“Tilapia could be an option, if the government invests money into it.”

We went to Lorenzo’s* farm, situated in one of the rural divisions along the Tumaco-Pasto highway. Lorenzo came to Tumaco decades ago; he’s from a municipality in the Nariño Mountains. Here, in the rural division, he was one of the leaders who enthusiastically promoted the PNIS and has tirelessly accompanied families in the “calvary” that the programme has become, a problem that he has first-hand experience with, being a PNIS beneficiary himself. 

In this rural division, the programme has seen the same delays that beset other beneficiaries in the municipality and indeed all around the country. Delayed payments, lack of supplies and resources from the food security projects. And now, families are still awaiting the implementation of short and long-term projects, for which 19 million pesos were to be invested.

A couple of years ago, Lorenzo started a fish farming project on his farm, with the help of various institutions and companies. He started with small pools: now he already has more than three on his farm. Fish farming could be an alternative to coca, but like other cultivation projects it needs investment and technical assistance. “Fish pellets are very expensive,” Lorenzo tells us.

A tilapia that weighs less than 1kg from one of the pools.

With the substitution programme, Lorenzo hopes to strengthen the infrastructure of the pools: to buy geomembranes and to build a fish farming pond for all the families linked to the PNIS who, as part of their food security project, chose tilapia as their resource. Nonetheless, this hope has now been cut short: recently the programme has put forward the obstacle that their land is part of a forest reserve zone, which would restrict fish farming activities. Since the beginning of the Territorial Renewal Agency (ART), it has been insisted that only environmental projects could be an alternative, without considering other options of land-use planning such as the Peasant Farmer Reserve Area (ZRC), a consideration which, amongst other things, was requested by the farmers of these rural divisions and has been expressed by the Regional Transformation Action Plans (PATR) in the pacific and border regions of Nariño.

Despite all the obstacles and vicissitudes that arise day after day in the implementation of the programme, Lorenzo continues to hope to be able to export his fish one day. He insists that “I dream of my business”.

Audio translation
I dream of having my own fish farming business and of one day being able to export. That’s the way to be sustainable, no? It’d be more or less like what we have now, with pools like those large ones down there. But we’re far from it. I wanted to start a project with the Fondo Emprender (Colombian provider of funds for businesses) but it’s complicated… . But these projects are good, because for six like these I get 170 million. If you fulfil certain targets, you don’t pay for them, they give them to you. What’s missing is money. I dream of my business.

Four women began this fish farming project

As a leader, Lorenzo motivated various families to opt for fish farming in their food security project for the PNIS. We met four PNIS beneficiaries the day that we visited Lorenzo’s farm. We went to their pools to find out about their tilapia project.

A farmer feeding the smaller fish at the farm

One of the women that we spoke with is Tania*, she tells us that despite the insufficiencies of the programme, it wasn’t going so badly for them because they had chosen tilapia. For the other participants who chose pigs or chickens, it has not been good, in part because they have not been able to guarantee the commercialisation of their product. At least they have been able to sell their fish, but they are concerned about a number of things: the programme only provides feed for a limited period of time, after which they will have to take on the cost of the fish pellets. They also told us that they needed to expand their business to be able to grow and to ensure the sustainability of the project. Nonetheless, given that short and long-term projects have not begun to be developed, they fear that their project will grind to a halt.

The land is not ours, we have to rent it and install bridges so that we can install the pools.”

“Men are part of the project, but it’s been the women who have led it”, says Valeria* proudly, one of the women we met that afternoon.

A short break after feeding the fish and going around the pools

Lorenzo, Tania, Valeria and the other people involved in the fish farming project are all willing to continue a legal business. It is one of the few food security projects, practically the only one that we know of in Tumaco, that is moderately profitable. The substitution agreement that these men and women farmers have adhered to should be reason enough for the state to invest in these small projects, and like Lorenzo says, so that one day these families can have their own businesses.

*Names changed to protect anonymity