Collaborative work as a catalyst for sustainable rural economies

Tracking Our Impact
Tracking our impact

With the purpose of sharing our learning in these 5 years of work, we continue to analyze "Our impact on data" . In the last installment we analyzed how the approach of collaborative work and learning by doing, characteristic of the Alternative Rural Schools (ERA) , has allowed the building of trust between peasant communities, reincorporated, and public and private institutions, in some of the territories most affected by decades of armed conflict in Colombia. This time our reflection focuses on how, on the ground fertilized by that trust woven in collaboration, viable productive and commercial projects flourish that contribute to promoting the sustainable development of rural territories.

Working in 27 Colombian municipalities with 4,902 people, including peasants, peace signatories, Venezuelan migrants, and families that have left coca crops behind, we have learned that the main asset that the Colombian countryside has is its people. By working with the communities as partners, qualifying their organizations and work capacity, they themselves identify the resources they have and the opportunities to articulate them in collaboration networks that attract new allies, to jointly contribute to the development of their territories. Thus, the projects we support have leveraged USD $5,659,066 with an investment of USD $1,012,008, creating 2,802 jobs, reaching commercial agreements for $11.5 million dollars and $888,000 in income and savings for community organizations in the last 3 years. However, the main success of this approach has been its ability to sow sustainable collaborative production and business practices that generate social value beyond what can be monetized . For this reason, 98% of the reintegrated who participate in the ERA and 96% of the peasants consider that the collaborative projects in which they are involved have been important or very important for their regions. For their part, 70% of those reincorporated state that what most motivates them to stay in the peace process is to contribute to social change in their regions.

Hand in hand with the generation of income from productive projects, this work contributes to improving the quality of life of the associated people, as well as to revitalize regional economies in a sustainable way. Community or home gardens contribute to food security by ensuring access to food; the improvement of production practices and the use of by-products help to preserve the environment while reducing costs; and together the productive, commercial and organizational fabric promote better conditions for the social well-being of peasant communities.

Local and community approach promoting network effects:

Prioritizing strategic interventions with each community, strengthening collective undertakings that catalyze territorial development has been, in our experience, an effective way to optimize investment of limited public and cooperation resources. Working with what is available, we trust in the power of alliances and we are witnessing the emergence of an efficient networking structure that creates economies of scale and reduces risk by attracting private investment.

An emblematic example of how interventions aimed at catalyzing collaborative processes energize regional economies is that of the ERA of Tuluá , in which the peasant association ASOPROVENUS and the cooperative of reincorporated COOMULNES participate. In the Venus village of this municipality, and in alliance with the Government of Valle , the Mayor's Office of Tuluá , the UN Verification Mission in Colombia and the UNDP , we supported the construction of a collection center, the installation of a guardiola that the quality of the dried coffee was improved, as well as the implementation of a quality and cupping center for the evaluation of the grain. This allowed Venus to become a marketing alternative for other nearby villages in rural Tuluá, reducing transportation costs by up to 90% for local producers, who also sell their coffee at a higher price thanks to the Collaborative Commercial Alliance with the multinational Illy Café . In addition, by completing the coffee production chain, the cooperative created the Café Venus brand, which they now market locally.

The regional impact of this initiative was expanded in 2020 with the creation of the ERA in the neighboring municipality of Seville, which brought together reincorporated workers and peasants in agricultural projects. The strengthening of the COOMULNES cooperative encouraged those reincorporated from Seville to join it, expanding their agricultural production and marketing capacity. In the ERA of Seville , 100% of the participants belong to a cooperative, while in the ERA of Tuluá the link to a cooperative went from 93% in 2018 to 100% in 2020 among those reinstated.

In this order of ideas, it seems important to us to support the strengthening of associations under the figure of cooperatives, corporations and associations, because it promotes collective economic dynamics, thus promoting the role of organizations as an instrument of social welfare through the generation of income, the integration with new support and marketing networks, and the strengthening of the social fabric that supports them. PASO provides support for the legal, administrative and social strengthening of these organizations.

The results of the ERA perception and satisfaction survey at the national level indicate that 83% of the participants in the reincorporation process belong to a cooperative and 98% of them consider the work of their cooperative in the process important or very important. economic reinstatement. On the other hand, between 2019 and 2020 the participation of community members in cooperatives increased from 38% to 67%. This same survey shows that high levels of knowledge have been achieved among associates about economic management, compliance with objectives, and compliance with cooperative activities (63%, 71%, and 60%, respectively).

Qualification of rural work

The training component has been transversal to the implementation of all the projects, since it is there where local and traditional knowledge is articulated with scientific-technical knowledge so that rural economies are more prosperous and integrated into other economic realities, such as international markets. Under this approach, PASO Colombia mobilizes 5 pieces of knowledge that together strengthen peasant economies:

  • Know how to produce
  • Know how to organize
  • Know how to market
  • Know how to finance
  • Know how to conserve

The Alternative Rural Schools (ERA) function as living classrooms in the daily work with the participants. Instead of a predefined curriculum, knowledge is articulated around permanent technical support for productive projects that are developed in each territory, deepening the knowledge required for the sustainability of each specific project. This technical accompaniment is aimed at promoting optimal organization of the farms, the use of residues, waste and by-products, the manufacture and use of fertilizers and animal feed with local raw materials, semi-stabling to complement the feeding of some animals, the adoption of new technologies and environmentally sustainable practices, the incursion in processes of transformation of raw materials, the creation of home or community gardens for food security, among other activities. This accompaniment also includes the qualification and creation of marketing networks, a subject that will be dealt with in depth in a subsequent installment of Our Impact on Data.

With this pedagogical and productive approach developed through the learning-by-doing methodology, 77% of the participants rate the technical assistance received in the ERA as good or excellent. This same approach was used in the case of the Contingency Plan in Support of Coca Eradicating Families , financed by the United Nations Multidonor Fund for the Sustainability of Peace in Colombia and designed and implemented by PASO Colombia in coordination with the Presidential Council. for Stabilization and Consolidation . 86% of the participants in this project stated that they will continue with the practices learned for soil improvement and the production of organic fertilizers, 91% will continue implementing the methods learned for the use of organic waste and 56% will produce food for their animals from plant material and other products from their farm thanks to what they learned in the project.

Productivity increase and cost reduction:

The approach of networking with communities as main partners, qualifying their capacity for work and collaboration, improving their productive practices, strengthening collective infrastructures, creating value chains and new markets, has proven effective in improving productivity and reducing costs. of these rural enterprises in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

A good example is the case of the ERA de Fonseca in La Guajira. There, the adoption of more efficient productive practices for the production of eggs, the selection of the Isa Brown species suitable for the conditions of the area, the grazing system combining the use of local by-products to complement the feeding of the hens, allowed a production scaling, reducing costs and increasing sales at much more comfortable prices for neighboring communities. Even during the crisis caused by the COVID pandemic, in which the price of eggs in the area rose from $10,000 to $20,000 a dozen, the Fonseca ERA maintained its production and adjusted to a price of $9,000 for local sale, which strengthened the ties of solidarity with the communities that welcomed this group of peace signatories into their territory. An agricultural warehouse was also opened in which agricultural products from the reincorporated cooperatives that participate in the Fonseca ERA are sold, especially benefiting the neighboring community of Conejo by reducing transportation costs and offering fair prices to buyers. With its strengthening, other local institutions have approached to join the commercial initiative.

Another important example is the Alternative Rural School of San José del Guaviare, in which we supported a fish farming project by installing machinery, as well as training for the production of organic concentrates using local raw materials, many of them agricultural by-products that could be purchased from farms. neighbors, strengthening ties of collaboration. This concentrate biofactory reduced the cost of feeding the fish by 40%, making the project profitable to sustain it in the medium and long term. This productive unit created 15 permanent formal jobs and 200 indirect participations by suppliers of raw materials. As a whole, a line of commercialization of concentrates was established in the region, also achieving a Collaborative Commercial Agreement with the peasant families of the village of Colinas (Guaviare) to sell them feed for their animals at prices below market prices.

In addition to the increase in productivity and the reduction of costs in commercial products, the participants in the PASO Colombia projects have allowed significant savings represented in food harvested for self-consumption, organic waste reused as raw material from other projects, among others. This is reflected in the fact that their saving capacity is now higher than the national average for the rural population.

In the case of the Alternative Rural Schools (ERA), the savings rate of those reincorporated has increased (31% have been able to save in 2020 compared to 29% in 2019 and 23% in 2018). This increase occurred even during the Covid-19 pandemic. For the peasants participating in the ERA, the savings capacity rate increased from 5% in 2018 to 20% in 2020. On the other hand, as a result of the implementation of the Contingency Plan, 43% of the participants affirmed that they managed to save some money. Compared to the data from the rest of the country, these figures contrast with the result of the Pulse 2021 Survey, carried out by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) , according to which only 11.5% of people have the capacity to save in Colombia 1 .

The work experience has allowed us to confirm that the interrelation between the economic, productive and social axes offer the participating partners comprehensive results for their productive projects and their quality of life. A strengthened social fabric participates in more dynamic legal economies, which in turn makes it possible for rural territories historically affected by the armed conflict to have better prospects for the future and their prosperity. We are very pleased to know that at the national level, 89% of the reinstated participants in the ERAs responded that they had plans to continue working collaboratively with the communities. Likewise, 70% of the members of the community plan to continue working in associative projects with reincorporated persons. This shows that collaborative work has proven to be an effective means for them to improve their quality of life.

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