It’s also happening here in Colombia, where political and economic disputes in recent decades have erupted into every kind of conflict, from cartel kidnappings to full-fledged civil war.
We’re vulnerable to the violence but we refuse to be victims—and on our farm, we’re trying to advance a new idea.
We believe in peace through agriculture.
It’s a twist on the doctrine of “Peace through Strength,” promoted by President Ronald Reagan of the United States during the Cold War and suggesting that military power can prevent deadly confrontations.
Instead of arming ourselves with weapons, however, we take up the tools of farming.
Even Reagan understood our concept: “Cannot swords be turned into plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace?” he once asked in a speech to the United Nations.
Our theory is that if we give ordinary people an opportunity to own the land that they cultivate, they will become more invested in their communities and start to look out for each other—and become the peacemakers who prevent violence in the first place.
My father taught me that we always must do our best for others. I’ve remembered this principle during my career as a civil engineer and into my life as a farmer, which began six years ago in the region of Sabana de Torres, in the state of Santander, a bit north of the national capital of Bogota.
Our farm focuses on poultry, and we can house half a million birds at one time. We also run a palm oil plantation and lately I’ve started to grow watermelons and Tahiti limes.
Violence is a constant danger. In Colombia, it can include everything from urban crime and rural banditry to big battles between government forces and rebels.
Most of us try to avoid it. Yet I’ve had several close calls. In Arauca, near the border of Venezuela, I once found myself caught in the middle of a shootout. I’ve been in the presence of two bombings. I’ve escaped from a kidnapping attempt, and I’ve read a letter from an insurgent group than demanded my head.
I’m grateful to have survived. I’m also determined to make Colombia a better place for people to live and work.
There’s only so much a single person can do, however. Keeping yourself and your family safe can seem like enough of a goal.
Yet my father’s wisdom has encouraged me to think about solutions, even if they’re modest.
Peace through agriculture for me and my family is giving people the chance that society denies them, giving them the opportunity to work in the fields, gain the feeling of social, personal, and family security. Providing them the chance to grow economically and be part of a community that looks out for each other.
That’s why we’ve started to give our employees a portion of our farm. They can own their own land and work it as they please. We train them in the basics of food production and business practices. This gives them a sense of independence. It also gives them a stake in the stability of our country.
We’ve faced complications. Property rights in Colombia are contentious. Some landowners obtained their holdings illegally. We’re serious about our project, so we’re working with lawyers to make sure our friends have the papers to prove that they are the legitimate owners of their farms. As they build homes and grow small cash crops for extra income, they must enjoy proper legal protections.
It may seem strange to think that farming can deliver peace, but our idea is more ancient than innovative. In the Bible, the second chapter of the Book of Isaiah proclaims: “He shall judge between the nations and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, not shall they train for war again.”
That’s the verse Reagan referenced at the UN.
The Soviet Union also acknowledged the idea when it presented the UN with a bronze sculpture of a man who is literally hammering a sword into a plowshare. This work of art is now displayed on the grounds of the UN’s headquarters in New York City.
The whole world, it turns out, wants peace through agriculture.
Featured image: Schwerter_zu_Pflugscharen_-_Jewgeni_Wutschetitsch_-_Geschenk_der_Sowjetunion_an_die_UNO_-_1959