The importance of new perspectives on the notion of value for the local economy in Solano

The importance of new perspectives on the notion of value for the local economy in Solano

Colombia - 05 August, 2022

An interview with Martha Moreno, economist and field adviser of the project Working Landscapes.

1. Based on your experience as an economist and field adviser of the project Working Landscapes, what would the main strengths in a landscape like Solano be from an economic perspective?

The main strengths in Solano are precisely the ones traditional economic perspectives (focused in the accumulation of capital) do not value such as the rivers, the forests, the land, the air, water, soil and the wide range of services and products they offer. The people living in Solano have an existence based on that diversity and they have endured hardships and pressures that have reduced their life spaces. In fact, the adaptation to external pressures may be one of the most striking and strategic elements at a local level.

According to the literature, these isolated regions were precisely the ones that introduced Colombia to the international markets in the second half of the 19th century thanks to the government policies of making forests productive. That is when the extraction of the chincona bark, rubber, and animal leathers started which later became extensive cattle rearing and cannabis and coca cultivations. These products brought the economic boom logic to these territories and the no way out implied in the idea of living in a treasure hunt.

Thus, the soil, the river, animals and people have been adapting to these kind of tendencies. They have lost lives, traditions, trees, animals, fragments of rivers and even words in the process, but some are communities still make a living in this place. Therefore, I believe the strength of this territory manifests itself in the people that are sustaining their own life projects in spite of the tendencies in international markets and the desk economic policies.

2. On the same line, what would be the main difficulties?

The people and territory of Solano face a lot of incomprehension from many actors. From an economic perspective, the main difficulty is still focusing on the weight of the capital, in the sum of benefits and in the consumer economy. We need to widen our perspectives upon different ecosystems because the capital, at the end, depends on our relationship with these territories. We need to understand the language of real value in Solano to get to the root that sustains everything in the midst of crisis.

3. What products or processes are you working on locally to weigh out cattle rearing and coca cultivations? What promises are implied in such products?

Thanks to the activities of the program Women caretakers of the Amazon we have witnessed how indigenous women now focus on recovering and maintaining their knowledge and household economies. On one hand, they are recovering their material culture such as necklaces, basketry, earrings, kusmas; on the other hand, they also work on the recovery of the astonishing diversity of products of the chagra. We must underline the participation of women from different generations in these initiatives, as well as the interaction among indigenous and campesino or “colono” women.

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Products from Women caretakers of the Amazon in Solano. Foto: Catalina Vargas

Another very interesting experience is the charapa turtle sanctuary in Potreros, a vereda in the area of Herichá. Arcesio, a local campesino, has dedicated his time to incubate charapa eggs and look after them so he can latter on release them in the Potreros Lake. Even if this practice is normally read from the lens of conservation, it is an example of how the flows of energy contribute to redefine the sustenance of a community, for instance, the charapa used to be a source of good in the area and now it is interpreted differently. This initiative is not promoting the consumption of the animal it is showing us that people like Arcesio are changing their minds on the local resources and how they offer different services even if the economic impact is yet to be understood.

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Charapas ready to be released in Potreros Lak. Foto: Martha Moreno

These two initiatives are both in improving the living conditions and opening new perspectives in Solano’s local economy. They are caring economies, household economies, taking place inside the kitchens and in community learning spaces like forests, chagras and other places where life is thriving.

4. What can we learn from the way indigenous and campesino communities organize their economies?

I consider there is a lot to learn from the collective actions that have worked throughout the past decades to solve many problems in the region since they continue to make different ways of living possible. We can learn from how people live and recognize their practices and interests. We can learn from the knowledge transmitted from generation to generation and from the history of changes that have taken place in the region through the lens of locals.

In Solano, people organize juntanzas so that each family can afford their two months food shopping, send their products and get supplies. That requires preparation and agreements, many nights of discussions after a whole day working the land, working in the kitchens, in the chagras, taking care of the children, the house and the vegetable patches. Both indigenous and campesino communities have their own way of listening to each other and communicating their ideas, making decisions about their territories or resguardos and their own way of interacting.

One of the most important places to understand how a territory works is in the kitchens. You can understand how water supplies work, what is being cultivated, bought from other places and how energy is invested in preparations. In kitchens, you may also see how many persons have been working in the 100 or 400 hectares of the farm. The kitchens display everything required on a daily basis in Solano.

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A kitchen in Solano. Foto: Zunil Lozano

5. We have been discussing lately on the financial mechanisms that may work in the processes of restoring the forests. From your perspective, what have we learned so far in Working Landscapes about this?

We have learned that in order to start an economic model for the Amazon we need to consider ethical matters and invest in understanding value from different perspectives. This means it is essential to have an ethical relationship with communities and nature, to seek equity and justice when discussing capitals, to think on the production and consumption cycles in the circular economy that corresponds to forests, that is, to think in the economy of forests.

On the other hand, we need to make an effort to understand better how extractive economies work and how they justify their own economic discourse. In addition, it is important to acknowledge the silent dynamics and powers that govern over these territories and its people. In other words, we need to make a real effort on understanding how people make a living, whether they have enough reserves set aside for the next two months or not, or if they have the cultural tools and knowledge of the forest to have a sustenance in the long term. I also think we need to identify the threats in each case. From Tropenbos Colombia, we have been promoting the knowledge about nature and the ways of living from an intercultural framework. There are still many debates in the agenda in Solano, especially if we want intercultural agreements to take place under the process of Participative Productive Restoration, but I consider we have evidenced that there is a great potential in the intercultural exchanges of experiences and knowledge among neighboring communities to continue forging bonds in this landscape.