Semana Rural – The QR code that tells the stories of farmers

Original Article Published in Semana Rural on September 9, 2020

Soracá, Boyacá
By Natalia Prieto

A technology initiative looks to connect consumers with rural communities in the country. Have you ever wondered who grows food for Colombians? Now you can find out who produced the food that reaches your table.

“One gets up, prays a little, and starts [working] with the animals.” This is how Florentino Medina and his wife Nelly Auzaque, in Soracá (Boyacá) describe their mornings. At 5 a.m. in the morning, with the cold of the highlands touching their faces, they go out together to milk the cows and feed them. After a few hours, with fresh milk and freshly collected eggs, they have breakfast together with their two children.

The ‘ritual’ is the same every day. After eating, Florentino puts on his boots, turns on the little red radio that always accompanies him, and dedicates himself to his land. Plow, sow or fumigate. “Whatever has to be done,” he says, to make sure that the potatoes, which “as if by magic” we can consume just by walking to the supermarket, can reach our tables.

Florentino and Nelly are part of the 100,000 potato-producing families in Colombia, according to the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit. In a country where each person consumes 62 kilograms of potato per year, the work of these producers, and, in general, of the country’s farmers, is barely recognized.

Intending to dignify farmers and connect consumers with rural communities, Acceso Colombia created a strategy to tell stories like Florentino’s. It is a QR code located on the packaging of each product that allows buyers to know the stories of the potato farmers in the municipalities of Turmequé, Soracá, Toca, and Samacá in the department of Boyacá.

“In the city, there are people who could never imagine the sacrifice made in the countryside. They must believe that having a cow is just getting milk. But no, you have to be very careful, to sustain an animal with a good diet is very delicate and takes a lot of sacrifices,” says Nelly sitting next to her husband, at an old wooden table with three seats, one of them occupied by her white cat that sleeps peacefully. “The countryside (field) is a sacrifice; we invest a lot in a crop”, adds Florentino.

Along with them, the stories of four potato farmers will be presented in videos, photos, and texts that show the consumer who sows, grows and harvests their food. Later, [Acceso] will do the same with products such as pineapple, papaya, and other fruits.

“This helps the Colombian countryside, it gives a view into the lives and work of farmers. Consumers can have a better appreciation for the field and the products they consume. Also, by understanding where the food comes from, they can make more informed decisions and choose to buy local, buy Colombian products, supporting the economic growth of the country”, Alethia Kang, director of business development at Acceso, tells us.

This is another [Acceso] strategy for strengthening the farming culture in Colombia from which Florentino, Nelly, and other families obtain access to stable and formal markets, as well as technical assistance and fair prices that allow them to increase their income.

In the Colombian countryside, family farming produces 70 percent of the country’s food. According to the FAO, only 3 percent is traded without intermediaries. Up to seven intermediaries interrupt direct contracting processes and reduce the income of farmers, who sell the product at a price up to three times lower than that paid by the consumer.

These types of initiatives bring family farming to a more stable point. They supply fruits and vegetables from small producers in the regions of the Andes and the Caribbean directly to national retailers, food service companies, restaurants, and hotels. The traceability of the product is much shorter and allows Florentino and Nelly to receive more money for their work.

They wouldn’t trade the countryside for anything. Freedom, tranquility, and nature make them fall in love with it every day. “This is the countryside that we love. We give Colombia a daily plate of food. If we don’t plant, what are we all going to buy?” Nelly says proudly.

In his spare time, Florentino says: “We ride our bikes”. Meanwhile, with the cackling of the chickens in the background, Nelly explains that in addition to the housework, sometimes they have to “earn a living” by working on nearby farms. “One gets the body used to always be doing something productive,” he says, justifying the sacrifice involved in maintaining a stable life as farmers.

Their dreams are mixed. As farmers, they would like to receive more technical help, obtain certified seeds that improve their product. And, between laughs, the kind that denotes utopia, they talk about having a fixed price to sell their crops. As a family, they hope their children can finish high school and have a higher education, as they would have liked to have for themselves. But, more than anything, they expect their children to stay in the field: one that’s full of opportunities, where life won’t be so “sacrificial”.

Semana Rural background: Grupo Semana is a Colombian media conglomerate, owner of the magazines Dinero, Arcadia, Semana and their web editions. Semana is one of the most influential magazines in the country and Semana Rural is one of their projects financed with the support of USAID through the Alliance for Reconciliation program operated in Colombia by ACDI/VOCA.

This is the countryside that we love. We give Colombia a daily plate of food. If we don't plant, what are we all going to buy?
– Nelly Auzaque, potato farmer