Cacao for Peace

Posted: September 16, 2018

Lina Tami is a second-year dual-title MSc student of Rural Sociology and International Agriculture & Development at Pennsylvania State University. Lina is a Fulbright-USDA Scholar and her research is in the framework of the Cocoa for Peace Project headed by Penn State.

Since my graduation as an economist I have worked for about 13 years for the Colombian agricultural sector, however, I could say that about half of the time I have been in direct contact with rural communities without really having the opportunity to experience a strong bond with them. This summer was different because I spent seven weeks sharing with communities that produce cocoa as well as other related crops (plantain, yam, avocado, corn, beans, chili, fruit, coffee, etc.) in six municipalities of Colombia.

El Carmen, San Jacinto and San Juan Nepomuceno in the department of Bolívar, Santa Marta and Ciénaga in Magdalena; and Dibulla in La Guajira are located in the Caribbean region and although they are diverse environmentally, economically, and culturally they have a very similar history regarding the war suffered in the regions for almost 50 years.

As a result of the 2016 Peace Agreement, they are part of a group of 170 municipalities (the country has 1,122) that the Government has designated as post-conflict areas, this means that they are subject to special attention in response to their status as affected by violence, presence of illicit crops, high incidence of poverty and low local institutional capacity to generate development.

Special attention implies, among other matters, increasing action for the revitalization of local economies. Although in this aspect the bets are still timid, the idea that cocoa is the most appropriate crop for the substitution of illicit crops and the reconversion of the territory continues standing it out. This is not new because the Alternative Development programs have been promoting cocoa planting in the areas most affected by the conflict in Colombia for more than 30 years. Today we have cocoa plantations in 146 of the 170 post-conflict municipalities, which together contribute to half of the national production.

Despite all efforts, cocoa plantations in Colombia produce much less than expected. According to official data, in 2017 only one of the municipalities included in the study exceeded 500 Kg / Hectare / Year while the others barely reached 330 Kg or less when the expectation is 1,000 to 1200 Kg. Some studies have trying to understand the problem, most scholars attribute the responsibility to the low technological innovation. So the question is, what are the factors that influence the decisions of farmers to adopt or not technology in the context that I have mentioned? What should be the focus of efforts to generate the appropriate scenario for innovation? Those are the questions that guided my research.

The time I spent in the field (although insufficient) was tremendously important to understand the context of this situation, recognize the actors involved in the local dynamics (especially the farmers), listen to their experiences and ideas, understand why some see their future with cocoa and others do not, observe by myself the problems that surround them and achieve an idea of what will happen in the territory.

Taking advantage of my classes in rural sociology especially those about methods, I ran workshops with producers to identify the technologies they perceive as the most useful and easy to use to improve quality and increase grain volume. Technologies that even meet such conditions, the farmers themselves recognize that they do not apply because their social and economic conditions limit them. In addition, I conducted individual interviews and focus groups with institutional and community actors from the localities to collect their ideas on the economic, social and technological factors that influence such decisions from their perspective.

With these inputs I adjusted the questionnaire that I will apply in the next months to obtain part of the data that I require for my analysis. I believe that this is one of the biggest gains of my experience, to have the opportunity to do the validation of the survey in the field, it is fantastic! I must admit that this is pretty useful to advance in my skills as a researcher. Almost everything is easier to see from the desk, from there the problems have a more basic sense than you really find when you land in the territory. That complexity made me suffer, it made me cry, but I loved the final result ... a much more pertinent and useful questionnaire to gather the information that really brings me closer to understanding what is happening in these communities.

On my return I have been facing my field notebook, the documentation of the workshops, the transcription of my recordings, the codification, the confrontation of my theoretical framework, the organization of my photographic record, the discovery of messages that I was not able to decipher in the field, but now I understand more clearly. In the coming weeks and months come the full use of NVivo® software, the discourse analysis, the application of the survey, the management of the database, the running of the statistical model, the analysis and discussion with my advisor, the writing ... and surely the corrections. Finally spreading, sharing and discussing my findings with all those in Colombia who want to take advantage of them.

The fieldwork definitely allowed me to know the terrain in a more intimate, closer and more satisfactory way. It reconnected me with my country through a different experience. I want to encourage all those students who are planning their field work, especially in the International Agriculture and Development arena, to make the most of that experience. This is a field so wide and diverse that every time it requires more heads and hands working on it.