Family farming in Colombia and its contribution to peace

Agricultura familiar en Colombia

Family farming in Colombia: Case studies from multi-functionality and its contribution to peace, a co-edition among the university press of Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia (UCC), Uniminuto, and Confederación Agrosolidaria de Colombia, is the result of a research project motivated by the International Year of Family Farming (2014), which invited the world to bring focus to the role of family farmers, their contribution to hunger mitigation, poverty, food safety, and environmental protection. Researchers from different disciplines and universities joined efforts to help characterize family farming in Colombia: A collective production reiterating that cooperation and solidarity also work in knowledge generation. As expressed by Elonor Ostrom (2012):

At least in principle, collaborative research enhances a more general comparative analysis without sacrificing data quality. This type of research offers the potential to collect larger amounts of data, conduct broader comparative research, and use a wide range of methods proficiently. Unlike the individual researcher, who is supposed to know how to do everything, collaborators may combine their data and take advantage of complementary methodological skills (p. 63).

Despite its national and international transcendence, family farming is a relatively new concept in the country, that is, it places the focus of research on a basic area of scientific ignorance but, at the same time, is located in the heart of a social problem.

Farming and rural development —topics discussed in the first section of the book— have once more drawn the attention of scholars, governments, and international institutions. It is estimated that around 70% of food in the world is produced by family farmers. In Latin America and the Caribbean, family farming operations represent 81.3% of all farms in the region and create between 57-77% of agricultural employment in the region (FAO/BID, 2007; FAO, 2012). In Colombia, this represents 87% of producers and provides more than 50% of agricultural production.

However, the role of family farming has been underrated: The paradigm of agri-business, markets, and big production was imposed, disregarding the contribution made by small-scale farmers, and policies emphasizing productivity were implemented, which only see “entrepreneurs” instead of farmers, “companies” instead of families, and “markets” instead of food safety and environmental sustainability.

Turning attention to the farming family is much more intricate since it is not just considering it as an economic actor. Family, in its anthropological, sociological, and cultural connotations, is a more complex actor than just a “small producer”: It encompasses the particularity of its social relationships and roles, its cultural relation with the environment, its reproduction as social core, its territorial anchorage, and its implication in productive and economic aspects.

In addressing the analysis of family farming from the perspective of multi-dimensionality and multi-functionality, researchers open new research paths, confronting unidimensional and economistic looks that have prevailed in the analysis of Colombian farmers.

As it is known, the national government started a negotiation with the FARC guerilla organization in order to end the armed conflict. The conversations put agricultural issues as one of the essential items in the agenda, achieving the so-called joint agreement “Hacia un nuevo campo colombiano: reforma rural integral” (Towards a new Colombian country: Comprehensive rural reform). The rural reform involves recognizing the reality lived by farming families and not only returning men and women from armed groups to the civil life. Above all, it is about returning society to development, specially, farming families displaced and victimized by armed and economic actors who despoiled the Colombian country.

Consolidation of true peace in the territories entails a more democratic economy, comprehensive policies for rurality, and a participating, active civil society. There is a close relationship between family farming and social or solidarity economy, both in the economic acts occurring within the family and in their relation with the rest of the economy. To Karl Polanyi (1944), other ways of realization of the economy, besides the market, are reciprocity and redistribution. These are very common practices in farming families who produce for markets in a nonexclusive manner. Yet, in a globalized economy of individual accumulation, small producers face big capitals that concentrate ownership of land, technologies that impose packages with inputs and production modes, globalized markets that monopolize marketing networks, impose low prices to the producer, and flood the markets with products, destroying local economies. Overcoming such difficulties calls for the revision of current economic logics: If neoliberal logics continue prevailing, it is clear that family farming will remain disadvantaged.

Peace-building in Colombia requires social organizations that promote and defend human rights in a society that will have to reinstate and provide access to land to around seven million displaced people; organizations that defend cultural and environmental heritage against an extractivism that devastates sources of water, forests, and biodiversity; organizations that also contribute to organizing production with other logics in finance, commerce and consumption, in order to make it more efficient and sustainable. We need an organized civil society, capable of managing collective and community property and providing public services without rights becoming mere goods.

Just like peace needs a legal framework that provides it with institutionality and a cultural framework that allows forgiveness and reconciliation, peace also requires an economy that enables its consolidation; peace needs a more solidarity economy for farming families to have room for their development and protection.

Jarrison Martínez C.

He is a sociologist and political scientist with an MBA. Currently, he is the Head of Research at the Instituto de Economía Solidaria y Cooperativismo, Indesco (Institute for Social Economy and Cooperativism), Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia.