Leaders of Rurality of the Americas shared their dreams and described their daily efforts to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable future for their communities
San José, 10 November 2021 (IICA) - Women and men who are making a difference in the countryside through their efforts to increase the well-being of rural communities in different countries of the Americas shared their experiences and points of view during a virtual meeting organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The participants were designated by IICA as Leaders of Rurality in 2021, in recognition of their capacity to set positive examples for the rural areas of the region in which they live. The awardees were Liliana Jiménez Molina, a cocoa producer who advocates for the rights of rural women in Colombia; Mexican agronomist Gabriela Lucas Deecke, who works to improve the quality of life of vulnerable rural populations; and Daniel Bruno, a rural teacher in Argentina who delivered his lessons via radio during the pandemic, and was joined during the meeting by Griselda Romero, rector of the school where he teaches.
Silvina Gvirtz, Secretary of Education of the Ministry of Education of Argentina; Juan Botero, Deputy Minister of Agricultural Affairs of Colombia; and Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA, also shared their views during the Dialogue with Rural Leaders of the Americas.
Also in attendance were Caio Rocha, Diego Montenegro and Humberto Oliveira, IICA Representatives in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, respectively, and Jorge Werthein, Special Advisor to the Directorate General.
“Ten years ago, my family and I decided to leave the city and move to the countryside to grow cocoa in the Colombian municipality of Nilo, where many of us who grow different crops have pursued our dreams. That is how I learned about associative undertakings and a social and solidarity-based economy”, explained Liliana Jiménez.
Liliana currently chairs the Board of Directors of an association of small-scale producers, PROSOAGRO. Since 2016, she has held the title of “María del Campo”, a name that identifies Colombian cocoa farming around the world and highlights the role played by women. “I work to foster work in rural areas. Our youth often seek opportunities elsewhere, but we want them to view the countryside as areas of opportunity where they can develop their life projects”.
For his part, Deputy Minister Botero revealed that cocoa is one of the agricultural products that Colombia has most recently prioritized, noting that last year’s production was the highest in the country’s history, reaching nearly 70,000 tons.
“Colombian cocoa is internationally renowned thanks to the work of our farmers; that is a source of great pride for us”, he added.
After describing Colombia’s agricultural policies, Botero highlighted the growing importance of cocoa farming. “We grow different varieties of cocoa – our star product, which continues to grow. Production in 2020 was 9% higher than it was the previous year. We have launched an investment program and renewed 14,000 hectares of cocoa nationwide. We will demonstrate this soon at the ChocoShow, a festival in which the cocoa sector will show Colombians the wonders of chocolate, and in which Liliana will play a very important role”, he said.
Gabriela Lucas Deecke, who works together with vulnerable rural communities to achieve healthier and more accessible food for all, stated that the issue of hunger must be a priority on the public agenda.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hunger suffered by our people. We are facing increasingly complex scenarios in food production, partly because of climate change. It is important that we realize why people are suffering and that we form a common front”, she stated.
Lucas Deecke is the founder and CEO of the Center for Innovation on Small-Scale Sustainable Agriculture (CIASPE, in Spanish)—an organization aimed at strengthening the self-management capabilities and resilience of small-scale female farmers, with special emphasis on women.
Daniel Bruno considered that IICA’s award provides recognition for all teachers in Argentina who have undertaken tremendous efforts to continue teaching at a distance amidst the movement restrictions established early on in the pandemic.
“When I got the call to tell me I would receive this award, I thought it was a mistake. But I was made aware of the fact that those of us who teach in rural areas contribute to improving the situation of food producers” he explained.
Bruno is a teacher at the Madre Teresa de Calcuta school, an educational establishment in the town of Colonia Pando, in the province of Corrientes in northeastern Argentina, attended by the children of the area’s farming families.
“In our community, many students come from low-income families with no internet connection or phone. That’s why Daniel came up with the great idea to continue teaching via radio. He thought about others and demonstrated that where there’s a will, there’s a way”, noted Romero.
The school’s educational community has requested that the school be converted into an agro-technical school, in order to foster youth training in agricultural production, and is awaiting a response from local authorities. “We are one step away from fulfilling that dream”, remarked Romero.
“Daniel Bruno is a miracle worker. Like so many other teachers during the pandemic, he managed to continue delivering lessons using tools he discovered or invented along the way. In his own words, where there is a teacher, there is hope”, stated Secretary of Education Silvina Gvirtz, who revealed that 855,000 students in Argentina attend rural schools.
“Daniel’s achievement is an achievement for the entire school; he would not have been able to do what he did without the support of the school’s rector, his fellow teachers and colleagues, and the students. The fact that an Argentinian teacher is being recognized is a source of pride for us. Teachers are our unsung heroes who carry out their work silently, so highlighting these experiences is essential and inspiring for youth. Throughout Latin America, we know that we will only achieve progress through education”, added the Argentinian Deputy Minister.
Lastly, Manuel Otero described IICA’s Leaders of Rurality as tenacious, courageous people who find meaning in their lives by constantly overcoming adversity and contributing to the well-being of their communities.
“We often hear negative stories about rural dwellers migrating to cities, but no one can take away our dream of creating a new social fabric in the countryside, which can become livelier, provide opportunities for progress and serve as a bridge to urban centers”, stated Otero.
The Director General of the Institute described Liliana Jiménez, Daniel Bruno and Gabriela Lucas Deecke as “growers of hope” and asked them to persist in their daily efforts to make rural areas more inclusive and sustainable, with opportunities for individual and collective growth.
“We need this network of Leaders of Rurality to multiply so that we may jointly build a future of hope”, concluded Otero.
Institutional Communication Division