Colombia President Santos and FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva.

15 December 2016, Rome-Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia and winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, outlined a vision for his country’s future after a 50-year civil war, affirming that the peace dividend would be reaped well beyond his nation‘s borders.

“Peace in our country is a peace that will benefit the whole world on many fronts, one of which is that of food security and agricultural development,” he said during a visit to FAO.

President Santos recently clinched a peace agreement with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, culminating a lengthy negotiation and decades of conflict that have claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

Colombia, FAO and the European Union, along with the UN Development Program, have all committed to making rural development a priority and a peacekeeping tool.

“Our fields were also victim of the armed conflict, which stripped our rural sector of its productivity, increased the social gap with urban areas, and deepened iniquities in our country,” Santos said.

“Colombia has shown there is only one road to peace, the road of dialogue, negotiation, cooperation, inclusion and equity, and that is also the road to sustainable development, where nobody must be left behind,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said while welcoming the head of state.

He also thanked President Santos for accepting the invitation to join the FAO-Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security and Peace. Launched in May, the initiative harnesses winners of the prize to FAO’s efforts to break the link between conflict and hunger and promote resilience across the world.

Colombia’s peace agreement is an “example of something that seems impossible becoming possible” and stands as a model for all countries as they seek to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Graziano da Silva added.

Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, expressed strong support for “turning the impossible into the possible” and noted that the European Union this week launched a EUR95 million trust fund to boost Colombia’s local rural economies.

What next for Colombia

President Santos emphasized that a key part of keeping the peace in Colombia depends on fostering rural development for communities whose livelihoods have been scarred by the conflict. Rural women have been disproportionately hurt by the conflict and will be given extra support, he said.

FAO, he noted, is an important partner for the government as it prepares to implement the Rapid Response Strategy aimed at fast-tracking investments to rural sectors in need of employment and prosperity to bolster confidence in a lasting peace.

The plan includes hefty infrastructure investments in areas where the state has until now had little traction, and will bring in irrigation systems, roads, electricity, Internet coverage and rural credit schemes, seed distribution networks, agricultural subsidies and schools, housing as well as better access to drinking water and drainage facilities and food and nutrition security programmes.

“These are investments we’d have to make with or without a peace agreement,” Santos noted.

More efficient land use is a key component of the plan, for which FAO is already committed to helping devise guidelines. New agrarian laws will be drafted to protect rural property rights, and a Land Fund will be set up for landless peasants. Colombia will seek to model its institutional overhaul in line with FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure and the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems, Santos said.

“Colombia is entering a post-conflict phase where peace is especially vulnerable,” said FAO’s Graziano da Silva. Peace, he added, “must be constantly cultivated.”

Colombia is counting on the support of FAO along with the European Union, the UN Development Program and civil-society groups such as Via Campesina, Santos said.

FAO’s credibility and expertise, especially in the area of supporting smallholder and family farming, is a strategic asset in Colombia’s rural reform, Santos said, adding that the plan is already in an advanced stage of drafting a comprehensive approach. He hailed Commissioner Mimica as a “pivot” in the process.

Beyond Colombia

Colombia’s success has much to offer the world, as the country has the ability to become a major food producer, as it currently uses less than 30 percent of its arable land for productive use, Santos said.

While FAO was born at the end of World War II at a time when Europe was devastated and haunted by the specter of mass hunger, “our country is not devastated, nor are our people threatened by hunger. We have a land of immense potential that has been wasted due to the conflict,” Santos said.

“Now I’m happy to announce that we are going to make the most of our potential, and turn Colombia into a supplier of food the world needs to combat malnutrition and hunger beyond our frontiers… thus ready to offer concrete support to FAO’s own goals,” he added.

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