As a consequence of the mandatory lockdown decreed by the Colombian government between March 25 and May 31 to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, difficulties have arisen throughout the country in the marketing and supply of food. The Rural Alternative Schools (ERAs) that PASO Colombia has developed with ex-combatants, victims of the armed conflict, and migrant population, have prioritized the food security of its participants. This has been of great help in this context of crisis. A good example is the case of the home gardens in the ERA of Manaure, Cesar, located in the former Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space (ETCR) of Tierra Grata.
Gardens as pantries
The home gardens were set up in common areas, allowing small groups of ex-combatants from the same family or colleagues from nearby houses to work together in taking care of the crops and distributing food once the harvest arrives. The ERA has promoted the use of natural pesticides along with the preparation of organic fertilizers to support a clean agroecology, an approach advocated for by the ex-combatants.
Germán Becerra, PASO Colombia’s extensionist in Manaure, says about the home gardens project, "To be honest, cassava is something essential here in Cesar. That's why you see that ex-combatants don't like radish, pumpkin, lettuce or those things. ‘We sow scallions, tomatoes, coriander and red pepper... oh, and chili peppers, we don't want to be short of chili peppers’, they say to me. After the harvest they realized how useful it is to have these other vegetables in the garden, to know that they only need to work the gardens in the mornings and just grab them when they feel hungry.”
Growing amidst dryness and lockdown
The natural wealth of Cesar competes year-round with the harsh climatic conditions of the department. One of the greatest difficulties is to obtain access to water for the population. However, this problem has been solved with an irrigation system using storage tanks, which were donated by PASO Colombia and installed by the community in addition to the rainwater canals financed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). All of this has contributed to the success of the home orchards. Before the COVID-19 emergency this productive initiative had 23 families involved. Now, more ex-combatants have joined and 40 participants have home gardens that provide food security for their families, and their community.
Carolina, leader of Tierragrata's gender committee, insists on the variety of crops within her garden, and gives the surplus production to other families in the area. “Take this to your mother and tell her that it is for lunch, that this will make a salad. Take it and come back tomorrow for more, I'll keep giving it to you," Carolina says to a girl from the community, as she holds some lettuce leaves in her hands. Thus, the home orchards are part of the community dynamics of Tierra Grata, contributing to good nutrition and the establishment of collaborative networks between the farming families, their neighbors and peasants from the surrounding areas.