Arriving in Caquetá
It was a magical moment when we were about to land in Florencia. Flying over the numerous rivers in Caquetá, our plane was very close to the water and I thought for a split second that we were on a seaplane landing on water. That was not the case, obviously. When we got out of the plane, I was hit by a rush of hot air. Nearly a 15 degrees (Celsius) difference between Bogotá and Florencia. Sunshine and humidity galore!
A bit about Caquetá
Caquetá is known as the “golden door” to the Amazon region in Colombia and uniquely contains part of the Andes mountains (the Eastern Cordillera) and access to the Amazonian region, hence the term the “Andean-Amazonian transition zone”. The extensive river system, of which we caught a glimpse on the plane, is an important natural resource of the department and also for the country as a whole. For example, rivers are used as part of the waterway transportation system (transporte fluvial in Spanish).
The extremely diverse and unique varieties of the plants in Caquetá are absolutely impressive. The rich soil and abundant levels of sun and rain make this a perfect place for agriculture.
Engaging with local farmers and discovering the diversity of their farms
Similar to our previous workshops in Dosquebradas, we held a series of stakeholder engagement activities with local small-scale farmers to better understand their agricultural processes, their concerns, and the challenges they face in supply chains.
There is a wide range of products offered by these farmers, including cacao, coffee, avocado, plantain, pepper, cassava (known as yuca here), and various citrus fruits. In addition, they grow exotic crops found in the Amazon region, such as sacha inchi, araza, and a very sweet type of pineapple known as gold honey. (Highly recommend our readers to try out these fruits if any of you are visiting the region.)
Challenges faced by local farmers
From San José de la Fragua to northeast of Puerto Rico, one of the common narratives of farmers from this region was that there are not enough buyers. There were also insufficient collection points or distribution centres (called centros de acopio) for them to aggregate volumes.
In parallel, deforestation has been a major issue but they are working hard to ensure the conservation of their areas. For instance, a group of honey growers are dedicating their time and efforts to raise bees and conserve wild flora in the environment. Currently they work with two main species – Apis mellifera and Meliponas, the latter of which is native to the region.
On top of the existing challenges faced by farmers, there have also been unpredictable changes to the climate that affect their production. These unpredictable weather events have been impacting the quality and quantity of their products.
A special place in our hearts
Despite all this, what we witnessed in Caquetá was the courage and resiliency of these wonderful farmers, continuing to work on their farms under tough conditions and overcoming obstacles when presented to them. One cacao farmer took the time to describe to me in detail the amount of care and constant management of their farms. At the end, I feel truly blessed to have met these wonderful people. The smiles on their faces and their kindness are contagious and have touched a special place in our hearts.