The power of trust and solidarity: Building rural entrepreneurial capacities in Colombia

Empowering disadvantaged indigenous and Afro-descendant women and men is essential to lasting peace in Colombia, which is rebuilding following 50 years of conflict. The IFAD-funded programme known as TOP supports efforts to boost the incomes and improve the working conditions of 50,000 rural families living in extreme poverty. In line with Government policy, the programme is using an inclusive strategy to overcome discriminatory practices and include women in all activities.

“One of the most challenging issues we faced was the complete lack of associations and associative environment,” says: Lida Maria Melo, Programme Representative. “The people we worked with were not used to working together and it was very hard at the beginning, since the programme required at least 15 people per group. Also, working in remote rural areas was challenging because people had lost their trust in public institutions due to corruption and previous unsuccessful interventions from the central government. We managed to recover the credibility of the institutions, and our efforts enabled local people to regain trust in themselves, in their abilities and capacities. They felt empowered and felt the project as their own.”

Of the 13,300 extremely poor families so far reached by TOP, 57 per cent are headed solely by women. This represents over 60 per cent of the total programme goal, which is to reach 12,500 vulnerable rural households headed by women. Incentives are also being provided for women’s participation within other targeted population groups, including young people and victims of armed conflict.

With programme support, local associations of indigenous and Afro-descendant women have started a wide range of income-generating and post-conflict reconciliation activities, including eco-tourism, tailoring, agrifood enterprises, environmental rehabilitation and reforestation. In a vital contribution to post-conflict recovery, they are also displacing illicit crops and replacing them with food crops. “One of the success stories that impressed me the most the group El Progreso, a group of women who breed guinea pigs, which is a typical dish in Southern Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru,” says Melo. “Their association has existed for over 30 years, but it was this programme that finally made them visible and recognized publicly. It is incredible to watch them now selling their products in local markets and festivities in the local communities.”

As participation in activities promoted by the programme increases women’s confidence and skills, they are also becoming active in areas that were previously men’s domain, including livestock raising. A group of women in Cauca Pacífico are now raising and fattening cattle for meat production. TOP has developed a knowledge management and communications strategy to ensure that it gives high visibility to women who take initiatives and drive change in their communities. Melo explains, “A well-organized campaign carried out with all the communication tools available has enabled us to ensure visibility. We engaged with key public and private actors to involve the local community and especially women, to make them visible.”

IFAD Gender Awards winner 2017

The Gender Awards spotlights a programme or project in each of IFAD’s five regions that has taken an innovative, transformative approach to addressing gender inequalities and empowering women. This year’s awards celebrate operations in Bangladesh, Colombia, Mauritania, Morocco and Mozambique.