Series: Good Living, an experience and proposal for decision-makers and leaders

Barter, a Good Living practice

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“I can remember when my parents were here, when people went up from the [temperate areas], who we called calentanos, and they brought brown sugar, plantains, we exchanged with potato, cabbage, with cheese, in the path of Ecuaré,” recalls for Latinamerica Press Luciana Caldón, who along with her husband and two of her seven children live in the Puracé indigenous reserve, and at 66 years of age is one of the most enthusiastic participants of the barter fair that every two months the Association of Cabildos Genaro Sánchez of the Central Zone organizes in the southwestern department of Cauca.
The practice of barter — qualified by Arhuaco investigative lawyer Belkis Izquierdo as “an economic strategy and action based on the collective exercise that becomes a mechanism of self-sustainability and food sovereignty” — was reinitiated through the initiative of the communities of that southern area of Colombia in 2003 and was strengthened in 2009 thanks to the guidance of the Association of Cabildos Genaro Sánchez of the Central Zone and the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, through its project “Integration of Ecosystems and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Colombian Massif,” developed between 2008 and 2010.
“Our structure is made up of about 22,000 inhabitants of 10 indigenous cabildos that are dispersed in the municipalities of Popayán, Puracé, and El Tambo. We have the Puracé, Kokonuco and Paletará, Quintana, Poblazón, Julumito, Chapas, Alto del Rey, and Guarapamba reserves,” explained to Latinamerica Press Ricardo Manzano, from the Kokonuco people and barter coordinator in Kokonuco, some 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Popayán, the capital of the department of Cauca.
As Manzano indicates, while at first only 150 people exchanged products, today between 600 and 1,500 indigenous people get together every two months to barter.
Better organization
The increase in participation has improved organization, beginning with an estimate of how many people will attend the event and the number of products that must be brought “so there is an equilibrium and so the food can be redistributed and so no one is lacking or has an abundance of a product,” explained Caldón, also from the Kokonuco people.
“Thankfully we have different temperature zones, from 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) to 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level. This allows us to have a great variety of products,” indicates Manzano.
This is how the participants from the temperate climates bring brown sugar, green and ripe plantain, yuca, oranges, peach palm fruit and pineapple, products that are highly valued by people of colder climates, who exchange them for potato, onion, milk, cheese, and strawberries.
Aside from recapturing an ancestral tradition, barter also allows the indigenous to have a better quality of life, to maintain their traditional structures, advance their own economic models, as well as consuming foods that in many cases—and increasingly—are organically cultivated, resulting in better health.
With agroecological and organic production, the communities continue with environmentally friendly farming practices, “respecting Mother Earth, who provides us with food, as a concept of all indigenous people,” affirms Manzano.
“We are protecting water sources. Water comes out — not as much — but at least it has not dried out as in other places,” says Caldón.
Aside from being a political-administrative process, barter also signifies an increase in production for these communities. The implementation of a harvest calendar allows the participants to have concrete information about the crops that each reserve cultivates and what are the periods or months of highest production. This facilitates the creation of a cultivation schedule and the selection of dates to barter.
The improved organization and increased production are important contributions to the food security and sovereignty of these communities. Manzano explains that, aside from “the quality, variety of products, and the healthiness and freshness,” the contribution of women through the exchange of ways of cooking the products and the participation of children in the events are important also, strengthening from the family [base] the recovery of the diet, customs, cultural traditions and their own knowledge.
Caring for the seeds
Within its own dynamic, barter has also allowed for the recovery of traditional seeds and their adaptation to diverse climates. “Before, there was good potato, good olluco and that was during a time that ended, but now we are producing seeds without poison, organic seeds, and that I also take and exchange,” tells to Latinamerica Press Mercedes Yace, from the Kokonuco reserve. In her role of seed and breeding stock guardian, Yace uses methods of conservation, dissemination, and distribution of seeds, from which not only will food sprout, but “plants with which [we] can apply all the knowledge of our traditional medicine,” she ensures.
The exchange of seeds allows people to obtain foods from different areas and enables reforestation with native species, becoming another positive experience for the environment and a way to face climate change.
On Feb. 28 barter number 46 took place. For Manzano, the process has continued these years “because it has engendered results at the political and social levels, at food sovereignty and health levels and a strengthening of the [local] economic model and an answer to the globalized food models.” He adds that there are future plans such as “stepped greenhouse cultivation, making barriers with trees and isolating the natural springs.” Likewise, he hopes that barter will be used in other communities, by farmers, Afro-Colombians, and even in impoverished urban sectors.
“Barter enroots us, unites us, organizes us, strengthens us. It propels us to produce, to recover traditional gardens, to fight for what belongs to us. Through barter the friendship ties between reserves are strengthened, knowledge, ways of working, and organization are shared and most importantly, it rescues our own cosmovision and all our ancestral legacy,” Manzano affirms. —Latinamerica Press.
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