Sustainable Development in Colombia

Tucked between the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Venezuelan border, lays the little-known city of Valledupar. Valledupar is home to vallenato music, around 700,000 inhabitants, and – to Nyomi’s delight – over 2 million mango trees, which provide much needed shade from the soaring temperatures. Arriving from the cold of Bogota, we were more than happy with the change of climate.

We had come to meet with Fabiola Fuentes of Project Mingueo and undertake a feasibility study of the ‘Isla Los Olivos’ project. Project Mingueo was set up to help vulnerable and displaced communities in Colombia to improve their quality of life, by creating self-sufficient and sustainable communities.  Article 25 has been supporting Isla Los Olivos since 2010 through its Student Chapter Network, providing research into the development of an eco-village for the community.

The Los Olivos site is 20 minute drive outside of the city. In one intense day we undertook a site survey, met with over 50 community members and undertook various participatory workshops with them to understand their immediate and long-term needs and aspirations for the land. Many of the community members’ families had once lived on the site, and there was a great desire to return to the land and use it for cultivation and raising animals. Fabiola has been working with the community to provide training in permaculture, composting and conflict resolution.

We also had the privilege of travelling to Pueblo Bello in the Sierra Nevada to meet with a group of indigenous community leaders and learn about the projects they are undertaking. Fabiola has been working with them to support local economic development and to revive traditional values and lifestyles.

We have been impressed with the burgeoning sustainability movement across South America and have heard of many great examples of communities working to develop more sustainable ways of living. One which we visited named Organizmo is an organisation which aims to promote eco-architecture, permaculture and community engagement in Colombia. There is a growing recognition of the need to conserve the unique natural resources the continent contains, and the Los Olivos project has the potential to provide a model for alternative development and urbanisation in Colombia.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Fabiola Fuentes and Goran Stal of the Mingueo Project for hosting us during our visit and for extending wonderful Colombian hospitality including taking us for a swim in the Guatapuri river, introducing us to Zapote juice, and for organising a private concert with the wonderful accordionist Delwin Guillen!

Nyomi Rowsell & Jessica Toale