Family farming is a tradition on the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina in the Colombian Caribbean, and the Sjogreen Brown family is an example of this. Guendolin Sjogreen Brown, the eldest daughter of Mr. Radiga and Mrs. Ines, highlights the importance of growing our own food at home. The cultivation, transformation, and consumption of many of their foods make up the daily life of this family and represents a fundamental part of their culture and tradition.
Due to historical events such as the Second World War and the declaration of the Free Port in 1953, agriculture on the islands lost its relevance. Currently, climate change, transportation costs, and dependence on public jobs have contributed to the abandonment of the countryside.
During World War II, the export of consumer goods to Cartagena and Central America was affected by attacks on vessels that covered these routes from the islands. Consequently, in 1953, the Archipelago was declared a Free Port. With this declaration, commerce and large hotels came, and after that, thousands of Colombian immigrants came looking for new opportunities. With the disproportionate increase of the population, the importation of food became necessary, and little by little the local products were minimized and left in the forgotten.
However, COVID-19 came to remind us how dependent we are on the outside world. In February of this year, a kilo of carrots cost $ 6,500 COP ($1.75USD) per kilo. Today, in the month of June 2020, a kilo of carrots costs $ 11,000 COP ($3 USD) in a supermarket in Providencia. Meanwhile, in Bogotá, in Corabastos, a kilo of carrots costs $ 3,400 ($0.95USD) COP today. Fruits and vegetables have always been expensive on the islands, but due to COVID-19, costs have increased dramatically. This, for many families, is unsustainable. Therefore, our food security is in danger.
For these reasons, the inhabitants of the islands have been forced to resume family farming. For their part, people like Guendolin Sjogreen and his family, who have cultivated the land for generations, are happy to see that agriculture is regaining a bit of importance locally.
As Mrs. Guendolin explicates: “Feeding ourselves is a daily necessity. Therefore, we must know where the food we buy comes from. When you know that the food you serve at home is produced by your own family, you are satisfied, and you feel safe because you know that they are healthy. COVID-19 has affected us a lot, but we are glad to know that people are resuming the cultivation of some vegetables at home in these times of pandemic.”
In Mrs. Guendolin’s garden, we find papaya, peppers, tomatoes, beans, chives, mandarin, mango, coriander, eggs, banana, plantain, among other products. In addition, they make chili preserves, guava and mango jams, plum sweets, dry spices such as basil and oregano, and raise fattening pigs and laying hens. For a breakfast, Guendolin usually prepares some “parakeet” eggs with tomato, onions, and basil and serves island coconut bread, guava jam, and tangerine juice. Of course, Colombian coffee is never absent, although it is not produced on the island. On the other hand, she tells us that, for a Sunday lunch with the family, a pig roasted with the traditional techniques of the islands in a wood stove, could not be missing. This is accompanied by rice with guandul beans, slices of ripe banana, and unsweetened mango juice”.
Family farming in Providencia and Santa Catalina is an opportunity for the islanders. It is necessary to support all agricultural initiatives in these times of economic crisis. From traditional farmers to new fans of family farming, they are key to recovering a forgotten line in the local economy. Lowering the cost of the family basket, improving the quality of the food consumed, and recovering the traditions of the Raizal indigenous community is everyone’s duty. We should not miss this opportunity that COVID-19 offers us to join forces for a food system that contributes to the social, economic, and environmental development of the Archipelago. Guendolin Sjogreen and her family are an example of how it is possible to cultivate and contribute to the family economy of the islanders. As the saying goes: “There is no evil that does not come for good.”
Slow Food supports family farming and productive diversification initiatives in the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina through the “Slow Fish Caribe” project financed by the EU and carried out in association with Fundación ACUA and Corporación Coralina, and “Empowering Indigenous Youth and their Communities to Defend and Promote their Food Systems” project, financed by IFAD.