EL TIEMPO, June 5, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
After having survived a massacre that forced them to flee from their land in 2001, several families have returned to their farms in the Districts (corregimientos) of Chengue and Salitral in the municipality of Ovejas, Sucre Province. With the support of the Land Restitution Unit (URT is the Spanish acronym), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), today they are developing a productive beekeeping project.
In total, there are 159 families, of which 37 have been able to reclaim the farms that they had to flee because of the violence. They make up the Chengue Victims Association, the Association of Farmers for Peace and Hope in the District (corregimiento) of Chengue, the Farm Production Association of the town (vereda) of El Tesoro, and the Salitral Association of Farmers Displaced and Returned.
These communities planned to use 98 hectares of their farmland for the implementation of the honey-producing project, and the URT and the FAO, with the international cooperation of Sweden, invested 300 million pesos (a little over USD 80,000). With that they planned for 500 hives of Apis Mellífera bees, distributed in 21 apiaries, work teams for the extraction of honey, protection equipment, and storage tanks, among other things.
The arrangement seeks to strengthen sustainability in the time of land restitution procedures, making sure that when land is restored to communities that were victims of land theft and forced displacement, they will also have economic opportunities that will allow them to establish themselves completely in their locations.
With all of this, the families in Chengue and Salitral now have their first harvest of honey, which resulted in 1.5 tons of product that they are starting to market in the area under the name of “Honey from Chengue”.
“We started this initiative of honey production by making a tour through three of our 20 apiaries, so that we could show that honey production can be in harmony with our care for the environment, and that participating families need to take charge of the sustainability and conservation effort so that we could be national and international leaders,” explained Orlando Causado, one of the people that takes part in the project.
The families are supporting environmental protection because they are promoting the production of pure honey, without any additives, and also the conservation of trees and native plants in the area, without using chemicals, thus conserving the local flora and fauna.
Besides the farms and the homes that have been restored, this productive project provides a new hope for these communities that on January 17, 2001 at 4 o’clock in the morning saw how a group of 80 men from the AUC arrived in Chengue and killed 27 people and burned down 26 houses. This caused the massive displacement of the inhabitants to other towns (veredas) and to the urban part of Ovejas.
It had only been 15 years after those events when the first court decision in favor of the communities was pronounced. In April 2016 the First Specialized Civil Court in Sincelejo issued the first order of land restitution in favor of 37 families who had been victims of the massacre. In November of 2018 the Agricultural Bank delivered the first ten houses, valued at 44 million pesos each (about USD 11,800). A total of 32 homes were built.
By now there has been a total of 3 land restitution orders issued in Chengue, benefiting 44 families, including 37 lots with homes and 7 farms, totaling about 250 hectares.
Besides the beekeeping project, URT has also started projects for the production of avocados, corn, rice, sweet peppers, cattle and agriculture in general, for which the Unit has invested 1,124,017,630 pesos (about USD 300,500).