed conflict, where trust and social capital have been destroyed, basic services are scarce, and where vulnerability is high.

The program seeks to strengthen associative processes around productive initiatives – agricultural production, handicrafts, tourism, green businesses and other rural services carried out by poor rural families, promoting and financing the creation of rural businesses that can improve the quality of life and generate employment in Colombian rurality.

El Campo Emprende has also a view to global commitments, helping to fulfil the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially objectives 1 (ending poverty), 2 (zero hunger) and 8 (decent work and economic growth).

The program was launched last 15 August by President Duque and Minister Valencia in Caucasia, Antioquia, one of the areas that most suffered the violence during the conflict, with the participation of IFAD, the Spanish Cooperation and the European Union (both agencies cofinance the program) and was attended by more than 1,500 guests.

Official launching of El Campo Emprende in Caucasia, Antioquia, last 15 August 2019. Credit: Presidencia de Colombia

IFAD has been present in Colombia since the early 80s, and is supporting national priorities for the rural sector, especially those regarding entrepreneurship and productivity, to create greater opportunities for small-scale agricultural producers and rural entrepreneurs, and improve their well-being through creative, solid solutions that work.

With IFAD’s support, small-scale rural agricultural producers and entrepreneurs are being assisted to increase their productivity, competitiveness and incomes by enhancing their asset base, strengthening their organizational capacity, and promoting their access to markets and to inclusive financial and public services.

El Campo Emprende will be a key contribution to development and the consolidation of peace in the countryside, creating a brighter future for many poor families that placed their hope for progress and prosperity in this new Colombia era – and helping heal the wounds.

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