Approximately two-thirds of the population of Chocó, a region on the western coast of Colombia, live below the poverty line. It is also a region troubled by violence from internal armed groups, in part due to the growing of illicit crops. In order to respond to this situation, the Weaving Hope Agricultural Foundation (henceforth, the foundation) began in 2009 as a branch of the social ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church in the San Juan region of Chocó. During this time the ministry has been well received by the communities and has continued to grow and expand.
One of its primary focuses is promoting and facilitating a change from growing of coca (the illicit crop used in the production of cocaine) to cacao (used in the production of chocolate) as a sustainable economic alternative. “The cacao project,” explains Jesus Alfredo Benitez (“Jabez”), the field coordinator of the foundation, “was created as an alternative for substitution of illicit crops that cause so much harm, and so that the inhabitants [can] have a better quality of life.” The foundation provides farmers with technical assistance and training, supplies, accompaniment with crop maintenance, help with various plagues, and more.
On October 18th and 19th, 2016, a flood hit the San Juan region of Chocó, severely affecting many communities and farms throughout the area, including the loss of belongings, agriculture, and, for some, even homes. Juan Carlos Bonilla Mosquera, who lives in the small rural town of Bebedó, had one of the most affected farms. He has been part of the cacao project for three years and was only beginning to gain some cacao production. “This was the first time that flooding affected the farm,” he said. “The floods affected everything—the crops were all on the ground. The trees had a lot of fruit but all of it was lost in the floods.” With hard work, Juan Carlos was able to raise the majority of the trees that had fallen, but some could not be saved and were completely lost.
In light of the damage, Juan Carlos expects it will take longer than normal for his trees to reproduce their fruit. “For trees that lost flowers or fruit,” Jabez explained, “it may take six months to return to normal production, and for trees that fell and had to be replanted, it may take a year.” Both Juan Carlos and Jabez expressed the hope that fertilization will help the cacao trees recover as quick as possible, but the situation is still, nevertheless, a significant blow to local cacao farmers like Juan Carlos. The initial years of growing cacao come without much production and hence income, and so farmers rely upon other crops, such as plantain, cassava, or borojó. These other crops, however, were also affected by the floods, and so the immediate losses by many farmers are pressing.
Juan Carlos expressed his thankfulness with the support and advice provided by the foundation over the years and “hope[s] the foundation can provide support for everyone whose farms were affected by the flooding.” This is the commitment of the foundation, and, as its director José Rutilio Rivas Domínguez emphasized, the foundation has also responded together with the church to provide humanitarian aid for victims of the flooding. Likewise, the foundation has traveled to many of the farms to assess the damage and has already provided some fertilizer to farmers with more to come. “We will continue traveling to the farms to help them recover,” stated Jabez, “and to show our interest in the communities.”