The "Amazon Man" Wants to Save Colombia's Peasants

"To be a member of a tenacious family you need to be eager to work hard", said Arnulfo Tusarma 32-year-old farmer from Putumayo, and president of Asojuntas – an organization that gathers eighty farmers' committees in the region. According to Tusarma, the Tenacious Families are trying to rebuild a regional identity.

Like thousands of farmers, Tusarma once worked in the coca plantations, which are essentially farms where only coca leaf is grown. He learned how to sow, harvest and process the coca leaf, which was then sold to locals who run cocaine labs. But Tusarna got tired. The coca leaf growers known as the "cocaleros" earn less than a dollar for a gram of coca paste, the white powder that serves at the base to produce cocaine.

Although this isn't much, it is still more profitable to grow the coca leaf than to produce regular food without the proper guidance and technique to make it efficient.

Arnulfo Tusarma is 32-year-old farmer from Putumayo who used to plant coca for a living.

"A cocalero lives in extreme poverty and never overcomes that situation," Tusarma said. "They work hard and risk themselves to enrich others while destroying their own natural resources."

There are still more than 3,000 families in Putumayo that live off coca production, and despite the U.S.-backed fumigations program, coca plantations have increased in the last couple of years as growers evade law enforcement officers by moving deeper into the jungle where they slash and burn forested areas to set up new coca plantations. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 hectares of coca plantations in the region.

This is largely why the Amazon Man has partnered with this new group of farmers. Since 2006, they have been trying to garner government support for a sustainable agriculture proposal that focuses on producing food while preserving natural resources, and giving the peasants an alternative to the coca planting.

At the moment, the Ministry of Agriculture is evaluating the proposal. With a little bit of luck, the government's cooperation, the Amazon's Man guidance and the farmers' tenacity, a dream for this land may become a public policy.

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