By Annalise Romoser, Lutheran World Relief
In 2000, Colombian farmer Rogelio Martinez and others were violently pushed off their land by paramilitary soldiers. They left behind nearly 500 acres of quality farming territory and lost an abundance of corn, yucca and rice crops. “I was forced to leave everything behind,” said Rogelio in 2009, “my land, my crops, even my dignity.”
In 2007, Rogelio mustered up the courage to return home and reclaim the land he had labored on for many years. A lull in the country´s conflict opened space for others to return, and Rogelio encouraged them to do so. He became a community leader and helped usher 53 families home.
By 2010, Rogelio´s neighbors were poised to harvest again and the future for production on their land was promising. But that year, after receiving death threats for his efforts to protect the community´s land, Rogelio was assassinated by masked gunmen. Farming efforts faltered in the immediate aftermath of his death.
Rogelio was one of 20 land leaders killed between August 2010 and October 20011 in Colombia. A tragedy for his family and community, Rogelio´s death also hints at a crisis for food production in Colombia and provokes development practitioners to reflect on what support is needed for farmers to survive in a country in conflict.
In Colombia, small-scale farmers feed the nation producing — 70% of all food consumed in the country — but their land and their lives are under threat.
Colombia has some of the most highly concentrated land holdings in the world, and the country´s conflict continues to push small-scale farmers off of farms at alarming rates. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of all cultivable land in Colombia lays vacant because farmers are intimidated or pushed off their land.
According to Colombia´s Commission for the Oversight of Public Policy on Forced Displacement, these high rates of displacement have reduced agricultural production —nearly 43 percent of all displaced rural Colombians abandoned crops when fleeing their land. In Rogelio´s home region, the number rises to nearly 50 percent, with corn, plantains and yucca crops lost most frequently. Those staples represent a significant part of the Colombian diet and their loss is a blow to the nation´s food security.
Since Rogelio’s death, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has worked closely with his community on an integrated approach to agricultural production. This includes psychosocial work — helping farmers impacted by violence develop the skills needed to overcome trauma and rebuild trust and networks among neighbors. LWR also advocates with the Colombian and U.S. governments for concrete protection measures and policies to formalize land titles, which helps impede secondary displacement and allows farmers to use their land as collateral.
The future of food production in Colombia begins with protecting leaders like Rogelio and making sure farmers have de facto and de jure land rights. It calls for integrated approaches to agricultural development to help secure legal title and strengthen communities, while also investing in crop production.
In the case of Rogelio´s community, this approach resulted in the cultivation of 70 hectares of food crops in 2011, the establishment of a seed bank and the purchase of 15 cows for dairy production. All signs indicate that despite a halt to production after Rogelio´s death, the community plans to stay, plant and produce food crops for their families and for their country.
Annalise Romoser is a communications officer for Latin America at Lutheran World Relief. This blog is part of AlertNet’s Solutions for a Hungry World special report.
Motivated by faith and grounded in the Lutheran tradition, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) works to build and maximize community assets to develop strong local economies and resilient communities. Driven by local needs and working with local partners, LWR focuses on underserved rural communities, with particular emphasis on improving livelihoods for small-scale farmers and ensuring sustainability by strengthening the capacity of local organizations.
 Martínez, Rogelio. Personal Interview. 2009.
 U.S. Office on Colombia, ¨Against All Odds: The deadly struggle of land rights leaders in Colombia.¨2011.
 Semana, ¨This is Rural Colombia.¨2012.
 Commission for the Oversight of Public Policy on Forced Displacement, ¨Eleventh Report.¨ 2009.
 Commission for the Oversight of Public Policy on Forced Displacement, ¨II National Survey: Verification of the Rights of the Displaced Population.¨ 2008.