Small-Scale Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley
The Small-Scale Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley’s (ACVC) is a social organization operating in 120 villages in the Magdalena Medio region.
For more than twenty years the ACVC has been striving for a dignified life for peasant families affected by Colombia’s internal conflict. It promotes the implementation of the Peace Agreement as a strategy to achieve structural changes in the Colombian countryside. One of its prime initiatives is helping small farmers substitute coca leaf plantations with environmentally sustainable agricultural projects.
“Each moment that PBI accompanies us, transmitting our messages, fills us with joy. All those people who come from far away, leave their lives and their families to stand by us, peasants of Colombia. This gives us real hope. Damn it, we must keep fighting! Our country is waking up: today you can speak the truth, and people are not as afraid as before. PBI has helped us to strengthen this resistance.”
Irene Ramírez, ACVC president
ACVC’s history: “Necessity obliged us to promote peaceful coexistence”
During the 1980s and 1990s, widespread violence in the Magdalena Medio region forced many small-scale farmer families to escape to the city. Illegal armed groups – FARC and ELN guerrillas and paramilitary groups – had a strong influence in the area, while state entities failed to establish their authority. As a result, roads were impassable, there was no government support for agricultural production and education and health services were scarce1. Due to this precarious situation, farmers organised themselves to defend their rights.
Several peasant movements were formed in the region2 and in 1996 victims of forced displacement in the area created the Small-Scale Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley’s (ACVC). Óscar Duque, one of the organisation’s leaders explains: “We were so tired of being displaced to other regions of the country. It was out of necessity that we looked for the tools that would make the Cimitarra River Valley a region of coexistence, peace and harmony — a region where, in concrete terms, we could implement a development model that would bring social benefit to the community.”3
Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Reserve Zone: a proposal for peace
In this time of humanitarian and human rights crisis, the ACVC began to hold assemblies, organise peaceful demonstrations and dialogues with the government of the then President Andrés Pastrana, to advocate for the rights of the rural population. After the painful episode of the displacement of thirteen thousand small farmers to Barrancabermeja who fled from the paramilitary incursion in the South of Bolívar and the Cimitarra river valley regions4, the ACVC and other small-scale farmer groups succeeded in having the Government assume various commitments.5
One of these commitments was the creation of the Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Reserve Zone (ZRC for its acronym in Spanish). More than twenty thousand peasants live together in the area. Their aims are to guarantee food sovereignty, a stable settlement to prevent new displacements and demand respect for human rights, while promoting a large-scale environmental conservation project.6 Today, the ZRC of the Cimitarra River Valley has become an important reference point for the six Peasant Reserve Zones that operate in Colombia and that are legally recognised by the Government.7
In this vast territory of beautiful landscapes and great biodiversity, the farmer families manage various agricultural projects. Their purpose is to counteract the negative impacts of extensive cattle farming and oil palm planting in the region, which have exacerbated inequalities and intensified armed conflict.8 One of these projects is the “Farmer’s Eco buffalo” (“Ecobúfalo Campesino”) cooperative, which produces and markets buffalo cheese and meat.9
In addition, the ACVC and the rural families of the ZRC are exploring opportunities to promote ecotourism. By doing so, their plan is to draw attention to the great biodiversity of the area while raising awareness about the conservation of flora and fauna and local ecosystems.10
ACVC’s work: 20 years promoting peasant rights
“As a peasant association that, for more than twenty years, has resisted together with the rural communities of the Cimitarra River valley and southern Bolívar, we have worked for a peace built from the territories, through the strengthening of our own local economy and aiming to end hunger within our communities,” according to today’s ACVC members.11
To achieve this, the association has been doing community, political and social work in eight municipalities in the Magdalena Medio region: Barrancabermeja, Cantagallo, Remedios, San Pablo, Santa Rosa del Sur, Segovia, Simití and Yondó. The ACVC is made up of around 120 village Communal Action Councils (JACs), and representatives of peasant cooperatives, fisher’s and women’s organisations, as well as environmental and land committees, and other rural groups.12
ACVC’s work focuses on leadership training and organizational strengthening, and on advocacy activities at the local and regional levels. The association also promotes the rights and wellbeing of the rural population displaced by the conflict, and the establishment of education and health services as well as housing for rural families. It helps them to develop environmentally sustainable agricultural projects. In addition to buffalo and cow farming, these include the small-scale production of sugar cane, and rice, and fish farming.13
ACVC Women Peasant’s Coordination
In 2017, in Cantagallo, south of Bolivar, the first meeting of women from the Peasant Reserve Zone of the Cimitarra River Valley was held14, attended by 200 peasant women in order to share their experiences and knowledge of the territory. Assuming the historical weight that rural women have had in the region, that same year the Coordination of Woman of the ACVC was created in the Peasant Reserve Zone. A year later, after the Zone had been functioning well, the same thing was done in northeastern Colombia through the Network of Peasant Women for Territorial Peace project, supported by UN Women15.
In this way, the ACVC began to work hand in hand with all peasant women to achieve true political participation, with effective representation within the decision-making spaces, in order to constitute a broad scenario of participation, planning and territorial construction in which the proposals of the women of the Peasant Reserve Zone of the Cimitarra River Valley are reflected.
Through this project, alliances have been strengthened between ACVC and other organisations such as the Corporación Acción Humanitaria por la Convivencia y la Paz del Nordeste Antioqueño (CAHUCOPANA), Asociación de Hermandades Agroecológicas y Mineras de Guamocó (AHERAMIGUA) and Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo (ASCAMCAT). “With this project we have not only achieved the creation of the Coordinating Body of Women of North-Eastern Colombia, but also the positioning of an advocacy agenda at the national level,” says Yuranis Cuellar, peasant leader of ACVC who is also coordinating the project.
Substitution of coca leaves for sustainable crops
ACVC promotes the substitution of coca leaf crops – historically the main economic support of many peasant families in the area – with alternative agricultural projects. To do so, it supports families that participate in the National Crop Substitution Program (PNIS for its Spanish acronym) that was created as part of the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
This task is not always easy, and the program has received much criticism, including from the participants themselves. The reintroduction of forced eradications by the army by the government of Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque, and the lack of alternative agricultural projects for those who voluntarily stopped growing coca leaves generate doubts and uncertainties among the participating families.16
Nevertheless, the ACVC and allied organizations in the villages of San Pablo and Cantagallo have achieved the participation of almost six hundred families in the national crop substitution program. With them, meetings, workshops and talks are held about what it means to be a part of the PNIS.17
In addition, the association strives for the implementation of other commitments that were agreed upon by the national Government and the FARC guerrilla in 2106, such as the Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET in Spanish). This initiative seeks to achieve sustainable and equitable development in the areas most affected by armed conflict, poverty, illicit economies, and weak institutions. According to the ACVC, the PDETs “represent a key element to guarantee the development of the small-scale farmer and family economy as the basis of the region’s food sovereignty.”18
Threats and attacks
Since the creation of the ACVC its members have been victims of assassinations, threats, arbitrary arrests, displacements, disappearances, torture, burning of houses, and food and sanitary blocks. Despite the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, the threats and attacks have not stopped.
In the time before the mayoral and governor elections in October 2019, the insecurity intensified in the Magdalena Medio region. Local leaders linked to ACVC activities were victims of smear campaigns and accusations. Illegal armed actors in the region continue to hinder ACVC’s work through intimidation and threats. The ACVC does not hesitate to report these incidents to the Colombian authorities, in its advocacy meetings and through public statements in the rural press.19
In 2020 the context has become even more complex and the armed actors present took advantage of the pandemic to increase their social and territorial control. An example of this is the assassination of Omaira Alcaraz, a member of the ACVC’s Women’s hamlet Committee from the village of Alto San Juan (municipality of San Pablo), on 29 August.20
Security and protection measures
In 2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to the ACVC, concluding that the organisation had been “declared military objectives by paramilitary groups in the region, and have been systematically subjected to threats and fatal attacks on the lives of their executives”.21
ACVC members have a collective protection scheme of the National Protection Unit (UNP), and several of its leaders have individual protection schemes.
Awards and recognition
In 2010, ACVC won the National Peace Prize awarded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), El Tiempo, Caracol Radio, Caracol Televisión, Revista Semana and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation22. This renowned Colombian award honoured the ACVC for being an organizational experience that defends life and access to justice, and sustainable development for a dignified habitat and civil resistance.23
In 2019, Diakonia granted the ACVC the “Experience or collective process of the year” award in the category: “Social process”.24
We have accompanied the ACVC since 2007.
- Twitter: @ACVCRAN
- Facebook: @Asociación-Campesina-del-Valle-del-Río-Cimitarra
1 Get to know more: Truth Commisison: Magdalena medio, consulted on 12 November 2020; Truth Commission: “Todas las formas de violencia pasaron por el rio Magdalena”, 10 May 2019
2 Creación de la Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos, Asojuntas y Coordinadora Campesina Popular
3 Presentation at the Meeting for Peace: ACVC, una experiencia de organización, movilización y resistencia en el territorio, 15 August 2011
4 El Espectador: Una apuesta a la paz y a la vida, 30 September 2011
5 ACVC: La ACVC: una organización campesina perseguida injustamente por el estado colombiano, 25 October 2007
6 Revista Semillas: Zona de Reserva Campesina Valle del Rio Cimitarra. Entrevista a Álvaro Manzano, 10 August 2011
7 El País: Cuando el campo se empodera, 12 March 2020
8 WRM: Colombia: incentivo económico perverso para la plantación de palma aceitera, 9 June 2001 ; see the ACVC website for more information on their production projects, https://reservacampesinariocimitarra.org/
9 ACVC-RAN: Ecobúfalo Campesino llega a Corferias en Agroexpo 2019, 8 July 2019
10 ACVC-RAN: El movimiento campesino conserva la biodiversidad. Caracterización biológica en la Zona de Reserva Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra, 3 July 2019
11 ACVC: Por un Programa de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial por y para las comunidades, 7 September de 2017
12 PBI Colombia: Interview with Irene Ramírez, 6 February 2020
14 Acvc-Ran: Mujeres del valle del río Cimitarra, 5 July 2019
15 Prensa rural: Yurany Cuellar: “El feminismo campesino y popular plantea una lucha frente a este modelo patriarcal y capitalista”, 29 January 2020
16 Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP): En qué va la sustitución de cultivos ilícitos? Desafíos, dilemas actuales y la urgencia de un consenso, April 2019
17 PBI Colombia: Interview with ACVC members, November 2019
18 ACVC: Por un Programa de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial por y para las comunidades, 7 September 2017
19 Prensa Rural: ACVC-RAN, consulted on 12 November 2020
20 See Credhos: El silencio armado: pactos y disputas en el Magdalena Medio, informe enero-septiembre 2020, 22 October 2020 ; La FM: Asesinan a dos nuevos líderes sociales de Bolívar, 30 August 2020
21 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR): precautionary measures 2000
22 PBI Colombia: Acvc Wins Colombia’s National Peace Prize, 13 December 2020
23 Corporación Reiniciar: Reiniciar se une a la celebración del Premio Nacional de Paz que recibió la Acvc, 25 November 2010
24 Diakonia: Homenaje a las y los defensores de derechos humanos en Colombia, 7 September 2019