Fredy Alexander Pastor Mora—39 years old—reflects on his experience, from being tracked by military intelligence in the mountains of Colombia to exporting cargamanto beans. Pastor was in the FARC's 55th front from 2002 until 2016, when the Peace Agreement was signed with the guerrilla group. During that period of his life, he went by the alias “Jaír.” He first started in the Sumapaz area before being transferred to the Llanos region.
Pastor recounts that at the end of 2016, the first ex-combatants arrived at the village of La Fila, in Icononzo, Tolima, where the government had set up a place for them to start a new life. "Since I was a child, the countryside has always been a part of my life, and returning to those roots makes me really happy. We work to grow our own food, not only for my family, but also to be able to cross borders by offering a quality product," Pastor explained.
These “crops made in peace and for peace,” as he calls them, also give him the satisfaction of being able to employ 20 to 30 people to help him with harvesting and transportation, among other tasks. "Rebuilding Colombia is everyone's job, and finding peace is also everyone's duty," said the farmer, in the midst of bean, pea, and corn crops, which he dreams of exporting someday, along with Hass avocados.
On the journey to export the beans to the United States, Pastor met a fellow countryman, 60-year-old Bonisalvo Susa Molina—a native of Cabrera, Cundinamarca, where, according to Susa, “the best beans in Colombia are found.” This municipality is located about 30 kilometers—or an hour and a half—from La Fila by car, on unpaved roads.
Susa is currently the president of the National Corporation of Small Agricultural Producers (CORNPEPAG, as per its acronym in Spanish), which has worked hand in hand with ProColombia to comply with all the requirements and documentation needed to export beans to the U.S. market.
"The corporation brings together 32 associations from 12 departments and 95 municipalities. We are made up of 18,500 small producers, including women heads of households, rural youth, victims of the conflict, ex-combatants, displaced persons, and people with disabilities, among others," explained Susa.
The corporation covers the following areas: Huila (Colombia's leading bean producer), Tolima, Cundinamarca, Antioquia, Santander, Norte de Santander, Meta, Boyacá, Caquetá, Putumayo, Nariño, and Bolívar. In addition to beans, they grow exotic fruits—including goldenberries, pitayas, and gulupas—corn, and arracacha; the corporation also raises livestock.
The businessman added, "Like Pastor, I come from a family of farmers. For me, it is a source of pride to be able to export beans and offer fair wages to the farmers. By the end of 2022, we will be exporting more containers to the United States and will soon reach Spain, God willing. Other dreams we have include selling corn, beans, and coffee to China, as well as reaching 50,000 producers in CORNPEPAG, because we need young people to stay in the countryside."
Juliana Villegas, ProColombia's Vice President of Exports, indicated that "under the guidelines of the President of the Republic, Gustavo Petro, and the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism, we are focused on these types of products—from former hubs of armed conflict—in order to work towards lasting peace and foster the development of various regions of Colombia. This can be accomplished by offering high-quality non-mining exports to nearby markets, given the fact that Colombia is on its way to becoming a global food pantry, according to FAO.”
The U.S. buyer is Goya Foods—one of the largest Hispanic food companies in the United States—which has been forging a new partnership with Colombian farmers in order to establish a supply chain that exports products directly from their farms to retailers.
"Today there are more than 100 Colombian agricultural products, including beans, that are found all over the United States. In fact, Goya Foods imports US $30 million a year in Colombian agricultural products," stated Bob Unanue, president and CEO of Goya Foods.
The businessman added that "working with Colombian exporters has been a mutually beneficial experience. They are reliable families who are incredibly focused on the quality of their products. They inspire confidence to continue expanding and importing from more rural communities in Colombia. We are truly delighted to be working with them and look forward to cultivating a long-lasting relationship."
According to the multinational, Goya has helped thousands of growers transition away from other crops—especially illicit crops, which have fueled drug trafficking in Colombia for years—and move towards beans in order to alleviate the growing demand for ingredients during the current global food shortage.