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From the Streets to the Fields

Cesar credits farming with turning his life around

The streets were both home and school for Cesar Augusto Hoyos Arizmendi. He spent his teenage years homeless and estranged from his family, and consumed by drugs. Now 29, he’s found an unlikely path to a more stable life: organic farming.

Cesar works for Fundación Salva Terra, a nonprofit that promotes organic farming in vulnerable communities in Antioquia, Colombia. Grameen Foundation, through its mSourcing initiative, began working with Salva Terra in early 2016 to help farmers improve their productivity and gain access to better markets for their produce. 

Equally important, the project aims to build up local sources of high-quality food. Though the region of Antioquia is prized for its agricultural potential, 71 percent of the food consumed in its capital city, Medellin, is imported. 

Using a digitally based mSourcing tool developed by Grameen Foundation, Salva Terra technicians  collect and disseminate information that helps farmers to improve their quality, increase their output, and connect to large-scale buyers. 

Cesar joined Salva Terra through a government program that helps people who have been homeless or have battled drug addiction gain employment and money management skills. He helps to maintain and harvest crops, manage the use of organic fertilizers and other inputs and support training activities for other youth. 

“I never thought that I would do anything with my life. I never thought I was going to learn anything or that I could be a farmer with agricultural knowledge. I like it a lot and I would love to study a technical career in agriculture,” he said.

With the mSourcing tool, Salva Terra has a better understanding of what buyers need. As a result, 50  farmers and 60 young men who were previously homeless are now selling produce to restaurants and families. To build its customer base, Salva Terra plans to add an online portal for clients to submit orders directly.

The project’s success has led to a deeper commitment from the provincial government of Antioquia. It is now being expanded to another farm that will support 80 more young people just like Cesar. In addition, the mSourcing system will be adopted to integrate organic farming into the curriculum in rural public schools in 17 municipalities, benefiting nearly 200 families and 400 children. The tool will be used to forecast how much produce is needed from each school’s backyard garden for school meals.