We Feed the World explored the extraordinary stories of 50 communities around the world, featuring small-scale farmers and fishers from across the globe who are using regenerative techniques to nurture biocultural diversity. Launched in 2018, We Feed the World brought the efforts of these individuals and communities to light in the context of current challenges – from land-grabbing to deforestation – calling for global support of small-scale, agroecological farming. We are often told by corporations, governments and the media that without a high-tech, chemically intensive industrial food system, we would soon starve. We Feed The World cut through this misinformation to creatively tell the stories of the farmers and fishers who really feed the world.
Recognising that this is an ongoing journey, and with the imminent launch of We Feed the UK, we recently revisited some of the individuals and communities featured in the original campaign to find out where they are now, and bring you updates on their stories…
HOW IT STARTED:
The Vargas Fandino family farm their arracacha crop on the hillsides of Cajamarca town, in Tolima region of the Colombian Andes. The ancient indigenous tuber, arracacha, which vaguely resembles a large unruly parsnip, has had a resurgence in popularity since local people chose to ban the mining of gold in the area.
In March 2017 the people of Cajamarca held a popular consultation and voted overwhelmingly to block plans to open a mega gold mine. Known as La Colosa, the mine would have generated 100 million tons of contaminated waste rock and destroyed huge parts of the surrounding landscape, threatening the high Andean wetland moors that provide most of Colombia’s fresh water. The promise of a few jobs and a foreign company’s profits did not convince the largely agricultural population out of their main source of livelihood. In 2017, activists triggered a law which allowed the people of Tolima to vote on whether to allow the mine into their area. They resoundingly voted no, a global precedent for land rights and the right to say no to mining.
The majority of arracacha is grown in the region of Tolima providing jobs for many local people. When pushing out the mining company, the people heralded the arracacha as their true gold, that offers a sustainable source of income for generations. The struggle of the farmers drew global attention, with ethical Colombian restaurant chain Crepes & Waffles designing a new menu with the arracacha at its heart. Since October 2017, they have sold more than ten thousand arracacha dishes and given a facelift to an almost forgotten indigenous vegetable.
HOW IT’S GOING:
Since we last met, Bernain and his son Harrison Vargas Fandino have been starting a new business, producing arracacha crips to sell in the local and regional area. Instead of selling the arracacha wholesale to traders and to markets far away, they want to transform the tuber locally and increase awareness of it’s true value as an indigenous food source. Harrison, 15, is spearheading the project. He has been working tirelessly on their new marketing campaign; appearing on regional and national television, at music concerts and utilising social media and his own artful video skills to broadcast the story of arracacha.
Through their new business – Arrak-chitas – the family are looking to scale up the transformation of raw tubers into saleable crisps on a more commercial scale, which could provide more jobs and income for themselves and other arracacha farmers in the Tolima region. They are looking to equip a new processing facility to process the tubers: frying and packaging them on a larger scale. Commercial frying machinery requires some significant investment, and the family are looking far and wide for support to cover the startup costs. It will make a big difference to cutting and frying all the arracacha in their own kitchen!
Harrison, a proud campesino farmer, always makes the point that campesino farmers with their proximity to the land always have an innate understanding of nature that runs deep. Even if it is rarely recognised in official domains, this traditional knowledge and connection to the land should be cherished, and is one factor that ultimately helped save Tolima from gold mining. In 2018 the national government ruled that local referendums can no longer prohibit mining in Colombia – this outcome suggests there is still much work to be done in acknowledging the value in this traditional wisdom. The importance of ongoing anti-extractivism work cannot be overstated, and The Gaia Foundation is a proud founding member of global solidarity network, Yes To Life, No To Mining.
Harrison is an avid birder and is actively involved in protecting the Paramó and cloud forest ecosystems that characterise the upland mountain areas around him. In future, he hopes to be able to help conserve these upland areas and restore some of the forests that have been degraded over the years.