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Growing coffee on land free of mines

Explosive weapons

It took 10 years for Justiniano, a farmer in Colombia, to feel safe when walking on and cultivating his land. Thanks to HI’s demining operations, his coffee plantation is now flourishing.

Justiniano holds a coffee plant in his hand and smiles.

Justiniano Pencué in his coffee plant nursery in the region of Inzá, Cauca department, Colombia. | © J. M. Vargas / HI

For 10 years, fear of the presence of landmines on his land prevented Justiniano Pencue, a farmer from the Nasa indigenous community in Colombia from expanding his coffee plantation.

Clearing the land of explosive devices

In 2004, Justiniano, his wife Rosalba and their three daughters arrived in the village of La Meseta. They came with a dream: to live on a farm and create a better future for their children. But, as Justiniano explains, about a decade ago, an armed group used his farm as a transit point and campsite. They littered the area with "tatucos" – improvised devices made of cylinders filled with explosives. From that moment on, Justiniano stopped cultivating this land. The family was so afraid that they fenced it off and never returned to it.

As part of HI's demining operations in Inzá municipality, teams spent five months inspecting and clearing Justiniano’s farm. They released more than an acre of land, allowing Justiniano’s family to cultivate it again.

Finally, on July 26, 2022, after two and a half years of land release activities, HI declared the municipality of Inzá free of suspected contamination by landmines, explosive devices and unexploded ordnance.

The future of the Pencue family

Justinianio working on his farm in Inzá municipality. © J. M. Vargas / HIThe Pencue family has grown since 2004, as Justiniano and Rosalba have welcomed several grandchildren. Thanks to HI’s work, the children can now play and run about the farm without the risk of harm. Justinianio and Rosalba’s daughters will also be able to uphold the farming traditions of their community.

"For me, our land means that my family will be able to move forward thanks to our work. Even if it is not for my wife and me, our work will guarantee the welfare of our daughters," says Justiniano, looking out at the mountains from land that once was a minefield.

On the farm, cassava, plantain, coffee, and vegetables are growing again, a variety of plants that guarantee healthy and productive soil. Today, Justiniano is cultivating 5,000 coffee plants.

"I am already preparing the land to plant my coffee. With these crops we’ll be able to make a living, to feed ourselves," says Justiniano.

Fertile, but dangerous land

Justinianio working with his coffee plants. © J. M. Vargas / HIThe land in Colombia's Cauca region is rich in living soil for growing sugar cane, corn, plantain, cassava, coffee, and vegetables. The agricultural tradition of the Nasa indigenous families contributes to the production of healthy food, resilient to the climate and in harmony with the environment. This is vital to the food security and nutrition of the communities in the area.

The use of landmines and explosive ordnance during the armed conflict forced many families to abandon their traditions and economic activity. The presence of explosive devices made it impossible for them to plant or walk across their land, posing a physical threat and having a psychosocial impact on the civilian population. 

The people mostly affected by this threat are those living in rural areas. Thanks to the support of The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), HI has been running demining operations in seven municipalities in Cauca (Cajibio, Caloto, Corinto, Puracé, Inzá, Páez and Santander de Quilichao), successfully releasing all the land in three of them so far.

Date published: 05/10/23


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