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Post-conflict Colombia should be a land of opportunities for small farmers, says UN agency

Women farmers near Santander, Colombia. Photo: Charlotte Kesl/World Bank

ROME, Italy — A lasting peace in Colombia will only be possible if small farmers have the right opportunities to develop and prosper, said the associate vice-president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Perin Saint Ange, on the eve of his official visit to the country.

During his three-day visit, IFAD’s senior manager will meet with high-level government officials in Bogotá and visit the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali.

Saint Ange pledged the support of IFAD, the UN agency specialized in rural development, to the Colombian government’s efforts to reconstruct rural areas now that the 50-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is over.

After almost four years of peace talks in Havana, Cuba, the government and FARC signed a definitive peace agreement last week.

“The peace accord is a massive step forward and creates an enabling environment to invest in the country’s rural communities. IFAD wants to ensure that in post-conflict Colombia, small-scale farmers and rural entrepreneurs will experience significant improvements in their well-being and prosperity,” said Saint Ange.

“The country now has a historic chance to achieve a lasting peace. The only way to seize this opportunity, however, is to ensure that investments in poor rural people lead to increased agricultural productivity and sustainable rural development. Let’s not forget that there can be no peace without rural development and no rural development without peace,” Saint Ange added.

This fact was acknowledged in the first of the partial agreements signed by the Colombian government and FARC. The agreement for an integral rural reform includes measures to reduce poverty in rural areas, address inequality in land ownership and promote access of rural populations access to social services (from roads and electricity to health care and education).

Over the last few years, IFAD has contributed to the Colombian government’s efforts to devise appropriate policies to address these challenges.

For example, the IFAD-supported trust and opportunities project is exploring ways to tackle inequality and poverty in rural areas, promote equal access to basic services and help rebuild trust in communities torn apart by the conflict. Solutions found to reach these objectives will eventually serve as a model for new rural development initiatives.

The project targets approximately 50,000 rural families living in extreme poverty across 17 departments in Colombia. Among them are small farmers, indigenous groups, Afro-descendent communities, rural young people, families who have been forcibly displaced and households headed by women.

Activities funded by IFAD and implemented by partner organizations like Corporación PBA and the Latin-American Centre for Rural Development (RIMISP) have contributed to the work of the Mission for Rural Transformation or Misión Rural, as it is widely known.

This initiative, which was launched by President Juan Manuel Santos and attempts to put the agreement for an integral rural reform into practice, has produced a comprehensive body of policy advice on rural development issues. Some of the institutional changes suggested in Misión Rural’s final report are already underway, including new government agencies for rural development and agrarian reform.

“The road is long and much more needs to be done, but there is no doubt that Colombia is on the right path. Both parties to the conflict are clear on the need to reverse the neglect that rural areas have been subjected to in the past,” said Saint Ange.

Colombia, he added, can count on IFAD’s support to the country’s rural development and thereby, to the peace process, for years to come.

“We want to play our part in building a new, peaceful and prosperous Colombia. We want to assure the Colombian people and authorities that IFAD’s 40 years of experience in rural development is – now more than ever – at their disposal,” he said.

Saint Ange’s visit to CIAT in Cali is aimed at exploring ways of putting the innovations developed by this cutting-edge agricultural research centre at the service of small farmers, not only in Colombia, but in the Latin American and Caribbean region as a whole.


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