The department of Caquetá, which has been plagued by violence and a refuge to guerrilla commanders for over forty years, went from being the main camp for the FARC’s South Bloc —the former guerrilla group’s strongest structure— to a fertile camp of community action where ex-combatants are developing their initiatives.
After the peace treaty was signed between the government and the FARC in 2016, the war wounds have been healing in this part of the country, and, little-by-little, the sad memories of the dark days of the guerrilla, paramilitaries, and illegal armed groups fighting over land and the coca business are being wiped away.
The Héctor Ramírez Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR) is located in this area, embedded in the Colombian Amazon. It is considered to be the first village founded by ex-combatants. Close to 250 people live there, and they are taking on the challenge of turning their agricultural projects into entrepreneurial projects with the help of Universidad de los Andes.
“This ETCR, similar to the one in Miravalle in San Vicente de Caguán —where the university also intervened— has a lot of agricultural potential”, affirms Andrés Barrios, professor in the Faculty of Administration who directed an entrepreneurship course for 25 ex-combatants. It was validated by Ecomún and Coombuvicap: the two collectives that are helping to economically develop their projects. The participants graduate in June 2019 in Agua Bonita, a hamlet in the La Montañita municipality.
They learned to do the figures and the accounts, manage the finances, and solve entrepreneurship problems that they have just stared to lead. “This is very valuable knowledge. We can create a company, and, in this case, we are working hard and looking for alternatives to reintegrate into society”, said Willington Quiroz after taking a photo with the diploma in his hand in the Héctor Ramírez ETCR common room.
The ex-combatants, who are always motivated by common welfare, started with the economic aid granted by the government and the backing of the international community and some local sectors. An example of this is the 2.5 hectares of pineapple planted, the fish-farming project that has four pools with a capacity for 8,000 fish each, and the fruit pulper that they were given part-funded by the European Union.
"We have an orchard with 17 different products including pineapple, sugar cane, Persian limes, passion fruit, soursop, cassava, and plantain. We have red tilapia, criollo chickens, laying hens, pigs, and cattle. We also have a sewing workshop, a shoe shop, a bakery, a miscellany shop, and a carpentry shop”, said Federico Montes, one of the leaders of the ECTR.
To achieve their primary objective, they all row in the same direction and they work in five fundamental areas: agriculture and the environment, livestock, business, tourism and housing, and savings and credit.
Additionally, they are organized in committees to work the land, fix the roads, fumigate, maintain the ETCR, and other activities that are all aligned in three-dimensions: the political through the FARC political party, the social with the community action council, and the economic with the collectives.
Using pencils, books, and calculators
Professor Barrios affirms that the purpose of the Entrepreneurship Workshop: Added Value and Prototypes for an Innovation Model, which is part of the New Opportunities program, is to contribute to formalizing existing initiatives, to create new ones, and to strengthen merchandizing channels that generate more stable links with companies in the region.
The course, which is also given in the ECTR in the Miravalle hamlet located in San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá) is divided into four modules: entrepreneurship so that the productive projects can be directed towards community union, and, as such, can be aligned with their life projects; innovation to add value to those that are currently underway; management focused on finance and marketing; and cooperativism.
Professor Barrios assures that the following step of the Entrepreneurship for Peace project is to advise them and connect them with financers of business ideas so they can be developed with the community.
The spanner in the works of campesino entrepreneurshipInterview with Andrés Barrios Fajardo, professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at the Universidad de los Andes, who has a PhD in Marketing from Lancaster University (UK).
What difficulties do those entrepreneurs outside the city face?
There are two particularly important ones. Firstly, there is insufficient infrastructure to access these places, which limits supplies getting in and products getting out. In the communities with which we participate, access from the municipal capital involves an almost two-hour journey on poorly-maintained roads. Secondly, the technical and financial support for entrepreneurs is limited to public entities (for example, town halls and the Sena). There are very few private companies involved. One of our studies shows that while there are more than 36 entities that support entrepreneurship in Bogotá, there are thirteen in Florencia and just three in San Vicente del Caguán.
What costs do entrepreneurship generate in remote regions?
The difficulties mentioned increase the costs of developing agricultural entrepreneurship. For example, for the communities we are helping, the cost of terrestrial transport from the municipal capital to the ETCR is higher than the cost of air transport from Bogota to Florencia. This decreases its competitivity compared to other business alternatives.
Is it difficult to be a campesino in Colombia?
Yes, it is difficult. Every day, campesinos in Colombia face different types of pressures (economic, social, environmental) that affect their wellbeing. As a society, we need more sustainable agriculture, but we do not provide the conditions and opportunities for those who undertake this type of production to do it properly.
Entrepreneurship for peace
The project is part of a call for research in 2017 by Colciencias and Research Councils UK (Colciencias’ counterpart in the UK) for research undertaken on peace. The proposal from Universidad de los Andes, which partnered with Lancaster University (UK), is entitled Entrepreneurship for Peace, and it is carried out in Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR), particularly in Caquetá. It was approved in 2018 and in 2019 it began to be implemented in the Agua Bonita and Miravalle hamlets.
Funders: Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Colciencias.
Administration of the project: Projects and Research Development Office, Faculty of Business Administration.
Project members: Andrés Barrios, Felipe Estrada, Stefanía Modesto, Francy García, Alan Wagenberg, Daniela Pradilla, Jaime Varela, Juan Carlos Montes, Andrés Guerrero and Sonia Camacho.