Rural Alternative Schools (ERA) | San Jose, Colombia

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The Rural Alternative School of San José del Guaviare was established to support ex-combatants in the process of reincorporation of the Colinas Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space (ETCR). ERA participants are organized into two cooperatives: the Multi-activity Cooperative of the Colombian Amazon (COOAMACOL) and the Jaime Pardo Leal Cooperative (COOJAPAL), which mainly focus on fish farming projects.

With training, technical support, and machinery from PASO Colombia and University of Los Llanos, ERA participants have been able to produce organic feed for animals with local resources (plants, seeds, crop residues, etc.) to replace the industrial feed previously used for livestock in the area. Thanks to this knowledge and experience, the ERA has started to cooperate with local communities to spread lessons learned about how to reduce costs and improve the quality of their animal husbandry projects.

The ERA in San José del Guaviare has worked as a collaborative platform with the families registered in the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS). Through the Contingency Plan to Support Ex-Coca Grower Families, participants attended training sessions in agricultural activities, market creation, infrastructures improvement, among others. The Contingency Plan provides participants an income in return for the time they invest in community service and on-the-job training activities such as their work with PNIS.

An example of this collaborative work was registered by the series Women Seeding Peace, based on the life stories of women who have left coca crops behind. This chapter is dedicated to Socorro, who is a participant of the PNIS program, as she shares how the lessons learned in the ERA in San José del Guaviare allowed them to make sustainable their fish farming enterprise.

Joint work like the above, has allowed the establishment of a Fair-Trade Agreement between the cooperatives of ex-combatants and the families of the region that are part of the PNIS program. The agreement offers them discounts on the purchase of organic feed for animals produced by the ERA, while encouraging the sale of agricultural products at fair prices.

Furthermore, this ERA also works on biodiversity conservation projects in the area. The area’s rich biodiversity is being threatened by external projects that do not have conservation or sustainability in mind.

This ERA has allies such as the University of Los Llanos, the World Food Program (PMA), the National Training Service (SENA), and the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.