Peasant’s hands seek to conserve the Amazon

  • Despite being labelled as the biggest forest deforesters, farmers in Cartagena del Chairá are proposing alternatives to stop deforestation. Many people want to stay on their farms and protect the forests if they can find viable economic solutions. Some have already begun on

Verdad Abierta, Ambiente y Sociedad and Mesa de Concertación Campesina

It takes about eight hours by speedboat from Cartagena del Chairá’s town centre to reach the village of El Guamo in the lower reaches of the Caguán river. Those who have made the trip before are aware that the fare is 170,000 COP, a high figure for other latitudes but natural in this region of the country with few state regulations.

They have become accustomed to surviving in the Caqueteño jungle, which is part of the Amazonian ecosystem, without the full presence of the state and clinging to any economic activity that can sustain them. However, the desire to achieve this stability has an impact on the environment. The region’s peasant leaders are aware of this.

“We know that what we’re doing to the jungle is grave, we’re not so stupid, we understand,” says a peasant farmer deep in the mangroves of Bajo Caguán who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons.

This farmer questions the efforts made by some of the state officials to conserve the environment and support communities in these tasks. “They come and say: ‘in the boat comes a 1,000-litre container to store water’, and then you are happy because if you don’t have enough money to buy it, you let yourself get tangled up and nothing else comes”. And another farmer adds: “the whole government is like that: they see that there are poor peasants here, ‘they have nowhere to drop dead, let’s get them involved’. And we receive what they offer because we need it.”

The tragedy facing the communities of Cartagena del Chairá today is not the war. What really has hundreds of Chairences under siege, and with them the Amazon rainforest, is the lack of titles to the lands they inhabit and their dependence on an economy that is unviable with the Amazon, such as extensive cattle farming, which becomes a replacement for their dependence, in the past, on the illicit economy of growing coca leaf for illicit use.

“To be honest, all of these nuances arose in the territory as a result of a lack of opportunities. There hasn’t been much recognition of the need for these peasant communities to have other options for life and production”, Aristides Oime, a social leader in the municipality, says.

Leoncio Montaña Bahamón, a farmer from the village of Las Quillas, is the voice of this lack of opportunities: “You plant a crop, for example, plantain, cassava or something like that, but it’s for your own consumption because there are no companies or anything like that will buy the goods… Nothing. If one goes to Remolino (del Caguán) with a bunch of plantains, it will be at a loss, so then what are you going to grow crops for? Because transport is very expensive, and when one arrives at the top (to the municipal capital) the food, such as plantains, arrives in a bad state”.

There are numerous conflicts between peasant needs and the environment, and hundreds of families in the municipality are requesting that they not be singled out without first learning about their shortcomings. One such example is the community of Las Quillas, which is made up of 18 poor families, the majority of whom do not have titles to the land they live on and rely on small-scale logging to supplement their cattle farming income.

With the assistance of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), these families were able to obtain resources in 2018 to construct a 300-metre wooden bridge from the Caguán River to their farms. However, due to the humidity of the jungle, they have to cut down trees every year to rebuild the damaged parts of the bridge, increasing the number of forests cut down out of sheer necessity.

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