Resilience: The driving force behind Colombia's cocoa farmers

Sustainable agriculture
The small cocoa farmers in region Antioquia are the lifelines of their communities. Their survival depends on agriculture, but it is increasingly exposed to the effects of climate change. 

Colombia is home to the most stunning biodiversity on the planet. These natural treasures are not only the engine of Colombia's economic development, but also an unfortunate source of funding for guerrillas and criminals.

Fierce competition for land and natural resources has fuelled Colombia's bloody conflicts. Over almost six decades, various armed groups have looted some 8 million hectares of land from rightful owners, only to sell it to criminals, big landowners and corporations. The tragic result: in the last half century, more than 7 million Colombians, in a country of 49 million inhabitants, have been displaced by this war.

The small cocoa farmers in region Antioquia are the lifelines of their communities. Their survival depends on agriculture, but it is increasingly exposed to the effects of climate change. Heat waves, droughts, floods and diseases threaten not only their crops, but also their livelihoods. In this, they see a clear link to the global climate crisis.

The adaptive capacity of these farmers to climate change has become a formidable challenge. Despite being uprooted by armed conflict, they have not given up; they have rebuilt their lives from scratch, developing resilience and a spirit of innovation.

For these cocoa farmers, their work means more than just a way to earn a living. They pride themselves on being ecologically responsible, protecting their families and the environment.

The vision is clear: to improve the living conditions of the small farmers and to achieve sustainable development for the entire region. The local government, civil society and economic actors work hand in hand to shape sustainable land use. They jointly determine which areas are suitable for sustainable agriculture and which should serve as protected zones. In this joint planning, economic and ecological concerns merge into a sustainable cultivation culture.

Linking such sustainable production regions with global supply chains is key to creating deforestation-free value chains. Digital traceability solutions guarantee permanent verification and intervention.

For sustainable regional development, cocoa farms need to become more resilient to the devastating effects of climate change, which threaten farmers' livelihoods. Conversion to organic principles and regenerative agriculture is essential.

Sustainable cultivation zones improve the farmers' quality of life. They receive training in sustainable cultivation methods and farm management while also benefitting economically from being linked to global supply chains.

This project Sustainable Sourcing Landscapes aims to curb deforestation caused by resource extraction, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity and mobilise sustainable investments to improve the living standards of producer families.

Doris Morales, Griselda Gomez Giraldo and Francisco Garcia had lost their land to violent groups years ago and had to build a new existence in a foreign country. Now they have returned and proudly follow a sustainable way of life that not only protects their families but also the environment.

Although their organic farms are initially less economically viable than conventional farming, they are convinced that the diversity of their income sources and the preservation of biodiversity will be rewarded in the long run.

Doris Morales

Doris Morales, cocoa farmer from Llanos de Cuiva, Antioquia, explains:

“Certainly, climate change has unquestionably impacted our livelihood. Over the years, we've witnessed a significant decline in crop yields due to the adverse effects of climate change. In response, we've embarked on a journey of transformation, embracing organic farming practices." 

"Our approach centers on nurturing the soil, recognizing that by caring for our land, we not only enhance productivity, but also safeguard the environment. This commitment extends beyond our farm and touches the very heart of our community.

Our connection to this land transcends the boundaries of our farm. We are an integral part of a broader landscape, one that encompasses not only our immediate surroundings, but also the well-being of our town and beyond. It's crucial to remember that our responsibility doesn't end at our doorstep; we must consider the impact of our actions on others."

"To the people in Switzerland who enjoy the cocoa we produce, we want them to know that the farmers here in Colombia, particularly in Apartadó on the Buenos Aires farm, are doing their part with unwavering dedication. We approach our work with passion, using the best practices available, always mindful that we are producing a healthy product that will nourish you. Our aim is to continue advocating for these principles, cherishing our soils, safeguarding our environment, and providing genuinely wholesome food for all."

In essence, our mission goes beyond mere farming; it's about cultivating a sustainable future for all, where the well-being of our land and the quality of the products we offer are reflections of our shared commitment to a healthier planet.

I joined a local farming association to transition to organic cocoa farming, which has proven to be a great decision. Organic methods have not only improved our soil quality and cocoa productivity, but also aligned with our commitment to keep our farming practices clean and eco-friendly. We collaborate with researchers and experts to further enhance our soil health, including experimenting with earthworms and implementing cultural activities like cleaning and phytosanitary control.

Currently, we have around 1700 cocoa trees on 2.5 hectares, with the remaining land dedicated to bananas and a wooded water reserve. This diversification ensures a stable income throughout the year. Our organic certification has opened doors to better markets and higher revenue, and it aligns with our philosophy of producing healthy, chemical-free food, while caring for the environment.

Though the transition to organic farming had its challenges, including discipline and cost considerations, we've adapted successfully and now operate a nearly entirely organic farm. We encourage others to follow suit and embrace sustainable practices to safeguard our health and the environment.

Within community action boards and among fellow farmers, there's a growing awareness of the benefits of organic farming, and as a community leader, I actively promote this approach. Our goal is for more farmers to adopt organic practices and prioritize healthy food production, while protecting our environment.”

It's crucial to continue these efforts and extend conservation measures to all aspects of farming, as neglecting the environment harms our entire community and ecosystem. We must tread lightly and embrace organic methods for the well-being of all.”

Mario Cardona

Mario Cardona, a technologist in Agricultural Production further explains:

"Looking ahead, I believe in the potential of organic production and its benefits and see the future of cocoa production as an opportunity for both economic improvement and climate resilience. Producers must adapt to changing weather patterns, which is a significant concern. Our project also focuses on food security and socio-economic support for producers."

“I got into this field due to a neighbor's influence and a desire to help small producers. My background is not in farming; my parents are not involved in agriculture. I started my career in bananas and later transitioned to cocoa.

I've been involved in organic production since 2019, thanks to a project by FURANDES and Bancolombia. I initially worked as a field support technician and later became a field leader, overseeing a team of technicians for organic certification.

Our goal was to certify 150 producers, but we only managed to certify 87 due to various challenges like low productivity, labor shortages, and the unavailability of permitted inputs. Some producers switched to conventional methods due to these challenges.

Our focus has been on the national market, as we haven't yet ventured into international markets due to quality issues during the transformation process of cocoa into chocolate products.

The transition to organic farming has been smoother for those with existing sustainable practices, but it's been challenging for conventional producers who rely heavily on chemicals.

I take the initiative to manage funds as an investment in my crop. This model can be a pilot for other groups, as it's not commonly seen. We are working on strategies to ensure food security and improve productivity, and are trying to change the perception that organic farming is unproductive. We have seen positive changes in producers' practices and awareness.

We are exploring ways to collaborate with other agricultural sectors like palm, banana, and pineapple production. By sharing resources and sustainable practices, we can all benefit and increase profitability. The private sector's involvement is crucial in making these changes. The perception of palm production, for example, can change when people see the positive impact on the landscape and the regional economy."

"In summary, my journey into organic agriculture began with a desire to help small-scale producers, and I believe there's potential for positive change in this field. Collaboration and clear examples can lead to a brighter future."

The Sustainable Sourcing Landscapes Project, which Swisscontact is implementing together with the Pakka Foundation and the Colombian export company Colcocoa on behalf of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), aims to ensure greater climate resilience in the region and among farms. This project is co-financed by SECO through the SWISSCO Landscape Programme. 

Sustainable agriculture
Sustainable Sourcing Landscapes
The project seeks to improve the livelihood and wellbeing of rural families in the selected areas by creating sustainable sourcing landscapes with deforestation-free and climate-friendly supply chains for present and future generations.