“We went into the substitution programme to eradicate coca, and because you need money to invest in a project here. We needed help, my kids are in secondary school and I haven’t got the means”, are the first words of José, a PNIS beneficiary who lives in a community council in Tumaco. “Those of us here have no way out, the cassava rots on the farm, we aren’t commercialised, nobody buys from us”, explains Emilse*, who is also part of the PNIS and claims that the programme hasn’t fulfilled its promises.
Some time ago, José managed to cultivate a hectare of coca. But he was unlucky: the army came and eradicated it. “I only got two harvests out of it; I was on the farm when the army came”.
Though Emilse has never grown coca, she recognises the impact this crop has had in the region. Before, she says, people lived from their produce and grew cacao, cassava, chilma, chontaduro (peach palm), plantain and wood. José adds: “before, there was no illicit production, it only started a few years ago”.
The worst thing about coca, they tell us, were the fumigations. The sprayings destroyed everything, the crops, the animals and people’s health, as Emilse recalls in the following segment.
Faced with a crisis situation caused by the forced eradications, they both trusted the promises put forward by the programme, hoping for a better future. “Food assistance never got here, nothing ever arrived”, José says. Emilse tells us that people were expecting much more from the programme, but that, in the end, it’s been terrible for the communities, “we’ve been treated unfairly”.
When faced with the systematic failure to fulfil the agreement, the community didn’t sit around doing nothing. José and Emilse tell us that in their rural division, people were tired of waiting for PNIS resources and had started to sow cacao on their own initiative. This can be seen in the photographs.
As well as this, Emilse says that she would like to resume one of her greatest pleasures, here in the area: baking. Years ago, she worked in San Lorenzo, Ecuador, making sweets and working with icing. But this type of work is very difficult in an area like Tumaco, where there isn’t a stable supply of electricity. “We lose power every two hours”. Having electricity would give people in the rural division the opportunity to set up their own businesses, to set their projects in motion and to distance themselves from the illicit economy. Electricity would give them the chance to make the transition towards legality.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity