Colombia Accompaniment Report: Development, Colombian Style

Ivan Herman & John Wallace

April 23, 2018

Late one afternoon, we joined 50 Colombian Presbyterians to hear Rev. Milton Mejía discuss how the concept of development has changed in the last 50 years. He covered social and economic development theories from the 1960s-1990s to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations for 2000-2015. The general complaint was that the “developed world,” and not those who seek to improve themselves, had set these expectations. Milton then introduced the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN. While many in the room considered the newer goals better than the MDGs, people still had a sense that these, too, are “top-down” goals and not rooted in the all-important local needs and relationships.

The following Tuesday we got to see the value of these relationships as the church engages with sustainable development at the grassroots For over five years, the IPC has worked with displaced peoples in a community called El Tamarindo, just along the highway southwest of Barranquilla. In December 2016 ten of these families moved from El Tamarindo to the community of María Jacinta, where each family received a 2.5 hectare plot to raise crops and livestock. The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) provided one farmer with a gasoline-powered pump for his well and a hybrid of plantain that would withstand high winds. Along with plantings of yuca and yams, and a plan for a small pond to raise fish, the PHP offers him hope for the future. “But I’m not there yet,” he joked. “There are so many holes in my roof that when there’s an aguacero (heavy rain), there’s more water inside the house than outside it.” He keeps his name on the government waitlist of those who are eligible to be resettled to new lands.

In November 2017 the Presbytery of the Coast was able to purchase (with a gift from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the PHP) a 7.5 hectare plot in a community near the town of La Peña. They hope soon to invite a displaced family to move onto this fallow, yet overgrow

n, land and begin to develop it for planting. We accompanied Rev. Jairo Barriga when he met with neighboring farmers (who all have 7.5 hectare plots). Just as he has been doing in the María Jacinta, he led a conversation about organizing an association of farmers who would empower and

protect each other. Perhaps one day they will grow not only what they need for subsistence, but also be able to market a crop or a value-added product directly to global consumers.

Development isn’t truly sustainable unless it impacts the third generation, Jairo taught the farmers. However, the development programs often supported by international NGOs look only at the short term. Even in the best examples, development organizations offer only a flat of free seedlings, a 3-hour workshop on how to plant, grow, and harvest them, and then wish the farmers luck on their way out the door. There’s even less help on the market side of the harvest. At its worst, corporations have given away free, patented GMO seed, and risked driving the farmers into debt when they can’t afford fertilizer or pesticides and thus lose the entire crop.

Development is not always a gift—or even a goal. However, transformation is possible through long-term investments and relationships. We are witnessing such relationship commitments in the IPC every day. The more we live, love, and learn from each other, the more likely we are to be transformed into God’s dream for us.