Farming and food security: sharing learning from Colombia to Georgia

Sharing experiences with other country programmes can lead to strategic insights. Nino Edilashvili, Oxfam’s Food Security Programme Officer in Georgia, recently attended a conference in Colombia to learn about how large scale agriculture impacts on the livelihoods and food security of local communities there. Subsequently Colombian farmers attended an experience sharing event in Georgia. Here Nino reflects on some of their discussions.

Georgia and Colombia are two apparently very different countries, on opposing continents, with different languages, climates and traditions. But when it comes to agriculture they do have some shared issues around smallholder agriculture, land grabbing, bio-diversity, food security and nutrition. Here are some Colombian experiences I think Georgian farmers could learn from.

Moving away from small scale agriculture can have negative impacts on food security 

the population is increasingly consuming food that is being produced, processed and packaged outside the countryColombia is a country rich in natural resources. Unfortunately, this wealth does not benefit all. This resource rich part of the world is largely exploited by large multinational companies, who claim the ownership to vast amounts of lands which are used for monoculture plantations (such as palm oil, sugar cane, soybeans and coffee). These plantations pose a threat to the food security of the whole region. The constant
demand for monoculture commodities around the world is putting the wellbeing of smallholder farmers at stake. Land grabbing is a widespread practice as well. Through governmental backing, multinationals deprive land from smallholders and use it for the non-nutritious monoculture plantations. 

Historically speaking, Colombia has always been an agricultural country, home to agricultural products such as maize, tomatoes and potatoes.  As food can be grown there several times per year, Latin America is a very lucrative region for agricultural development. However, the reality is very much the opposite. In Colombia, the population is increasingly consuming food that is being produced, processed and packaged outside the country. 

The availability of fresh produce is vital for nutrition

Colombia is one of the largest consumers of packaged processed food and fizzy drinks. It is also seeing soaring obesity rates. The problem of an unhealthy diet due to low incomes is also taking its toll on Colombians – mothers who cannot afford milk are giving Coke to their hungry children. 

Indigenous communities are the hardest hit by land grabs

land is not only a means of food security but also a source of identityOver recent decades many small-scale farmers have simply been displaced from the land to give way to industrial farming. Land deprivation has also affected the indigenous population, for whom land is not only a means of food security but also a source of identity. Forced to resettle in the conflict areas they are now caught between living in the areas of conflict and losing their way of life. Through peaceful resistance and with no arms in hand they try to
legitimize their ownership to the lands and oppose the issue of land grabbing. 

In Georgia there is a similarly tense situation on the breakaway South Ossetia borderline, where Georgian villages are threatened by the Russian-backed crawling occupation. The Georgian agricultural land is gradually shrinking. Georgian farmers discover overnight that the land they were cultivating is now beyond the border line with Russian soldiers patrolling it. This issue is very complex and goes beyond agricultural policy making, but peaceful solutions are very much needed for the Georgian population living in the buffer zones. 

Moreover, due to the absence of a land registry system, there have been occasions when common land has been sold to investors. These lands that are used by the village populations for pasture, technically belong to the government, who decide to sell the land via auction to the investors without taking into consideration the negative knock-on effects of such transactions. This approach boosts agriculture as an economic sector, but it impacts negatively on the food security of individual vulnerable farmers. 

What can be done?

Large-scale industrialization is important for the development of agriculture, but we need to make sure such investments actually have benefits for smallholder farmers and that their food security and nutrition is not compromised. It is important to find a middle ground between industrial agricultural investment and retaining smallholder farmers to ensure general food security and nutrition. Colombia’s experience clearly shows that the systematic disregard of smallholder production can lead to broken food systems.

Peaceful resistance to land grabbing is one way to oppose crawling occupation and the sale of grazing land, alongside policy-making to put an end to such practices. 

Oxfam’s follow-up

It is important for farmers to know that they are not alone in the struggle to legitimize their ownership to lands. In order to give momentum to the experience sharing, Oxfam in Georgia brought Colombian farmers to Georgia and organized an experience sharing event. The activity took place during the Tbilisi Triennial Project in early October 2015 that aims to present various forms of Self Organized Systems for farming

Self-organization and peaceful resistance are the cornerstones of long term development. Sharing these ideas with Georgian farmers will provide the opportunity to both inform and inspire them about ways they might address agricultural problems through collective-organization.  

This blog has been produced as a result of the exposure visit to the Conference on Food Systems in Cali, Colombia on August 10-14. The views expressed in the blog are derived from the conference participants and are documented in a video, available upon request.

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Photo: Field visit in the Andes Mountains with the Nasai Minga indigenous people and Oxfam staff from the LAC region. Credit: Oxfam

Author: Nino Edilashvili
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.