El Carmen de Bolívar: wealth in Montes de María

Colombia’s flag is composed of three stripes of colors: yellow that represents the sun, justice and harmony; blue that represents the sky, rivers and seas; and red that represents the sacrifice, love, strength and progress of its people.

In the north of the country, in the department of Bolívar, there is a town that reflects the symbolism of the Colombian flag, El Carmen de Bolívar. A land that rises from 197 meters to approximately 350 metres above sea level, surrounded by a mountainous system known as Montes de María or Serranía de San Jacinto. A territory full of wealth, with the perfect geography for farming of fruits and vegetables, where the sun shines continuously to feed the fields that produce food such as plantain, avocado, yam and sesame seeds. Because of all this, the town has been credited the title “agricultural pantry of the department of Bolivar.”

The area is characterised as a subhumid or semi-arid savanna with medium to long dry seasons. In El Carmen de Bolívar there are few torrential rainfalls that fall during the year, therefore, most of the time you can see a landscape decorated with a clear sky.

Its people are the treasured jewel

Characterised by the Caribbean kindness of this Colombian region, the people of El Carmen de Bolívar are supportive, dedicated and resilient. Here, their farmers believe in hard work and the benefits that this brings to their economy and their society. The effort and determination they dedicate in all the work they do is reflected in the result of their hard work.

This is why, despite the adversities, they find that a better way to work the land is through unity, producing staple food of excellent quality. This is the case of farmers’ associations that have managed to establish a whole cooperative environment around agriculture and have restructured agricultural work from collaboration, support and cooperation.

Challenges faced by farmers

Despite their hard work, sometimes difficulties, such as access to roads, means of transport, or a lack of demand, prevent their products from going to market – whether local, national or international. These and other problems that the population faces hinder their work and affect the processes they carry out.

Developing user-centric technology

Our team from Farming Data conducted various workshops directly with the people in this area to find out more about their needs, the reality of their territory and the problems they face every day.

Being aware of the above has made it possible for us to plan and develop technological strategies that facilitate the appropriate marketing of their products.

By doing so, we can provide producers of El Carmen de Bolívar with a new sales mechanism that could help mitigate these problems.

Meeting honey growers in the Amazon region

What is it like to work with bees in the Colombian Amazon region? And how do bees contribute to the pollination of crops in our food systems?

We spent some time chatting with honey growers (called apicultores in Spanish) in Caquetá, one of the southern departments of Colombia.

Check out our newest video to find out more (English subtitles available):

Meeting cacao growers in Florencia

During our field trip to Caquetá, we visited small-scale cacao growers (‘cacaoteros‘ in Spanish). Surrounded by a lush green environment, they shared with us how they manage their farms and described the importance of cacao in their communities and their efforts in restoring forests in the Colombian Amazon region.

Find out more in the clip below (English subtitles provided).

Caquetá: golden gate to the Colombian Amazon rainforest

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.

Dosquebradas: an area of exceptional coffee growers

In the Colombian department of Risaralda, the town of Dosquebradas is located right next to its capital, Pereira. Possessing an incredible hydrological wealth, this town has an incredible rural area that makes it part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape. Its valleys and mountains are full of green and countless coffee bushes, making the view unforgettable.

Dosquebradas is a town located in an excellent coffee producing region. The environmental characteristics of its surroundings elevate the properties of the grain produced there and – according to the Departmental Committee of Coffee Growers of Risaralda, this product has attributes such as good body, scent, sweetness, and acidity.

During the development of our project, we had the opportunity to travel to this town to know first hand everything related to the Colombian coffee culture. We held a series of workshops that allowed us to enter this vast world of coffee production. We were able to enjoy the beauty of its landscapes, the delicious coffee, and the pleasant climate.

But what really made this experience unique was the opportunity of working directly with the coffee growers of Dosquebradas. To know their life stories, listen to their anecdotes, laugh with them, understand their concerns and fears, and, more importantly, understand the reality and context in which they carry out their daily lives.

Coffee problems

What was once a profitable business is a struggle today to maintain an income. The high costs of agricultural inputs, which in many cases are essential for coffee production, hinder the implementation of quality care and management of crops and in turn complicates the creation of a higher quality product.

Likewise, climate threats and agricultural pests play against coffee farmers. The climate is an unpredictable and uncontrollable factor and, in a town with a climate as variable as Dosquebradas, growing coffee becomes a challenge. On the other hand, the control of coffee pests has a slightly greater degree of difficulty compared to other crops, because everything that is applied to this crop can directly affect the flavour and aroma of coffee.

Among all the problems that producers face, the one that most affects them is the price of coffee. It decreases unpredictably and does not have a stability that benefits coffee growers. The payment they receive for their product is not enough to cover production costs and, therefore, does not generate any profit for them. Unfortunately, coffee represents a loss and not a benefit.

But how can this last problem be solved?

Very little is known about the reality of Dosquebradas coffee growers and, in general, Colombian coffee growers. Being aware of the daily struggle of our small-scale producers could completely change the perception of the production process of this crop and makes it clear that the representative Colombian coffee culture is not ideal for its most important link: farmers.

That is why the objective of our project is to dignify the work of our producers through new marketing mechanisms, allowing them to receive a fair price that is consistent with the work they do every day.

Meeting coffee growers in Colombia

Recently we visited small-scale coffee growers (‘caficultores‘ in Spanish) in Dosquebradas, Colombia. At an altitude of more than 1,400 m and surrounded by a lush landscape and endless hills into the horizon, we chatted with local growers about what they do, the challenges they encounter, and their opinion of our project.

Find out more in the clip below (English subtitles provided).