From a commitment to small-scale farmers to political leadership

Doña Irene Ramirez represents one of the largest organisations of family farmers, an organisation that works for the integral defence of the human rights of farmers in Magdalena Medio. Irene began her work with the Peasant Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC) in 2008, after being involved in the farming community’s struggle since she was a child.

Although she did not study, her parents always taught her the importance of the countryside for Colombians, and the need to demand recognition for the rights of farmers. Irene is a humble person and conscious of the reality around her, everything she does, is for the communities of people who have suffered so much from the extreme violence the country has lived through, and continues to experience.

Irene tells us how in 2003, paramilitaries killed her brother when he was just 32 years old, in southern Bolivar, he was a leader in the farming community. Since then, Irene has been involved in the Community Action Boards´ search for a more dignified life for the farmers and a way out of the vicious cycles of violence.

The change of lifestyle from the peaceful farming communities of Puerto Matilde to the noise and chaos of Barrancabermeja, has been hard for Irene. Her commitment to farmers motivated her to take an active role in the political and social struggle to defend their land and build peace from the grassroots up.

Irene compares the regions where the ACVC works to schools for learning, where knowledge can be shared, organisational processes are strengthened and where people who live from the land can seek a dignified life.

The ACVC is preparing itself for the new post-conflict era in Colombia and considering what it will really mean for farmers in Magdalena Medio.  Irene believes that the ACVC will have an important role when peace is signed, in demanding the fulfilment of the peace agreements by the Government and promoting models for peace in rural areas.

The ACVC has created productive projects in rural areas, which represent genuine alternatives to the neoliberal economic model imposed by the Colombian State and the rest of the world, Irene comments.  “These projects are implemented in the Campesino Reservation Zone of Magdalena Medio, a legal entity which protects the land and the farmers so they can live their lives without threats from megaprojects or large single-owned estates”.  Some of these projects include the innovative buffalo project and a national-scale cooperative for farmers to receive a fair price for their products.

Irene is a strong example of a woman who, in spite of the machismo of the countryside, has reached an important position in the social movement in Colombia.  She hopes that she can be an inspiration to her female colleagues in the countryside so they recognise that they too are capable, and without their input, a true and sustainable peace will not be possible.

Irene emphasises the importance of education in rural areas.  She recognises that before getting involved with the social movement and the ACVC, she neither knew what her rights were, nor demanded their enforcement. It is fundamental that all those who live in rural areas take ownership of their rights to carry on their struggle and keep building peace in Colombia.

Hannah

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