Venezuela has suffered a general decline in public services, such as electricity, domestic gas supply and public transport in recent years.
This crisis has caused some members of indigenous communities on Venezuela’s western border with Colombia, including Río Negro, to make frequent border crossings to buy basic goods, including food items. When loved ones or partners depart on these essential journeys, women from the indigenous Wayúu community have found themselves vulnerable to gender-based violence.
Community gardens could be an answer to issues of self-sufficiency and security. A garden created by a local network of women, Jieyúú Kojutsuu (“Women of Worth”) supports local women and their families, and helps them meet their subsistence needs.
There are currently twenty-six community members working together to grow corn, tomatoes, peppers, celery, black beans, cantaloupe, and other vegetables and fruits in Río Negro.
Among them are many of the most vulnerable groups of the indigenous Wayúu community, including young people at risk of recruitment by armed groups, unemployed women exposed to gender-based violence, and elderly people who had resorted to begging and hard work to survive.
“Can you imagine? There are more women than men working in the garden!” says Guillermina Torres, one of the members. “We will harvest our own food without having to depend on the income of our husbands. And the young people who roamed the streets also joined this project”.
“Traditionally, agriculture was one of the main livelihoods in the region. The elderly people were able to integrate and share their ancestral knowledge with the younger members of the community,” says Diego Moreno, a United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR) Protection Assistant in Maracaibo, who followed this initiative.
“Women who were most at risk of experiencing gender-based violence while loved ones or partners traveled back and forth to Colombia now have a safe space where they gather each day to grow food that will benefit later. to their families,” he added.
With limited financial resources, the indigenous Wayúu community had to think of new, innovative and sustainable ways to grow their crops. A positive side effect has been a move towards sustainable agriculture that is less harmful to the soil.
To support these efforts, UNHCR donated farming tools, seeds, water tanks and solar street lights, helping to ensure the community has a clean and sustainable source of energy and water. irrigation.
In addition, the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) trained local families to make organic fertilizers and natural insect repellents, using ingredients, including animal waste, that are readily available in the community.
“We haven’t spent money buying chemicals that can also affect our crops and the environment. Instead, we learned to make our own 100% natural fertilizers and repellents with ingredients that we can find right here in our community,” says Torres.
“The replacement of chemical fertilizers with organic fertilizers and agrotoxins with natural insecticides based on neem leaves, tobacco leaves and vegetable ash, as well as the creation of seed banks, guarantee a sustainable and eco-friendly way of life. -effective, as well as healthier food for families and the community as a whole,” says Wolfgan Rangel, IOM Productive Projects Monitoring Manager in Maracaibo.
Hundreds of supported gardens
In total, more than 660 community garden projects have been supported in the states of Zulia, Táchira and Barinas.
UNHCR and IOM have donated the tools and resources needed to support communities through the development of small scale sustainable agriculture initiatives. In some of these communities, local markets have also been established to sell vegetables, helping to generate alternative sources of income.
Given the remoteness of communities and the lack of public transport, it is essential that community garden projects continue to be expanded. In this way, more indigenous families will be able to participate in these subsistence farming initiatives and stop depending on travel to neighboring countries to buy food.