Day Six: Connecting Colombian Farmers, Amid Conflict

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November 16, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Lori Ospina began working for Grameen Foundation as an intern in the Washington D.C. headquarters in 2009. She is now a program in Colombia, Grameen Foundation’s newest branch office, working with local partners and farmers trained and paid to be Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) to use mobile phones to bring information and financial services to isolated farmers.

When we began working with the farmers, I was really nervous that they wouldn’t like the program or that our incentives wouldn’t be enough to get them on board. However, the feedback has all been incredibly positive. One of our CKWs told me that this has become her “hobby” – going out and talking to the farmers about their problems and being able to help them. Another CKW told me that people now show up at his farm to get registered, and farmers call him with their questions. All of them were very willing to adopt it – I was blown away.

Lori Ospina (right) with Grameen Foundation’s Colombia Office Adminstrator, Luz. She’s inspired by meeting so many hard-working rural farmers, especially those who continue persevere amidst a dangerous atmosphere of conflict and violence.

Many farmers know the basics already, but they’re excited about the new information. The top two things they ask about are pest/disease control and crop diversification, because most of them only grow a single crop on their farms, but they would like to grow other things too. Our system updates information constantly, so we’re able to see what they’re asking, address that in real-time and add improvements. We’re helping them qualify for Fairtrade International certification, which will secure minimum prices and sustainable growing practices for them. We’re also exploring how we might be able to incorporate a mobile payment program, as well as address financial literacy.

The best part of my job is going deep into rural communities and seeing other ways of life. I’m able to meet all types of inspiring people – farmers, extension agents, families and a lot of hardworking people who deliver local services to these rural communities.

The hardest part is that we all care so much about our work, but often don’t have all the resources needed, so work can become a little all-consuming at times. There’s also a safety issue, unfortunately. Tibu, one of our program areas, is a conflict zone that’s been the location of a guerilla headquarters. We’re not allowed to go there because it’s so dangerous, so we have to do a lot of our work from the cooperative – and even getting out there is a trip. It’s only about 120 kilometers from the airport, but the road conditions are so bad that it ends up taking three to six hours, and you see military tanks and safety checks the entire way. There’s a bridge that we typically travel over, but recently we had to take a ferry across because the guerillas had destroyed it.

I interviewed one of our CKWs after our training and he talked about it with such nonchalance, telling me that even if you don’t want to be involved with the conflict, you indirectly are. He and his father built boats, and guerillas would buy them. Some of the farmers used to grow coca, but now they’ve switched to food crops to try to get away from the drug trade.

We’re still growing, testing and learning along the way. We currently reach about 350 farmers through a grassroots cocoa-growing cooperative and a large export company that works with banana and plantain growers. Eventually, we plan to expand to other crops and regions, and to take this model to other parts of Latin America. It’s very exciting!

You can help us connect more farmers in Colombia with life-changing information about crops and livestock by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

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