When Foods Resource Bank and Mennonite delegations visit the farmers who participate in FRB’s “Cacao not Coca” program in the Chocó region of Colombia, it becomes clear that the moral support implicit in their presence is quite meaningful.
The program encourages Afro-descendant and indigenous families whose desire is to turn away from illegal coca production, to return to traditional farming through training and follow-up. In May, visitors and farmers alike were shocked to find that their rice, vegetable and cacao (cocoa) crops had been erroneously wiped out by aerial spraying of glyphosate, intended for illegal coca plantations in an anti-drug campaign by the Colombian government. Ten farmers have now lost their food crops and the legal income they would have earned from the rice fields and cacao trees that have now been destroyed.
According to a recent report from the program, “Although the fumigation has seriously affected the the agricultural program, creating insecurity and fear in the beneficiaries in terms of the future of planting cacao and rice, little by little we have seen people’s positive reaction, since in the end it is the only option available to them at the moment. One program participant said ‘Thanks for visiting us -- this raises my morale,’ and another agreed, ‘Your presence demonstrates that you are committed to us.’”
The report continues, “We have learned that contact with people in this type of transformational program is important. These are long-term processes. People can become discouraged, and even more so when there are problems such as the fumigations. This makes it necessary to stand with them continuously, and design strategies that allow those who have the desire to advance towards the accomplishment of their life-changing goals. The dreams that really generate transformation require patience, faith and hope.”
Foods Resource Bank’s Colombia Chocó program is led by Mennonite Central Committee and local partner Mennonite Brethren of Chocó. Colombia-Chocó encompasses 11 communities, 200 households and 1000 individuals.