From Poppy and Coca Crops to Specialty Coffee. How this Indigenous Community Continues to Plant Seeds of Peace in Colombia

By Carlos Andres Guzman,

The Inga community has been able to effectively eradicate cocaine supply at the source and continue to plant seeds of peace in Colombia. We had the great opportunity to meet with Hernando Chindoy, president of the Court of Indigenous Peoples and Authorities of south-west Colombia to learn about his life story and find ways to support his Inga community and his Wuasikamas coffee project.

The Wuasikamas, or “Guardians of the Earth,” is a coffee project led by  Hernando and his Inga community of about 3,650 indigenous people, descendants of the Incas. The Inga community has inhabited the municipality of “El Tablón de Gómez” in the department of Nariño, in the west of Colombia bordering Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean.

The indigenous reserve where the Inga community inhabits has been well known for the isolation and lack of state support. Since the 1980s this territory of almost 23,000 hectares has become a significant producer of poppy and coca crops. The lucrative business of growing and transforming these crops into heroin and cocaine attracted guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and drug traffickers. Between 1991 and 2003, the Colombian armed conflict significantly escalated and the existence of the Inga community was threatened.

By January 2003, after a long struggle for the territory to be protected by the Colombian National Land Agency, the Inga community came together to talk and reflect on their activities and their treatment towards their land and ecosystems around them.

According to Hernando, “the Inga community inadvertently, perhaps in the effort to fight poverty, became indirectly accomplices of the pain that poppy and coca production generates. That negative energy ended up coming back to us and killing the territory because cultivating poppy sterilizes the soil.”

On July 22 of 2003, the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform issued a resolution, which constituted 17,500 hectares of paramos, mountains and water as a sacred area. This recognition allowed the Inga community to go through peaceful resistance to reaffirm their identity, recover their territory, rebuild the social fabric of their community and free themselves from the clutches of drug trafficking, guerrillas, paramilitaries, poppies, fumigations with glyphosate and violence against the rights of mother nature.

The voluntary substitution of poppy and coca crops for coffee trees brought with it the Wuasikamas coffee project, one of the first and most successful projects in Colombia that substitutes poppy and coca crops for specialty coffee. According to Hernando, “It was a matter of attitude, values, principles and spirituality and coffee became the motor to strengthen the social, economic and cultural fabric of the community within a context of harmony and respect for mother nature.”

The Wuasikamas or Guardians of the Earth project has also the mission of protecting their sacred territory and its biodiversity, comprised of around 471 bird species including the Andean condor, spectacled bears, tapirs, deers, pumas, 28 lagoons and the Caqueta, Putumayo and Patia rivers.

However, the prosperity that the coffee project brought almost collapsed 12 years later, when a geological fault shook the territory and devastated the poor infrastructure of the Inga community, increasing their vulnerability. Prominent cracks threatened to destroy everything and forced the Inga community to evacuate from their homes and live in temporary shelters.

A few months later, the United Nations Development Program awarded the Inga community with the 2015 Equator Prize for its “triple benefit initiative,” since the Wuasikamas coffee project presented significant economic, social and environmental advances for the community, the country and the world. A distinction that allowed them to recover from the tragedy and continues to move forward.

Original image @cafewuasikamas on Facebook

A few months ago, the Wuasikamas coffee project opened the first coffee shop in la Candelaria, in the center of Bogota where people can easily enjoy their special coffee, which is produced between 1,900 to 2,300 meters above sea level following ancestral traditions. Their coffee has a profile of about 88 points in a cup and it is characterized by its high acidity, medium body with delicate character, sweet chocolate and citrus, floral notes and a prolonged residual flavor.

The Inga community is now in the process of opening a new coffee shop in Santiago de Chile. They are also dreaming of bringing their coffee to many other important cities around the world while inspiring and supporting other indigenous communities around the country to follow their footsteps and continue planting seeds of peace.

Image by Peace Farm Coffee
Image by Peace Farm Coffee

Carlos Andres Guzman is an international affairs analyst, development economist, development entrepreneur and founder of Peace Farm Coffee.

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