In the south of the Bolívar department, surrounded by mountains and located near the Magdalena River, is the small town of Santa Rosa. Now, its inhabitants live mainly off their crops, farming and mining. However, it was here that, not so long ago, illegal armed groups brought with them the cursed coca plant and with it violence and social decomposition.
A few years ago, fearful of the threats and pressure exerted by the illegal armed groups, most of the region’s farmers began to cultivate coca, an illicit crop that brought unimaginable wealth and luxury to the farmers who soon forgot about their traditional crops and dedicated themselves to enjoying their illegal earnings. These armed groups bought everything they produced to make cocaine and get it out of the region.
The coca plantations brought with them many social problems: school desertion, conflicts, threats, assassinations, and a general mentality of easy, illegal money making. The Colombian government together with international organisations and the private sector began the task of changing this region’s reality giving rise to programmes that entailed replacing coca cultivations for cocoa.
Initially, it was not easy to convince the region’s inhabitants given that their earnings from the sale of the illicit crops could not be matched by any legal crop. But the farmers themselves began to tire of living illegally, of seeing how the violence affected their families and how the armed groups arbitrarily abused them. They knew they were on the wrong path and that it was not what they wanted for their children.
It was then that they began to consider cocoa culture as a new way of life. Cocoa can be grown in the same climatic conditions as coca. This made it easy for the farmers to adapt to the new crop, and accompanied by constant counselling, they soon realised what a good opportunity this was to stop growing illegal coca plant. To really change the situation, they had to uproot the coca plants not just from the land, but also from their hearts.
There was a 180-degree change: when the farmers began to see their neighbours’ positive results, everyone wanted to switch over to cocoa. They created a cocoa farmers association and thanks to the constant support and training provided by CasaLuker, they were able to push through and get the illegal armed groups out of the region bringing back progress. Today, CasaLuker has commercial agreements with a number of associations in the region through which it guarantees that the farmers sell all their produce, and it continuously trains them to have increasingly productive and profitable crops.
Today, people live in peace, families can enjoy their lives without fearing threats or assassinations, children have gone back to school and the atmosphere has changed. And all this is thanks to cocoa, the crop of peace.