Colombian govt project helps farmers rebuild after conflict

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Colombian govt project helps farmers rebuild after conflict

Ricardo Sabogal was one of thousands of Colombians forced to leave their land to escape the armed violence that plagued the country in the 90s. Today, he heads up a governmental organization that helps victims get back their properties and develop commercial enterprises, some of which have managed to enter the export sphere.

"For these people it's about getting back to living, because for a farmer the earth is life," said Sabogal, general director of the country's Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras - URT).

Land Restitution Unit general director Ricardo Sabogal.

Land Restitution Unit general director Ricardo Sabogal

"When people have their land back it's cause for a great deal of satisfaction for a public official. You reap what is sowed and it's a result of legal efforts."

He said the unit had helped conflict victims regain 170,000 hectares, covering the cases of around 20,000 people.

"Basically the government is providing them with productive projects, in which we are working on agricultural issues that depend on the region - for example there are zones producing coffee, cacao, sugarcane, orchards, fruit and livestock," he told during trade fair Agrofuturo in Medellin.

"The government makes around COP24 million (US$7,704) available [in each case] and a technical assistance company is contracted to work with the family to develop a productive plan.

"There are some property owners who have associated together and become involved in exports – in the Magdalena zone they are exporting coffee," he said, adding growers were also producing a range of other crops including passion fruit, bananas and lulo, also known as naranjilla.

Sabogal said displaced people could go to the URT office to recount their stories of how they were forced to leave, and the unit would then go to the property to investigate.

"We determine what happened, and from what happens there if the person is deemed to be a victim then the application is taken to a judge who orders the restitution," he said.

"It is not easy because the zones where we are returning land were very affected by armed conflict, with populations that were very psychologically impacted.

"Returning the land is difficult and in some parts of the country the restitution process still hasn’t happened because the conflict continues."

Galvis speaks with experts about her project.

Galvis speaks with experts about her project.

Another conflict victim was Yolanda Galvis from the Cauca Valley, who successfully got her land back and is now selling lulo.

"In 1997 the Autodefensas (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia - AUC) came and told us that we had to vacate the farms so they could fight the guerillas," she told in a statement.

"We were in Tuluá for two years and it was horrible, because even though we had a place to sleep there were many times when we didn't have food and we had to go hungry.

"My two daughters were very small at that time - one was four and the other was six."

Galvis said the family returned to the farm two years later and there was no support for her, but much later in 2012 she heard about the URT over the radio.

"We went to Tuluá and had several meetings, delivered documents. Time passed and in 2013 they told us that a judge had returned the land [to us] and they were going to give us a productive project.

"My farm is called "Los Naranjos". It has two and a bit hectares. Eight months ago I planted 500 plants of lulo. I've now sold 2,300 kilos.

"My buyers come to Tuluá to the farm for the fruit. I also planted beans and started to sell them. I'm happy because I could come back to my farm and because I am in the field growing."

Our visit to the Agrofuturo trade fair was undertaken as part of a buyer mission led by the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) with support from ProColombia and Germany's Import Promotion Desk (IPD).



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