Opinion: the mountains and valleys that define Colombian agriculture
By EVT CEO Enrique Villegas
Colombia is a nation of many different regions; a country diverse in its accents and cultures. The Andes follow one line across South America from Chile to Ecuador, but when they reach us they form what is called the “Colombian Massif” where the range is divided into three – the Eastern, Central and Western ranges. Between these mountains exist the great Interandean valleys.
Some of Colombia’s peaks reach heights of more than 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) above sea level with permanent snow or snow throughout the year. In these high areas you can find frozen lakes, springs and waterfalls, all accumulating in the canopies of trees, mosses, lichens, orchids and bromeliads, which retain the dew to be released slowly. This then gives life to more streams, waterfalls and rivers, crossing the geography to service irrigation and drainage in agriculture and livestock farming.
The country has an area of 1,141,748 square kilometers, with a third of it in the Interandean region where the majority of the population lives. The other two thirds are called the Eastern Plains, which are similar to the large closed savannas of Brazil. This unique geography leads to an innumerate amount of particular situations for our country, of which I will only state a few so this does not feel like a geography or humanities class.
The magic behind these mountains springs to the imagination when hearing the stories told by older people, who take us to a time when by horse or mule they managed to cross these ranges to create new urban settlements, better agriculture on these lands, or to market and sell their products. One example is the Japanese who migrated to the wonderful soils of the Cauca Valley, changing the culture of the region.
In this I want to show how the seperation of these mountains and valleys lead to a diverse range of cultures between these populations. In Colombia we all speak Spanish, but in each of these valleys it is spoken with different accents, by people with diverse customs such as the way they practice their faith, music preferences, how they educate children. Though we may try to treat the landscapes the same they are different in reality. The flora, fauna and settlements are in harmoney with their inhabitants.
But such beauty does not come for free. The country has great problems with mobility, with a lack of road development for those who cross the heights of these mountains. This brings high costs and so our internal freight is more expensive than maritime freight.
Colombia is the star of Latin America. Multilateral institutions indicate it will be the third largest economy in the region after Brazil and Mexico. Every day large investments are coming into the country, mainly in mining, gas and petroleum. In a visit to a restaurant you can hear various languages apart from Spanish due to so much influence from businesspeople.
The Colombian is recognized as a fighter, educated with drive, seasoned, friendly and hard working. Perhaps this is the result of the political and economic difficulties the coutnry has been through. Ever since I can remember I have seen and lived through political problems and violence. Surely what Colombia has been through in the last 50 years is not secret for readers; a warrior was born from a difference between the life concepts of the political parties of the time, motivated later by a desire for social and economic change, compounded by communist principles and later mutated and degraded towards narcotrafficking. We have had years of permanent conflict, mainly in the countryside and later in the cities.
Narcotrafficking found an ideal space to grow over an extensive territory, wild between the mountains and valleys mentioned above, with little institutionality from the state and only with a presence in some regions of armed conflict. This space was ideal for a busines that has done so much harm to the country to flourish, not just internally but in our image overseas.
But as Colombians have experienced these difficulties and have managed to overcome them, today we have the country we have; a growing country, searching to open itself to the world after being hidden for decades with 14 free trade agreements to reach 1.5 billion people around the world. There are another five in discussion to be signed that would raise the amount of potential consumers of goods and services to 1.7 billion. Discounting other sectors of the national economy and looking at agriculture, these people are potential consumers of our tropical and subtropical products.
We have diverse products to offer that are cultivated at different heights. In Colombia we compensate latitude with altitude, and that’s why our mountains and valleys have such importance. Because of this geography we can grow a variety of product in all climates. Flowers, bananas, dairy products, coffee, sugar, sugar derivatives like biofuels and energy, and palm oil are some examples of the important items in the coutnry.
In the next article I will speak about the demographic composition of our farms, analyzing the potential and reality of the fruit and vegetable sector in the context of the domestic Colombian market, as well as exploitable opportunities. If you have any questions or feedback, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.