|Lina Marcela Meneses Cabrera
|Environmental justice, Extractivism
|Volume 1: "Resilience in the Face of COVID-19"
|Number of participants
Located in Valle del Cauca (Cauca Valley), Columbia, the township of Montañitas lives a complex reality due to a scarcity of water caused by the dry ecosystem of this region. This scarcity is accentuated by pine and eucalyptus cultivation for paper production by the Cartón Company of Colombia, which has historically faced charges of deforestation, destruction of natural ecosystems, and being an ally of para-militarism in this region (Álzate, 2017). Similar to other territories within the country, the Cartón Company has violently displaced peasants and destroyed ecosystems by having the support of local political elites and pro-extractive legislations.
From her home, embedded in the mountains that adjoin the Cauca desert of Valle del Cauca, Carmen Hoyos recalls the situation of their village, "Before the pine and eucalyptus plantations, we would load water on horses from some nearby water births. Now, with the plantations, the water has dried up and we no longer have those births. We don't want more pine and eucalyptus crops because they are water-intensive."
The Montañitas community has historically struggled to resolve the shortage of water which is needed for agriculture and domestic consumption. A small aqueduct supplies water every 15 days and families have to store it in jars or tanks for daily use.
In the face of these hardships, the community, with the help of civil society organisations, have come together in a collective process which is focused on developing practices that help solve the problem of water scarcity in their territory.
Process that led to the community being resilient (Pre-covid)
Surcomún and the Yunka Wasi Foundation are organisations working on organic agriculture, local economy, environmental education, and social technologies for rural sustainable development. In 2014, they developed a working relationship with the Montañitas community. Together, they promote organisational spaces focusing on water-based issues as well as farmers’ training. These spaces intend to work towards recognising peasant rights and propagating techniques of organic agriculture and rainwater harvesting. They have organised several events to discuss environmental problems and water scarcity, such as the Water Fair in the La Virgen township, Valle del Cauca in 2017. Thus, the community, along with Surcomún and the Yunka Wasi Foundation, have forged a path of struggle for water.
In Montañitas, this relationship has given way to the formal birth of the Association of Agro-Environmental Rural Communities (ACORA) made up of 30 families. A work plan has been prepared by ACORA to provide alternative solutions for water-related issues and to pursue dreams together as a community.
Julia León, a member of the association, tells us, "Our neighbour Nilba invited me for a programme with Surcomún. With the first meeting, this seemed important to me because it was something that we had been fighting for without any guidance." Another member, Carlos Mosquera, adds, "I came to my first meeting with the thought of learning how to prepare organic fertilisers, but then I stayed there and joined the group with the desire to continue learning."
These days, self-managed activities such as bingo halls and raffles have been developed where the entire Montañitas community is involved. Funds are collected to buy and install Zamorano tanks for storing water for agricultural and domestic use. Participating in activities such as bingo halls, where the community has to find water for public toilets, water for lunches and snacks etc., makes the community think and reflect on what it is to live without water.
With the work of ACORA, Surcomún and the Yunka Wasi Foundation, many families have been able to install Zamorano tanks in their homes. Ten families have 7,000 litre tanks and several families have plastic tanks of 3,500 litres. These are managed by public entities with contributions from each family and resources saved by the association in the various activities carried out.
"We have always fought to achieve this. With the effort of ACORA, we have reached the achievement of installing Zamorano tanks for the collection of rainwater" says Nilba Muñoz, one of the women who rallied for this organisation and has tirelessly insisted on organising the community for a better life.
The Zamorano tank has become a real solution to the problem of water scarcity in the township. The water is collected from the rooftops or from a water source as in the case of Carlos Mosquera who lives in the lower part of Chancos and can take water from a nearby stream. Currently, he has two tanks of 14,000 litres for domestic use as well as irrigating his garden and fish farm. Julia Leon has started raising pigs and chickens after installing her Zamorano tank.
It is also important to highlight that the initiative of the Zamorano tanks aroused creativity in some people, such as Carlos Mosquera, who decided to make a 3000 litre tank with zinc, wood and plastic. The work is hard but the organisation stresses on advancing concrete solutions to everyday problems to retain hope and keep creating possibilities of life.
How resilience that was established has helped during the pandemic
The pandemic has been difficult for rural communities as they weren’t able to organise their regular meetings or carry out their collective work. Plans had to be postponed, families became isolated and the work-dynamics of the community stalled.
However, having rainwater stored in the tanks has allowed the community to grow their own food, which has also been supplied to neighbouring areas which are facing food shortages. Many migrants who returned to the countryside have used this opportunity to work on the land and realised the need to take care of it—as it nurtures them when nothing else can.
With the availability of water, the raising of animals and birds such as chickens, ducks and pigs is increasing. This is contributing to the families' food requirements and generating economic income from the sale of surplus. Now, the associates have proposed training meetings to learn to feed animals so that their dependence on external inputs and the foreign market is reduced.
With time, the association has found ways to meet in the midst of the pandemic. During 2021, meetings have been held that are allowing the organisational work to be resumed.
There have been many adversities that the community has had to face. But their resilience has generated unique responses, such as peasant markets in the townships and the promotion of local food. Families who bought food from supermarkets in the city now buy their food on the sidewalk. This is helping in revitalising the local economy and, in turn, helping in recovering the social fabric of societies.
"We want the association to grow and keep going", says Julia León.
In these difficult times, ACORA has been a big support for peasant families. Their collective is strong and the community feels the need to continue their struggle to protect their territories of life. The association has strived to bring improvements in the living conditions for the community, thereby solidifying the belief that solidarity and collective work are key to their work.
Today, there are many families sowing life on Earth in hope of a bountiful harvest. These are families who have recovered their relationship with the land—which implies a recovery of memory and culture, and a positive transformation towards the future.
We recognise that water is essential to life. In the field, planning agricultural activities while keeping water use, its efficiency, harvesting, and storage in mind allows us to sow the land—that is to sow life. A self-sufficient society must plan life around the sustainable functioning of dynamic ecosystems to have fewer environmental impacts and more reproduction of life.
Álzate, C. (2017). La papelera que devora Colombia. Available at: https://colombiaplural.com/carton-devora-colombia-smurfit-kappa/
Interviewees: Nilba Muñoz, Carlos Mosquera, Carmen Hoyos, Diego Muñoz, Maribel Urcue, Sergio Morales and Julia Leon.