Environmental Analysis: Pichilín

Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz
Natalia Jiménez from Patrimonio Natural, orients a small group in a mapping activity. Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz

Environmental Analysis: Pichilín

by Allie Prescott, communications volunteer

posted on February 22, 2016, originally written in October, 2015.

On October 15, 2015, Sembrandopaz and Patrimonio Natural, a Colombian foundation that invests in environmental conservation in areas of the country highlighted for their ecological importance, organized a workshop that brought together youth leaders from four different farming communities—Libertad, Pichilín, Alta Montaña, and Mampujan—to discuss and diagnose the causes of the current environmental situation in Pichilín. This workshop marked the first of four workshops, one in each community, which brought these youth leaders and farmers together in an attempt to empower youth while building cross-regional connections and sharing distinct perspectives and experiences to brainstorm solutions.

Sembrandopaz accompanies each of the four communities and implements agricultural, organizational and social workshops in order to dignify and strengthen the rights of all members of each community. Libertad, Pichilín, Alta Montaña and Mampujan were all deeply impacted by the armed conflict and each have a unique history and environmental landscape. Sembrandopaz looks to acknowledge these unique histories while simultaneously empowering communities to make positive changes both in their agricultural production and social institutions. As part of this process, Sembrandopaz has helped develop ecological committees in each community, members of which were present at the workshop.

The first half of the workshop focused on building an understanding of the geography and environmental history in Pichilín and how it has changed over time. Small groups, which had a representatives from each community, worked together to discuss and prepare a topic to present to the group.

Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz
Daniel Pérez, from the Alta Montaña. Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz

Participants learned that Pichilín, most famously known for being the site of the first massacre by paramilitaries in the Sucre province, has suffered greatly from a three-year long drought that has made the production of their cassava, ñame, tobacco and corn very difficult to maintain. Lack of diversification paired with the use of herbicides and harmful methods such as slash and burn agriculture has caused low crop production. To date, Pichilín does not have drinkable water, electricity, or a health clinic. It has one school with two teachers that share the responsibility of teaching grades 1 through 5. There are 38 families within Pichilín and about 99 families in the two surrounding towns.

Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz
Cr. Foto: Wilton Ortiz, Sembrandopaz

With this information, participants worked together to think critically to understand the roots of these issues and come up with ways to resolve them. Small groups again tackled issues such as the cutting of trees, drying of water holes, lack of sand in the rivers, and loss of nutrients from soil. Jesus, a community leader from Mampujan, explained how the cutting of trees does not produce more land to farm because often vegetables will not grow where the tree previously was located. Narciso Diaz, the manager of Sembrandopaz’s experimental farm, also shared his chemical free methods and explained why using herbicides and chemicals damages the land and ultimately leads to a smaller, less nutritious crop.

The workshop helped raise awareness of issues and educate members of the Pichilín community about why they are seeing crop failures while simultaneously giving them hope that there are steps that can be made that will benefit them long-term.

This workshop was the first of many conversations and trainings to be done, but it successfully brought new ideas to old problems and a comradery amongst farmers from across the Montes de Maria. For Juan David, who travelled nine hours from his town in the Alta Montaña to attend the meeting, the time spent in groups helped him think critically about the issues that face his own town. “It was very elegant…it helped me a lot to be able to talk with others and learn about the similarities in my own town,” said Juan David.