Expert questions the future of Colombian Agriculture

Translated by: Elaine Fuller, a CSN volunteer translator

Edited by: Ashley Miller, a CSN volunteer editor and Nora Walker, a CSN intern and editor

Lands with agricultural potential in this country are under threat:  eight million hectares have titles or were given as concessions for multiple purposes.

The lands, extending from the south of the Guajira to Putamayo, are in danger. Darío Fajardo Montaña detailed the situation during the second session of the Mutis lecture series of this semester:  Food security – an interdisciplinary approach.   Fajardo is a UN anthropologist and professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Universidad Externado of Colombia.

Fajardo proposed that there is a bias against peasants in the way that agrarian policy is shaping the current development plan.  The professor explained that with the elimination of the Unidad Agricola Familiar (United Farm Families), the possibility that farmers could be the beneficiaries of land titles has disappeared.  The problem is even worse because in spite of the current restitution law, there are recorded attacks, assassinations, and threats against peasant leaders who were displaced and are today demanding the return of their lands.

“It is disturbing that the new frontier of Colombian agriculture is represented by the ‘projects of the high plains’.  The elimination of the UAF has resulted in the establishment of forms of ‘corporatization’; these are associations between multinationals and peasants along with foreign ownership of land that favors title deeds for large businesses,” explained Professor Fajardo.

In addition, the professor said, the other challenge facing peasants is the onslaught of the mining interests.


World Food Crisis

Fajardo warned that some realities of the international scene directly affect Colombia, such as the increasing prices of basic food items.

What worries the professor most is the correlation in the behavior of food prices with petroleum prices.  The relationship between the two can be attributed to the development of agricultural technology.  This Thursday, a barrel of oil was quoted on the New York market at $US 106.56 while a ton of sugar (from which ethanol is made) stood at $US 547.84.

“The increases in production and in productivity of food commodities occur through genetic modification and the use of agrochemical inputs derived from petroleum.  That is to say, the rise in fuel prices drags up food prices,” he stated.

Prices of basic products such as rice, beans, corn and panela (cakes of brown sugar), added the professor, adjust to the international trend:  their cost is included in the behavior of consumer price indices.

A second factor is climate change, although Fajardo specified that the trend of rising food prices came first.  In Colombia the winter emergency affected about 1.3 million hectares of cultivated agricultural area.


Agricultural reform and small producers

Albert Berry, Canadian economist and professor emeritus of the University of Toronto, also participated in this session of the Mutis lecture series and referred to the theme of food security.  The professor highlighted the need for the political system to recognize the advantages of small agricultural producers; besides giving vitality to the economy, family units can support food security because peasant families have the ability to produce their own food.

“Families don’t have access to food, not through a lack of their own production, but because of a distribution problem and lack of economic resources,” Barry asserted.

Although Colombia is no longer a self-sustaining country and depends on imports for half its food, Professor Fajardo says that not all is lost and that the associations between small producers and large businesses make sense if political decisions were not in the hands of the powerful.

“It is very important to us as consumers that we would like to produce our own resources.  It is hard to watch the costly decision to close Colombia off to agrarian reform.  For that, we are paying an incredible cost and, unfortunately, we will continue to do so.  And if there is a renewal of negotiations in armed conflict, agrarian reform will once again come to the fore,” concluded Fajardo.

Location: Bogotá

Date Published:  March 1, 2012

Source: Agencia de Noticias UN


(This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)

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