Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís, a Colombian organisation that uses media to contribute to the developmentof products from peasant and/or agroecological agriculture for families and communities in Latin America. She is also an alumna of the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation (ITDM) programme and was one of the facilitators of the first Online Alumni Seminar, held in February 2021. In recognition of Ana’s hard work, commitment and continuous interaction with other members of the alumni network across Latin America, in this spotlight interview we profile her career and interests.
Hi Ana, it is a pleasure speaking with you today. In 2019, you joined the ITDM programme in Uppsala, Sweden. What made you want to apply to the programme? Could you also talk a little bit about how you’ve applied what you learnt in Uppsala to your own peacebuilding efforts in Colombia today?
First, I want to say thank you for having me and it is an honour to be recognised as an active member of the alumni network. You are asking me a good question. So, initially my experience was within rural development by working with communities in Colombia. A friend told me about the ITDM programme, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about dialogue, mediation and how these tools could be applied in my work with communities and peacebuilding efforts.
In Colombia the war economy has been the main focus, due to drug production which has become a sustainable economy for many, despite its illegal activities. I wanted to learn more about systematic, theoretical and methodological approaches to rural peace economies and how communitarian and sustainable economies contribute to the rural developments, which I could apply to Colombia. I wanted to strengthen my knowledge, learn more about the context, and connect the experiences with the methodology.
I received very good support from the lecturers in the programme. I learnt about interesting concepts, such as how we can connect the economy and peace in post-conflict countries but also how to apply various methodologies. I have applied what I learnt in the ITDM programme in many different ways. For example, I helped an organisation from Bolivia to design an economic peace framework. This included activities such as active listening, dialogue and mediation which I learnt a lot about during the programme. The framework became a great success.
I also want to add that I met some great people in the programme from all over the world and got to know people of different religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. This was something new to me and the bond I have created with people from all over the world is something that I will always cherish. Some of them are my closest friends today. I really appreciate the opportunity provided by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research (DPCR) at Uppsala University, as well as learning from my fellow participants who joined the training.
When did you first become interested in peacebuilding?
To be very honest with you, my first passion and motivation was to study rural sociology and focus on media. That is what I studied at university. I always enjoyed connecting with people but it was never my intention to be an activist and work within peacebuilding and conflict issues in Colombia. In fact, my mother’s family came from the countryside, a rural state called Boyacá which is known for its food production. I never felt comfortable living in Bogotá. It is a big city and I found it stressful. However, Boyacá is calmer: it is about the community and the network. So, when I started to study sociology, I felt very connected with the rural focus. When I began working in rural Colombia, I also started to learn about armed conflict but also about hope, and how peace is aligned with hope.
Your idea of peace in Colombia has a very interesting focus in terms of sustainability and you talk about the bottom-up approach. Could you elaborate more on that and what the idea of peace means to you in Colombia?
Peace can be so many things, it starts internally, spiritually, with how one connects with oneself, and how one connects to others. Then we bring in the cultural, social and political dimensions which are important in the case of Colombia. Then one starts to hold various positions. I am more talking about holding a position on social injustice or hunger – things that affect and cause pain to people. The culture and context play a big role in how we look at peace and our own understanding of what peace means. We have different definitions of what peace means to us, and we do not have to convince each other and agree but can instead have a healthy conversation with different point of views. This is something we do not have here in Colombia.
You talk a lot about the different concepts involved in food systems. In particular, you talk about how the idea of a foodscape is rooted in social justice and peace in Colombia. Could you explain what you mean?
Yes, so a food system is a concept that relates to the global north which focuses on various food chains and food productions. Basically, the relationship to food in the global north is different to that in the global south. In Colombia we talk about food sovereignty and cultural relationships with food. This is very similar to other countries in the global south like Ghana and Zimbabwe.
I am not saying that food is not culturally important in the global north but, over there, food is more connected to the scientific point of view of food production, while here in Colombia the focus is more on cultural food production or foodscapes.
With foodscapes the focus lies on much more than ‘food’ per se. There are also associations and encounters that generate specific emotions in relation to food, in which transformations can be configured that increase or reduce the social gap between actors involved in the foodscapes.
There is a connection between rural development foodscapes, food identity, cultural identity and peacebuilding. We have to change a lot of things to become a peaceful country and with a foodscape lens we will be able to achieve sustainable peace in Colombia.
This is especially important when it comes to armed conflict since the roots of the conflict are related to territorial or land conflict. Territorial conflict is a big problem here and so is rural conflict. The relationship between land and territory is very important. If you see land as a merchandise that you are going to sell, then you will never understand the meaning of leaving your territory as a Colombian and you will never understand the roots to our conflict.
As a result of land conflict, the number of internally displaced people in Colombia is enormous, it is even higher than in Syria. This means that they leave their homes, that they leave their identities and belonging. This is why it is so important to understand the territorial dynamics of Colombia.
It sounds like food in Colombia is more than just curbing hunger and a necessity for livelihood, but also imperative in the way that it bonds people and maintain or sustain peace. Would you agree?
In 2020, the Nobel Peace was awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP), which shows that hunger itself is a huge problem across the world that is connected to so many other global problems, including conflict. Therefore, we need to continue the fight against hunger and continue peacebuilding. We need to dignify the lives of others through food by ending hunger.
We must start including local approaches in our decision making Using cultural reflections, we need to see the identity of conflicts and of people. If we do this and connect food to identity, we will avoid so many problems, because food involves everyone. There is a consensus that we all need food to live. Then you can look at intersectional factors such as race, ethnicity or even gender in connection to foodscapes.
So, this is why foodscapes and the peace economy are considered successful peacebuilding methods in Colombia? Because the initial conflict is rooted within territory and the economy?
To me foodscapes recognise the political nature of our food. Each decision we make is also a political act in which we play an active role. We have the opportunity to contribute to the construction of peace by supporting families and community economies, and by supporting the 31 per cent of Colombians who call themselves peasants. This would help develop productive projects that resist armed conflict and drug-trafficking economies. We need to think about innovative productive projects in which profit is redistributed among the family, a grassroots organisation or a community to share social and economic benefits.
Has this also changed the role of women and their involvement in peacebuilding processes?
At the local level, peacebuilding efforts and resistance started in the kitchen when women started to meet among themselves and share their experiences of how they lost family members in wars and how they had to take care of their families and run farms. Local women are coming together and becoming resilient. Women cook food traditionally and we call it Guardianes de semillas [women keep the seeds]: in the houses, they are the identity seed keepers.
An example is that a women will take a seed of a fruit and further grow that fruit around the house, hence becoming a Guardianes de semillas. However, the political challenge is the belief that women are not as good as men in taking care of land. There are also structural challenges where it becomes difficult for women to get loans to start their own businesses or run farms.
By the way that you are explaining foodscapes, the relationships, bond and collectiveness, would you also say that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on how people in Colombia have utilised food as a tool of togetherness and brought people together?
Absolutely, although food has always been a symbol of collectiveness in Colombia, quarantine and isolation has really brought Colombian families together. The pandemic has also provided an opportunity for families to connect with the origins of our food. We are cooking more than before, and we have more control over the ingredients, ways of preparation and recipes of our meals. The foodscapes have in some way become our caretakers at home.
Would you say that foodscapes are properly incorporated in Colombia’s peace agreement?
That is a good question. In 2016, when President Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace agreement, the promise of peace and security came with a commitment to developing the agriculture sector and initiatives in programmes aimed at reducing poverty in rural areas. My belief is that the implementation of the peace agreements to build a stable and lasting peace it is necessary to develop a different economic model that supports local economies, the right to food, sustainable production, equity and reconciliation. An economic model on which there is still not much clarity and in which I would like to advance in the development of a conceptual and methodological proposal, integrating all the actors involved in the armed conflict.
What is next for you going forward and your work in peacebuilding?
I am currently completing my Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies and I am also a Rotary Fellow at the University of Queensland. I am also trying to connect the economy with gender equality to see what happens. I will be joining a few international conferences on peace economy and gender approach and equality in post-conflict situations. It has been hard to visit the field during the pandemic, but I look forward to going back to the field soon again because I really enjoy being out there.
Ana Prada is a Colombian activist interested in Latin American local peacebuilding processes and sustainable agriculture. Ana has accompanied organic and agroecological production processes in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. She has also accompanied different organisations in the implementation of the Peace Agreement in the areas of comprehensive rural reform, economic reintegration and solutions to the drug problem. She is a peace fellow at the University of Queensland, a business administrator in sociology at the Javeriana University of Bogotá. She is an alumna of the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at Uppsala University and the international course on Food Systems and Sustainable and Healthy Diets at the University of Wageningen. Read her article, ‘Opportunities of Humanitarian Engineering in innovation from the base in foodscape, to consolidate peace economies with a territorial focus in Colombia’.
Read more about the DPCR-ITP Alumni Network.