By Rebekah Sears
In 2011, the Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church in Chocó, Colombia, began an alternative crops project called Weaving Hope, with support from MCC. The goal: to create viable alternatives to growing illicit crops such as coca.
The church purchased a rice processor so local farmers could grow and process rice locally instead of having to send it elsewhere and then buy it back. The project later expanded to include other crops such as cocoa (chocolate), as well as livestock. By May 2013, the project had involved more than 200 families from nearby communities.
But on May 11, as part of the Colombian government’s efforts to eradicate coca (a process long funded by the U.S. government), without warning and despite earlier promises not to spray this region again, many participating communities were aerially fumigated with an herbicide.
The results were devastating. A single mother described to an MB church member how she had lost her livelihood. School children who planted rice crops as a demonstration of alternative options had their hopes dashed. One man who uprooted coca plants by hand in order to plant fruit trees witnessed the destruction of his hard work.
Coca production has undoubtedly contributed greatly to increases in violence, but all too often the communities who are caught in the middle are the ones who suffer most of the consequences. The MB Church plans to support the replanting of crops in the region and is also demanding compensation from the state. MCC continues to support these efforts.
Rebekah Sears is policy educator and advocacy worker with MCC in Colombia.