From Colombia: Providencia black crab Slow Food Presidium

The Archipiélago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina (in Colombia) is home to the Providencia Black Crab (Gecarcinus ruricola), a crustacean with a dark shell, red legs and an extraordinary flavor. Crabs are an integral part of the Raizal people’s culture, their diet and the local economy, but due to urbanization, mass tourism, deforestation and climate change (among other reasons), this species is now threatened, and its numbers are rapidly decreasing.

© Gabriela Dominguez

In view of low numbers of the crabs, the Providencia Black Crab Slow Food Presidium has been working to raise awareness about respecting the closed season. As part of this process, taste workshops have been developed in schools with 171 young people to involve them in thinking about the crabs and taking action in their community to protect the species and to allow its numbers to grow. In addition, together with the ASOCRAB association (Providence Sweet Black Crab Association), which leads the Presidium, alternatives for production diversification have been explored: production of preserves, fruit pulp and processed products in general, made from products with a local identity. This action has been complemented by a strategy of integration of a value chain associated with tourism in the community, whose main assets are the Black Crab, biodiversity and Raizal culture.

In 2019 the black crab obtained was granted a Designation of Origin in Colombia and this achievement and participation in local, national and international events gave it much greater visibility. In response to the crisis in access to food and the economic stagnation caused by the pandemic in the archipelago, work has been done to create an online catalog of fresh and processed products, in order to stimulate trade, promote local consumption and encourage economic recovery of the region for agricultural producers and food processors.

We spoke about this with  Liliana Vargas, Activity coordinator for the FIDA project in Colombia, and Gloria McNish, President of ASOCRAB. 

What was your community like 10 or 20 years ago?

“In the past, my community was more respectful and united: we lived in a time when, if someone had something, they shared it with others, if someone worked on a farm and someone else fished, they traded, one traded fish and the other traded their products. We were more related to each other. These dynamics, although still in existence on the island, are not as common today. Through the project, we have reclaimed these dynamics in mingas (collective work parties).

Do you have any funny stories from the project?

“When the first exchange took place at the start of the process with Slow Food to set up the Presidium, we participated in the blue crab festival in Ecuador. There we could see the importance they attached to the crab. We came home and said: We need to move forward!  That’s where we started with this project which, thank God, has been a real success so far.” In 2018 there was a new exchange with the Blue Crab fishermen of Esmeraldas, in Ecuador, who this time came to Providencia and learned about the work done for the promotion and conservation of this important species for Raizal culture.

What is the most important change or changes for the community that this project has brought about?

“The change that we have brought about … is to be able to understand the value of the black crab and to obtain a designation of origin, the first granted in the country for an animal species! All this has been very important for us. The community thought it was very big because it was the first time on the island that they had made progress in this area. The truth is that for some time now we have been more dedicated to respecting the crab, especially ASOCRAB. For example, when the closed season starts, we don’t catch crabs. We also try to make handling as clean as possible, since we have learned many things and try to do it better every day. During the project, the women in ASOCRAB were trained to improve the processes of handling, packaging and transporting our products, implementing strict protocols.

© German Marquez

Has Covid-19 affected Project activities, and how have they been organized in response?

The truth is that COVID has affected us, like everywhere. Firstly, because we were unprepared for it. Secondly, because we stopped our project. By the time the COVID arrived, I had just been appointed president and we were in the process of opening our kiosks. We still thank God that on the island we have not had any cases of COVID. But we can’t wait either, because we don’t have the main thing, which would be a hospital for sick people, or anything like that … The pandemic hit the local economy hard, due to the closure of tourism, the main source of income for the communities, but this served to sound the alarm and to encourage, for example, revival of the agricultural sector on the island, and it also awakened the sense of solidarity among the community.

How do you feel as part of the Slow Food network ? What would you like us to do together in the future?

I am forever grateful to Slow Food, because they have given us a great deal of support. I feel very comfortable with them; let’s hope they continue to support us always. Now we have the plan to open the restaurant, we still need their support, their help. Because I think that we have too much time going ahead with everything that this task involves, we have the staff for it and we have not opened, so there we lack guidance. Thank you for your unconditional support.

How do you imagine your community in 10 years?

Within 10 years. As we go, I aspire to see my community with many more young people committed to protecting the Black Crab. Today the young people in the community have learned much about the crab, they respect it very much. Because we have given them many courses, many practices, we have taught them how to handle it, how to take care of it.
The truth today is that everything is different. From my point of view, 10 years from now I would like to see that my community has progressed.

The Black Crab Presidium in Providencia is supported by IFAD through the project “Empowering Indigenous Youth”, and the by EU-funded “Slow Fish Caribe” project, implemented in Colombia by Slow Food in collaboration with Fundación ACUA and Corporación Coralina.