If rural people are so poor, why don't they do something different?
Recently I was invited to participate in a constructive conversation about the solutions to the local environmental problems facing our town of Líbano. I managed to hold my own in my second language, and I think deliver some insights into the problem. But that's because I didn't just start thinking about this problem, I've been analyzing the situation for nearly a decade, on the ground, asking myself exactly this: 'What is the problem here?'.
In fact, it goes a bit deeper than that. I grew up in Wisconsin, somewhere between Rust belt Urbanity and Northwoods Rurality - let's call it the "Disappearing Farmland 'burbs". I noticed and learned about many problems, like the generational reduction in farmland employment, remaining farming in massive debt to banks for their equipment, soil fertility problems, mysterious plagues, and agricultural run-off, algae blooms, and formgood measure no noble WisconsinKnight can avoid learning about the wonders of a government spending billions on water treatment, just to dump the poop in the lake any time it rains heavily.
So I thought I knew about problems. When I decided to live on the margin in an agricultural community, I had a few thoughts in my mind. First, everything comes from the earth. Between agriculture and mining, all value initiates with the earth/land, and vast value chains stretch from there to the consumers table. So land, I figured, was where the real value was at. Colombia has ana advantage, I thought, in that they 'don't' subsidize agriculture, so there won't be so mich distortion like what we see with corn in the US. Corn is so distorted and has been for so long, the quality of meat has dropped. A facinating topic, but I'd rather not battle at a federal level to improve farming at a local level.
With that in mind, the next thing I knew was that in Colombia, rural frequently meant poor, and people went to the city to get employment. For decades Latin America and Colombia in particular were the example case for urban flight, push-pull migration at its maximum, managing to become by some metrics over 82% urbanized. I believe those forces are reversing now, but more on that in another article.
So I asked myself the question, more than 10 years ago, if people in rural areas are poor, why don't they do something different. We can see for nearly two generations they did, they send their children to be educated and work in the cities. But what are the new possibilities for production in the rural areas?
I have seen and learned a lot about why people don't grow other things - it's pretty simple actually, they grow what they can sell. A few years before I arrived, a local man was promoting the planting of cardamum. It grows here well enough, and it sells for a high price in some parts of the world. Some peoplepe started planting it, and became disillusioned as soon as they realized that there was no local buyer. Sure people buy it in India, but they didn't know any Indians, not to mention the plethora of legal obstacles to exporting foodstuffs that rural communities just aren't equiped to overcome.
I've been working on putting together potential productive systems, identifying native species with potential to serve various functions in these systems. On our farm, Centro de Investigacion Buena Vista, we are working hard to figure out real world plans to make this a reality.
You can watch the whole video here, but I will warn you its all in spanish.