Participatory video-making in Taraza (Bajo Cauca region, Colombia)
What is going on in coca-farming communities after the Colombian Peace Agreement?
Between December 2022 and 2023, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork for my PhD project in the Municipality of Taraza’, in the Bajo Cauca region (Northwestern Colombia), investigating women’s experiences of toxic contamination in coca-farming and gold-mining communities. Tarazá has been, for years, a national hotspot of coca production. Between 1999 and 2014, it was hardly hit by the policy of aerial glyphosate fumigations for the forced eradication of coca fields conducted during the War on Drugs. In the attempt to make my research practices participatory, I tried, from the very first steps of the project, to establish a collaboration with local farmer’s organizations (ASOCBAC and ASOCURN) who are critical actors in the debate with the Colombian state over the implementation of the Peace Agreement in coca-farming communities.
When meeting with local social leaders, the blurred concept of participation I mentioned in my PhD research proposal turned into a series of negotiations about what contribution my project could give to strengthening local farmers’ movements. In these negotiations, it was clear that sharing my research results with farmer’s organizations was not going to provide a relevant contribution to support their efforts to publicly condemn the politics of aerial fumigations and denounce the failure of the Program of voluntary substitutions of illicit Crops (PNIS). Therefore, we designed an additional outcome for the research project, considering its accessibility for a non-academic public, and local social leaders suggested recording a short documentary.
Through the SLAS Small Grant Schemes, I was able to run a series of participatory sessions to construct, together with local social leaders from different areas of the municipality, the script of the documentary. At the same time, on request of the organizations, this space was used to strengthen the leaders’ communication skills through a short training, delivered by a community-based audiovisual collective, Colectivo de Comunicaciones Gente y Bosques (from the nearby municipality of El Bagre), about audiovisual techniques and other communication strategies.
The outcome of this collaboration is a short documentary that includes videos recorded on their phones by local social leaders about their everyday life. Moreover, it consists of several interviews with members of the organisations who discuss the environmental, health and socio-economic outcomes of glyphosate contamination.
An important component of the documentary is its gendered perspective. The video includes a chapter called “Coca is not only a men’s issue”, which investigates women’s participation in the coca economy and the severe impacts of glyphosate fumigations on their reproductive health. In particular, during my fieldwork in Taraza’, I collected several stories of miscarriages related to exposure to glyphosate. Even though several academics proved the correlation between miscarriages and glyphosate, the reproductive violence exercised on rural women through this practice had not been sufficiently acknowledged in the Colombian public debate. To date, the only case related to a miscarriage in the aftermath of the fumigation which has been accepted before a legal court is the case of Yaneth Valderrama, who died after being exposed to glyphosate in 1994. Showing in the video the story of local women who suffered a miscarriage felt important in order to recognise the gendered impacts of this policy.
The video is available at: https://youtu.be/n_sScB6zQt4
I am enormously grateful to ASOCBAC, ASOCURN y El Colectivo Audiovisual Gente y Bosques who made my research project and the shooting of this short documentary possible.
PhD student at the Department of International Development at LSE