Cifras & Conceptos, a research firm hired by One Earth Future (OEF) to evaluate the perception and satisfaction of participants in the Rural Alternative Schools (ERAs), has delivered the results of its evaluation. Using surveys and focus groups, the firm consulted 82 percent of the participants of the seven most developed ERAs in the country, after the first year of implementation of the model. The regions covered by this evaluation were Miranda, Buenos Aires (Cauca), Tuluá (Valle del Cauca), Mutatá, Ituango, and Dabeiba (Antioquia).
The Rural Alternative Schools Project
The ERAs are productive and educational collaboration networks, developed by OEF’s program PASO Colombia. They provide peasant communities and ex-combatants with agricultural training; technical assistance; and access to land, capital, and markets. They also promote Commercial Collaborative Partnerships (CCPs) to help participants sell their products. Sixty-nine percent of participants are ex-combatants, 31 percent are members of peasant communities, 71 percent are men, and 29 percent are women. They are mostly adults between 25 and 54 years old.
A Positive Experience for Participants
The experience in the ERAs was rated as positive or very positive by 90 percent of the participants. The ex-combatants value as very meaningful that they have been able to reestablish their personal and family ties, count on productive projects accompanied by training options, and strengthen a harmonic relationship with neighboring communities. All of this has reaffirmed their will to leave weapons behind and persist in their reincorporation efforts. The ERAs have brought benefits for the neighboring communities as well, like generating jobs for peasants, increasing product sales, improving roads, and providing access to electricity. This has positively transformed the relationship between communities and ex-combatants, reducing the fear and mistrust that prevailed around the reincorporation process in some territories.
Organization processes within the ERAs show high levels of involvement in the coordination structures: 61 percent of participants belong to the coordination committee of their ERA, while 85 percent belong to the cooperatives or associations involved in the ERA. On average, 90 percent of the people involved in these organizations have had a positive experience with their planning, monitoring, and administrative activities.
Eighty-three percent of respondents say that the main decision-making mechanism is consensus among participants; 91 percent mention dialogue and compromise as the main conflict resolution strategy.
With regard to the building of trust, survey results show that participants’ trust has increased in PASO Colombia (86 percent), ex-combatants (78 percent), and members of the community (75 percent). Trust levels in the private sector have improved for 23 percent of the participants and remain the same for 51 percent of them. As for state institutions, it’s worth highlighting the fact that trust has improved toward the army (34 percent) and the police (25 percent). This is very positive considering the history of the armed conflict. On the other hand, trust has decreased toward the local governments (39 percent), departmental governments (38 percent), and the national government (54 percent). Difficulties and delays in the implementation of the peace agreements explain the low levels of trust in public institutions, making it necessary for state agencies to articulate more effectively their actions in the reincorporation process and the rural development efforts.
Although the armed conflict is still active in regions where the ERAs operate, and public security in those areas tends to deteriorate, 40 percent of participants believe their personal security has improved a lot, while 39 percent state that it remains the same. However, the escalation of the armed conflict and the permanent threats and murders of social leaders pose an important challenge in terms of security that can negatively affect the achievements of the ERAs.
Access to land
The ERA model has provided access to land through different modalities, including rented lots (31 percent), communitarian property (31 percent), private property (15 percent), and free-use contracts (15 percent); however, participants note the importance of having access to their own land as an element of long-term foothold and permanence in the territory.
Participants of the ERAs co-own the productive projects through the cooperatives and associations participating in them. In this first stage of development and consolidation, 21 percent of participants state that they are already receiving income thanks to their participation in the ERAs, and 15 percent say that they receive income through the CCPs. Twenty-six percent of the participating social organizations are already receiving revenue. However, participants note that it is necessary to further strengthen their marketing efforts, drawing attention to access barriers in some local markets, the high costs of agricultural inputs, and strong competition from local producers in some regions.
Finally, the ERAs are considered a good alternative for economic reincorporation among 92 percent of the participants. On average, 81 percent of them rate the development of the productive projects as good or excellent. The main productive activities developed in the ERAs are crops (75 percent), vegetable gardens (69 percent), animal breeding (66 percent), support for productive infrastructures (45 percent), and product commercialization (43 percent). Seventy-five percent of participants have received training in subjects related to their productive activities like agricultural techniques, organizational strengthening, food manipulation, management, and finance; 85 percent of them rate this training as good or excellent.
A graphic summary of the report can be downloaded here. The full report will be available in English and Spanish in April. PASO Colombia is very pleased with these results and is using the feedback provided to improve its work and back the expansion of the ERA model to cover 20 municipalities by the end of 2019.