Two months ago, we launched the Root Capital Roundup, a new blog series summarizing the latest news around issues important to us and our supporters.
In the second edition of the Root Capital Roundup, we explore the connections between agriculture and peace in post-conflict regions.
When peace returns after conflict, it is fragile. A region’s economy, like its population, has been traumatized. That trauma is particularly acute in rural areas.
Forming the backbone of the economy in these regions, agriculture plays a special role in the transition from violence to lasting peace. The land, skills, workforce, and market all exist — but all need to be cultivated in order to support an economy that will help its country heal. And time and time again, we’ve seen that supporting rural businesses is a fast-track way to unlock opportunities for local leaders to rebuild their communities.
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie warns of the danger of a single story — and nowhere is that more true than in countries recovering from violence. If working in post-conflict regions has taught us anything, it is that the people we work with are far more than just the stories of the pain they’ve endured. They’re farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, and community leaders who reject violence for a different kind of fight: the fight for a better future.
Root Capital staff and board members with leaders of ASOANEI, a coffee cooperative in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.
For over fifty years, the Colombian people have suffered through a multi-front war between government forces, crime syndicates, and guerilla groups. The world’s longest-standing civil war, it created the second-largest number of internally displaced people in history and claimed the lives of over 170,000 civilians. And with the historic peace deal signed by government and rebel leaders just over a month ago, the war appears to have ended.
But a stroke of a pen will not make half a century of conflict disappear. While government and guerilla leaders were laying the groundwork for the peace deal, the production of coca — the plant used to produce cocaine — rose 50% over the course of 2016. In response, the government and FARC are working together to end this practice, both paying farmers to grow other crops and destroying the fields of the farmers that refuse to switch over.
This new policy will certainly help curb coca production. But what about the farmers who must choose between two unpalatable options: growing lucrative but illegal coca, or switching to a new crop that might earn them far less? It is here that the role of agricultural businesses is essential. When farmers can work with businesses like Root Capital client ANEI, they get paid better and the incentive to grow coca disappears. By supporting more Colombian businesses and farmer associations, we can address both the chronic poverty at the root of the illegal drug trade and political instability — in a way that helps farmers instead of hurting them.
Sorting coffee cherries at Maraba cooperative, Rwanda.
In 1994, the Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of nearly one million people in just 100 days. With its economy growing steadily and women representing 64% of the country’s legislature, Rwanda has been touted as one of Africa’s “miracles.” However, the truth is far more complex. In a blog post earlier this month, we questioned the narrative of the “Rwanda miracle.” The country’s recovery took a lot of hard work — especially by women. It didn’t happen overnight. And it’s far from finished.
More than twenty years after the genocide, leaders across the country continue to astound us with their dedication to the healing process. Villages across Rwanda are forming “peace clubs” where both perpetrators and survivors can share their experiences and work together to forgive. The country’s seven “reconciliation villages” established by Prison Fellowship Rwanda take this concept a step further, facilitating communities where killers and victims live side by side. And our own clients are recognizing the role their businesses serve as places where people can come together. Walking through her business’ coffee processing plant, RWASHOSCCO director Angelique Karekezi remarks, “This building has become a meeting and healing place for our members.”
Producer-members of a coffee cooperative in the Kivu Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
On the other side of Lake Kivu, the road to recovery for the Kivu provinces of the DRC seems rockier than that of its neighbor to the east. Between 1994 and 2003, a series of conflicts claimed the lives of five million people. Informal settlements of internally displaced people continue to dot the countryside. Violence continues to flare up. Poverty is widespread, and basic infrastructure is often nonexistent. But in our work and beyond, several stories demonstrate the region’s potential — and the indomitable spirit of its people.
“Les sapeurs” of Goma, a Congolese city on the shores of Lake Kivu, demonstrate that spirit through their bold commitment to high fashion. In the capital to the west, women fight harmful gender stereotypes — literally — in boxing leagues. And on the hillsides overlooking the lake, our own clients are leveraging the power of specialty coffee to build opportunities for farmers where none existed before.
Looking over one of Rwanda's "thousand hills," Musasa cooperative.
Too often, the countries where we work are painted as hopeless, impossibly poor, or irreparably broken. And every time, the people we work with prove that that just isn’t true. There is no single solution to the global issues of poverty, instability, and conflict — but together, we can play our small part in empowering local leaders to make the world a more peaceful place.
We'd love to hear from you about what you would like to see in the Root Capital Roundup going forward. If you have a suggestion for how to improve this series or an idea for an article you’d like us to include next time, let us know by tweeting your thoughts @RootCapital or leaving a comment below!