After five decades of war, the Colombian government signed the peace agreement with FARC in 2016, an act that started the pacification of the country.
The UK is supporting the economic development in this post conflict Colombia with the Colombia Prosperity programme. As well as unlocking economic opportunities and driving growth in Colombia’s regions, it aims to help more than 3 million people, particularly women and girls in Colombia’s poorest regions.
In order for the peace agreement to succeed, crop substitution and sustainable growth in the agriculture sector have become the biggest challenges for Colombia. There is a commitment by the Colombian government to reduce the production of coca leaves by farmers, but there are a number of issues to solve.
Reap what you sow
The coca plant is easy to grow and has three harvests a year. The move away from this crop creates a need for improved productivity and the production of high value added produce for international markets. There is an opportunity for the AgriTech community in the UK to make a positive contribution to the Colombian agriculture sector.
Fertilisers and chemical free pest treatment are in high demand and currently imported, as is the technology to ensure that these are applied effectively with precision. The lands owned by the guerrillas and other groups for coca growing need identifying and monitoring properly, so satellite imaging and data management is required.
Broaden your horizon
Many of the crops currently grown have a focus on the internal market, but there is a growing demand for novel ingredients in a range of products on the international market from food and drink through to cosmetic and personal hygiene products. Processes to extract higher value from these crops at source would reduce transport cost, thus increase the returns to the farmer. Refining process by-products also has the potential to create new value chains for farmers such as fertilisers or biogas for energy.
I recently accompanied 15 individuals from the UK on a mission to Colombia, where they met with 150 organisations and between them took part in 168 meetings to explore potential projects for the current Colombian AgriTech Catalyst collaborative call.
The Colombian AgriTech Catalyst will provide an opportunity for UK organisations to work with Colombian partners to develop bespoke solutions to issues that they have on the ground in Colombia. The deployment of these solutions will help to contribute to the development of Colombian agriculture and enable the uptake of new technologies and processes by small holders and female farmers.
The UK expertise included sensor and monitoring networks, satellite observation, plant, animal and fish breeding, block chain technology secure supply chains and food manufacturing.
Over the course of a week, between us we met over 200 organisations, ranging from fruit, coffee and livestock farmers, through to multinationals in the food chain, IT and technology providers, NGOs and researchers. The level of enthusiasm was exceptional as was their determination to help drive the peace process forward by embracing new opportunities for Colombian Agriculture.
During the visit I was presented with varieties of fruit and veg that were both delicious and some completely new to me, such as melon, lulo, yucca, sugar cane, pineapple, cacao and peach palm and guanabana much of this is currently produced for the internal market.
It was clear that Colombia has a wealth of produce to offer the rest of the world and with our support and their determination I feel this will happen sooner rather than later.
Ian Holmes is the National Contact Point for H2020 AgriFood and Bioeconomy and currently runs the UK Colombian Agritech Catalyst Fund.
You can follow Ian on Twitter: @UKH2020_Sustain
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