After a longer posting-pause in which I finalized my first research phase, identifying supporters of rural grassroots development initiatives in the Province of Soto, here a new update of my activities in Colombia:
Time is flying and I am finalizing my second research phase, asking grassroots development initiatives to evaluate the support they are receiving to build joint capacities. To be able to speak with rural development initiatives, I was invited to spend a week with a peasant family in the vereda St. Ana of Santa Cruz de la Colina.
The township of Santa Cruz de la Colina consists of several mountainous veredas and is located within the municipality of Matanza. Economic activities are exclusively carried out by smallholders and mainly include plantain, coffee and blackberry production. The parish also includes several nature protection sites and a pilot project to start agro-ecological farming practices.
The activities of the grassroots development initiatives I encountered are highly diverse, ranging from agricultural to human right issues. All of them were initiated after the guerilla, which controlled the area from around 2000-2005, were forced out of the area. Initiatives that were active before this time are no longer present.
Like the Westerkwartier, the village of Santa Cruz de la Colina is close to an urban centre Bucaramanga (around 35 km distance). Unlike in the Westerkwartier, however, it has a poorly developed infrastructure which negatively affects communication with support structures and the nearby urban centre (to illustrate: it takes 3-4 hours to reach Santa Cruz from Bucaramanga, longer if rainfalls cause new landslides or turn the dirt roads into mud baths).
In addition, little governmental support is actually available for grassroots development initiatives, and those support means that are available often do not reach the beneficiaries for numerous reasons. Denizens in Santa Cruz willing to develop their region are thus often frustrated in face of a sheer unbridgeable mount of political, economical and infrastructural obstacles that prevent them from realizing their development ideas.
The stories I heard last week have left a deep impact on me. In the light of a sheer insurmountable muddle of obstacles, I admire the tireless dedication of the peasants in their efforts to try to improve their livelihoods.
I will use the next weeks to reflect and write about the differences between support structures in the Westerkwartier and Santa Cruz de la Colina. If you happen to be around, I will present first insights into this study at the conference Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society (WG 9) in Wageningen in April this year.