Agriculture development in Colombia promises a way out of illicit trade

Global Business

Colombia is cultivating the next ‘Superfood’ and it isn’t just admired for its nutritional qualities. It is promising to be a way out for farmers in the illicit trade.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports.

Nelson Martinez lives in a region of Colombia called La Macarena, Meta. These lands were a former stronghold of the FARC guerilla group and a hotbed for narcotics trafficking and coca production.

Farmers like Martinez wanted a way out of narcotics production with an agricultural product that could provide health benefits and be lucrative. That product was Sacha Inchi.

“In seven months, this plant could be in full production, just like the coca plants. That is why we thought it could be a viable alternative because other agricultural products will take much more time to produce and generate income for a family,” Martinez said.

Sacha Inchi is native of the Amazon and Colombia. It is a star-shaped fruit that produces a highly nutritious seed-rich in protein, antioxidants, and fatty acids.

Martinez was a coca farmer, turned cocaine lab worker, and administrator of various illicit crops in the Meta region. Although he has left that life behind, he is applying what he learned from that business model to create an integrated Sacha Inchi agro-industry.

“This model of creating a product in one place would diminish costs and raise production. And we copied the model for Sacha Inchi. It lets group people together to transform and generate an agricultural industry that creates jobs,” said Martinez.

By creating the Sacha Inchi cooperative called SachaColombia, locals want to not just cultivate, but develop and export finished products. The seed can be processed into a wide range of health products including protein powder, beauty creams, and cooking oil.

“We want to export a finished product, with the help of private and government entities, and with our entrepreneurial skills, we are ready to do this,” said Mireya Porras Cardenas, SachaColombia General Manager.

In three and half years, the cooperative SachaColombia has grown from 28 associates to 724 in the Meta region. Banding together, they hope to gain strength to meet challenges such as getting the product out as they are five hours away from the nearest town.

But for Nelson, the biggest satisfaction is knowing he has left an illicit trade for a more conscious work, that not only brings in an income but also helps his region.

“We are in a region that is trying to recuperate and protect the natural habitat and this project is trying to have a positive environmental impact by recuperating the natural habitat of the region,” said Martinez.

Sacha Inchi has been labeled the new ‘Superfood’ and countries in the Amazon like Peru have been exporting the nut for years. Almost 80 percent of Peru’s exports go to South Korea alone. SachaColombia hopes to reach those markets and more with protein powders and oil in the coming years.