“Son, land gives you everything you need to survive.” That’s what Eustaquios’ father told him, and it’s the story Eustaquio told to me as I sat surrounded by pigs, drinking madly sweet coffee out of a bowl, enjoying the hospitality of Eustaquio’s family in North-West Colombia.
Eustaquio loves his land. I mean he really loves it.
For him, the land is sacred and that’s why he is fighting to protect it- it keeps him and his family alive. But it’s more than that too.
Approaching Eustaquios’ home by boat I passed vast swathes of banana plantation, managed by large multinational businesses. You can tell which bananas aren’t grown by local farmers- the multinationals banana fruit are covered in blue plastic bags. These bags contain chemicals which speed up the growth process and unnaturally enlarge the fruit. They are then thrown in to the river. I saw this too; wide stretches of riverbank where blue bags clung to gnarled roots- polluting the water and killing the life it carries. This unnatural process is in place so that we can have our demand for bananas met and so another can fatten his bank balance.
Walking through portions of land that Eustaquio had set aside to rest and restore- he told me simply, “This is how we look after the land and the land looks after us.” It was crystal clear that Eustaquio cared for his ground in a way that was not driven by profit but driven by a mutual respect between him and Mother Nature.
You see the battle Eustaquio faces is greater than how well he tends the ground beneath his feet. There’s been conflict in Colombia for over 50 years- its got one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people and its warring roots are centered around land. Eustaquio himself has been forcefully displaced multiple times; his life has been threatened and he has been subject to brutal acts of violence and intimidation in order that others (often those multinationals hidden behind other faces) might have the opportunity to profit from his ancestral lands.
He recalled to me a time when human bodies had been thrown into the river upstream; the bodies that floated past his patch of riverbank were to act as a warning to him and other local farmers that the armed groups were coming. He told his fearful children that they were just animals, nothing to worry about.
I had the fortune to spend time with Eustaquio in his home. He is a living defender of justice and we are undeniably connected to him and farmers like him in lieu of where we put our pounds. And in the face of knowledge, there is an ethical imperative. I’m a banana eater, and when I eat a banana whose source is questionable, I’m having an impact on a man living on the other side of the world.
I learned pretty swift lesson in Colombia- the choices I make have a consequence on both people and planet and that consequence must be a fair one.
*I got to visit the partners of Christian Aid in Colombia as part of a communications trip with Christian Aid. Those guys, through their partners, are giving tackling poverty and injustice a real good go, and I am hugely fortunate to have seen their work in action. This post was adapted from one I wrote over here for The Christian Aid Collective
*It’s fairtrade fortnight at the moment. Have a look around their site to learn more about making good choices with our shopping trollies