From the Field María del Campo: The Image of Colombian Cacao at the International Theobroma for Peace Congress

Maria del Campo

In the midst of cacao plantations, the figure of a woman stands out with a wide-brimmed hat, a white suit, and on her skirt, green, yellow, red and orange cacao that balances out the intense coffee brown of the cup of chocolate on the table of this Colombian home.

María del Campo is a farming woman who accompanies and represents the thousands of cacao-growing families throughout the country. She is an icon that promotes Colombian cacao both nationally and internationally, and thanks to her experience as a producer, she knows the production, transformation and commercialization process well. During the Second Theobroma for Peace Congress held in Caquetá from November 8-11, 2022, María del Campo attended with the support of the National Federation of Cacao Growers as a speaker and leader of a symposium on the challenges for the agro-industrial development of sustainable chocolate. There, she shared her opinion on the role of women in rural work, the role of cacao in peace building and the importance of events on these issues in important areas for forest conservation.

What has the role of women been in Colombia's rural areas?

It has been transversal to all production chains, but this contribution has not been made visible or quantified, nor has her contribution to the various tasks she performs. So, we must start by understanding that women in rural areas have always been relegated to a role related to the care economy.

Although this role generated great benefits, not only for the family, but also social and community benefits, the other contributions that women were making in agricultural and livestock activities - especially in the management of lesser-known species, food security and environmental conservation - were not seen. However, focus is now being placed on these tasks, as it is increasingly clear that rural women face experience the impacts of extreme inequality.

In this way, other spaces are being created that are more conducive to equal opportunities, identifying entities and organizations, and the latent needs of rural women in many areas: access to land, productive and financial assets, health, welfare and education support, etc. A large gap remains, but I think the good news is that we are increasingly focused on how to close it.

From your experience, how does cacao contribute to peace building in territories affected by conflict in Colombia?

Cacao is a crop that has allowed the creation of new projects for families affected by violence and the cultivation of illegal crops. This doesn't only have to do with coca, there are others that can at a given time also generate complex situations in the territories.
Specifically, in all the programs in which cacao has been promoted as an alternative for the cultivation of illicit crops, cacao has allowed these families to have several things: The first is a productive project that allows them to have a much more peaceful life focused on cacao, which is a product in high demand, not only in the domestic market, but also internationally. In addition, the cultivation also supports social and community relations that go beyond the families, encompassing social and solidarity organizations in productive projects and enterprises with agro-industrial development, which generate opportunities for the whole community. Men are typically in charge of production with the support of their families, but once the crop begins to bear fruit, they begin to generate alternatives in the agro-industrial part. There, we found an ideal space to achieve the inclusion and integration of women and young people in activities related to the processing and marketing of cacao and chocolate. So, we see that one crop can generate other perspectives, other dynamics in the territories, another way of seeing and conceiving the field from legality, from productivity, from dreaming of great things, and to see the result of all that work reflected in situations that for families definitely make a change in their living conditions, socio-economic situation, and, I'd say, even emotional well-being.

Although cacao is grown in 30 of the country's 32 departments, the percentage produced in the Colombian Amazon is not significant. Why continue to hold events such as the International Theobroma for Peace Congress in this region?

This congress had a focus that I believe is relevant not only for Colombia's Amazon region, but for the whole country, precisely as its name said: the road to sustainability and conservation of forests. When we talk about the cultivation of cacao, we are talking about a crop that is managed sustainably because it is integrated into other forest species. It is time that we consider what we are doing to conserve the forests as farming families, as social organizations, as the entities that support us, and also as the state. When we talk about agricultural crops or livestock production we know that we have the possibility of integrating sustainability and forest conservation. It is important that these spaces continue to be carried out because the greatest wealth of the Colombian landscape is biodiversity, and that biodiversity cannot be affected by the productive activities that we develop. On the contrary, I believe that the great responsibility we have is to continue protecting, conserving and regenerating it. So, these types of spaces like the Theobroma para La Paz Congress lead us to think, and invite us to take action on what we are doing in the territories to maintain that biodiversity, which is also the source for all other crops to be productive and to achieve the quality standards that the market is looking for. It is such a symbiotic relationship that I do not see the possibility of doing agricultural or livestock or forestry production if we do not think in terms of sustainability in all that it implies for the future.

This document was produced thanks to the support of FEDECACAO, the CGIAR initiative AgriLAC Resilient and the project 18_III_106_COL_A_Sustainable productive strategies, "Implementation of sustainable agricultural and livestock systems for the simultaneous targeting of forest conservation for climate change mitigation (REDD+) and peace building in Colombia", which is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.