Colombia - Development of peaceful livelihoods for FARC ex-combatants

Development of peaceful livelihoods for FARC ex-combatants

Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz/Pontifica Universidad Javeriana Cali
NGO-business, agriculture

With the signing of Peace Accords in early 2016, Colombia is emerging from a civil war that lasted over 50 years and left 1/3 of the country cut off from the central government.  As a result, many of the rural areas that were once under Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) control suffer from a lack of economic development.  In addition, many of the ex-combatants have disarmed and reside in temporary camps in these rural areas, where the current economic alternatives include coca cultivation and narcotrafficking.  One of the great challenges of the Peace Accords is reincorporating ex FARC guerillas into the Colombian society and the Colombian economy.  And for that, they need jobs. 

What was the problem?

The Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), located in Bogota, engaged BOTFL Team Colombia to examine and help improve the livelihoods of rural, indigenous Colombians and FARC ex-combatants.  The indigenous population can grow some of the best coffee and cassava in the world, but it suffers from a lack of access to markets and fair pricing.  As a consequence, coffee and subsistence farmers are frequently at the mercy of middlemen.  Moreover, after two generations of conflict, many of the FARC ex-combatants have known only war in their lifetimes.  While intensely motivated, they lack skills that are useful in peacetime.  If populations of young military aged males cannot find work, they will often pick up arms again.  The challenge facing Team Colombia was to find ways to improve incomes to levels that make coca cultivation less appealing, and to find ways to help FARC ex-combatants enter the mainstream labor market.

What did we do?

Through FIP, Team Colombia partnered with an intercultural studies team from Pontifical University Javeriana Cali (PUJC), located in Cali, Colombia.  Using Cali as a staging point, the team traveled into Cauca Department in southwest Colombia.  The team spent several days the town of Pueblo Nuevo, high in the Colombian mountains, one of several indigenous communities in the Caldono municipality.  Escorted by the local indigenous guard and staying in a convent, the team conducted numerous interviews with rural farmers, learning much about the indigenous way of life and their agricultural practices.  The team also met with community leaders to learn about their hopes for the future.  The team visited processing plants for sugar cane and cassava, while also taste testing some of Colombia’s best coffee.  While in Caldono, the team also visited a FARC ex-combatant camp, where they gained a glimpse into their lives. 
Upon return to Cali, the team witnessed the historic first election since the signing of the Peace Accords. The team then rounded out its problem-solving in Colombia by meeting with various private organizations and government officials both in Bogota and Cali to discuss preliminary emerging findings in terms of business opportunities.

What was the turning point?

Even though the Peace Accords include land re-distribution and rural investment, the process is a slow one, and finding more land to farm is nearly impossible.  Further, though the team identified five potential sources of general funding, only one of those was actually in place and working, with little more than speculation for the rest.  All of these economic challenges are taking place in a country where only 50% of the population voted for peace, with political uncertainty great.  As a consequence, the team needed to make recommendations that the communities could implement without government help and that would generate resources (rather than rely on them). 

What was the recommendation?

From their numerous meetings, interviews, and observations, the team realized that the indigenous communities and the ex-FARC had different needs and were at different stages of economic development, and thus, needed different solutions approaches to generate jobs and income. 
For the indigenous community, the team recommended a three-stage economic development framework focused on organization, optimization, and technical assistance.  The first step focuses on gathering, transporting, and selling crops to more distant customers that were willing to pay significantly better prices, or alternatively, on collectively bargaining with middlemen for fairer prices.  The second step includes optimizing what farmers grow on a hectare of land, namely growing more of the higher value crops such as coffee.  Finally, technical assistance is needed to help the indigenous farmers learn new ways to cultivate higher quality crops and produce higher yields, especially with coffee and cassava.
For the ex-FARC, the team recommended a pilot program of vocational training to help them enter the labor market.  The team identified an agricultural partner that could provide training for both the ex-combatants and for the indigenous farmers and is in the process of determining other partners that can provide training in carpentry, welding, heavy machinery operation, and other skills.
Another potential benefit of such an initiative is that the ex-FARC encampments might become educational hubs for the rural communities, allowing all inhabitants to find common ground in Colombian society.

What ended up happening?

With the team’s recommended economic development framework, indigenous farmers can begin working with their existing assets to generate greater income that in the future could be used to invest in larger-scale agricultural projects.  With this vocational training, we hope FARC ex-combatants will be able to find opportunities in the labor market.  Ultimately, the team’s focus has been to equip these communities with tools to become more self-sufficient and improve their livelihoods with their existing resources.  The team hopes that the new partnerships forged between urban organizations, rural communities, and ex-combatants can be a binding force for peace in the years to come.