During the visit of Jon Bellish, One Earth Future’s (OEF’s) Executive Director in Colombia, campesinos (rural peasants), excombatants, indigenous communities and representatives of non-governmental organizations met at the Rural Alternative School (ERA) of Miranda to reflect on the four years of collaborative work carried out in this ERA. This meeting opened up a dialogue on how this space has contributed to peacebuilding in the region and to assess the progress of the productive projects established, their achievements and difficulties to date.
The ERA of Miranda was established in the common areas of La Elvira Campesino Reserve Zone, following a commodatum agreement between campesinos and excombatants. Juan Fernando Lucio, PASO Colombia’s Director, pointed out that the campesino association ASPROZONAC “showed its generosity and was the first organization in Colombia to cede a tract of land so that the work of excombatants in rural areas could become a reality.” This agreement allowed for designing and establishing different agricultural projects since 2018, which have included the construction of productive infrastructure, commercial agreements and training spaces that have been extended from direct participants to other campesino families in the area.
Briceida Lemos, a campesino woman who participates in the ERA, recalled a key element in the creation of this gathering and working space: “Peace is built from the territories based on our knowledge and what we have and value as campesinos. Here, we worked hand in hand and that made us feel trust: you know and I know as well; you help me, but do not impose on me. How did we get here? By building trust. When you build trust, it is easier to walk along and to do something. That is peacebuilding.”
Jon Bellish toured the different productive units currently operating at the ERA, from the lake to the fish farming ponds, the new machinery for fish packaging and refrigeration, the biodigester and the animal husbandry areas. The tour also included the fry farming process in a new Australian tank, which was installed to complement the fish farming project that has expanded its local marketing capacity.
In addition to thanking the partners who have supported these initiatives, Carlos Antonio Acosta, an excombatant and member of the CEPRODET cooperative, acknowledged that “the projects we are implementing here are benefiting the community and their impact will be seen in the long term. The fact that we are working in the midst of differences and adversities is a benefit of the ERA for the campesino community, for the indigenous community and for us, the excombatants. This is the greatest achievement of the ERA.”
After listening to the participants’ testimonies and seeing the ERA facilities, Jon Bellish said, “This makes me feel like we’re on the right track at PASO and OEF. It’s not really about us trying to create benefits for them, but about creating a space where they can develop their own territories. They’re the ones who are carrying this work forward; they’re the ones that are owning it and making it real.”
Bellish’s visit also included the facilities of the Market for Peace (MERCAPAZ) that will soon open its doors in Miranda to sell agricultural products from the region. This permanent commercialization space is important for local producers because, as Carlos Antonio explains, “it avoids intermediaries, makes food security possible and strengthens campesino and indigenous economies.” At the end of the visit, Jon pointed out that “the ERA is not only an economic process; it’s also a social and a community process. The main point here is that we need to work hand in hand, especially when things are tough, so that the community knows that we’re going to be there. We went from communities that need help to communities that are really able to help their neighbors, and that type of transformation is the most sustainable and powerful one.”