A visit on the Chicué river, Colombia

Journey along the Chicué River. Flying at the front of the boat a white flag with a weapon crossed out, to signal we come in peace. Photo: Therése Naomi Jonsson

”We have learnt to farm more efficiently and to handle risks”

We travel along the Chicué River, in northwestern Colombia’s Chocó district, where the Church of Sweden’s partner The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), is providing humanitarian support to indigenous communities. The project is financed by ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department.

We stop at the village of Nueva Jerusalén, where the inhabitants gather to greet us. Several of the communities within the project have appointed two local promoters, one male and one female. The local promoters function as a focal point for the villagers and support the project’s implementation. One part of the project aims to support more efficient farming techniques, and protection against harmful effects from natural hazards and other risks.

“We have learnt to farm more efficiently and to handle risks. For example, we now start to cultivate only with a safe distance of ten meters from the rivers. Before, we use to cultivate right by the river bank, but when the river grows it sweeps the planted seeds with it”, says Jota Cabrera Dumaza Dinamiza, one of the local promoters.

Another aspect in the LWF work on risk reduction  involves building houses higher up on poles, so that the water can’t reach them during flooding, and planting trees with strong roots along the river bank. This increases resilience to strong wind and rains and prevents land erosion.

Iloriza Cabrera Tunas is one of the project’s beneficiaries. During the decades of armed conflict it has occasionally been unsafe to access the farm fields. Natural hazards and flooding have further exacerbated the situation and contributed to food shortages and malnutrition.

“We didn’t have enough food, we couldn’t hunt and it affected us a lot – also psychologically”, says Iloriza.

Iloreza lives with her 7-year-old son in Nueva Jerusalén. She usually starts her day by checking her home garden, and clearing it of weeds and vermin. Then she cleans the house, cooks and does the laundry before she walks down to the farm field, where they cultivate yucca, bananas, corn, sugar cane, rice and pineapple, among other things.

“LWF has also taught us to farm more nutritious crops”, says Iloriza.

When armed groups were active in the area, reports of rape and forced recruitments emerged. Sometimes helicopters would come and drop bombs.  Since the Colombia peace negotiations began, things have calmed down, she says.  

“We didn’t feel free and we were constantly afraid. It is better now that we know the government and FARC have signed the peace agreement, but it’s still uncertain what will happen with the paramilitary groups”, says Iloreza.

LWF supports local coping mechanisms. For example, now groups have been formed for accompaniment to the farm fields to reduce the vulnerability of individuals, especially women. LWF also trains local indigenous guards, who can warn other villagers if a storm or another source of danger approaches, and how to best protect against them.