Blots on the landscape

Colombia is blessed with some of the most diverse and fertile terrains on earth. For example I have lost count of the number of new fruits that we have sampled in less than a month, it’s probably running at one every couple of days. Incredible.

The department of Santander, that we have just left, is particularly famed for its abundance – from tropical wetlands to craggy 3,000m+ peaks, the land there produces pretty much anything. And the pace of agricultural production seems to be gathering speed. Many people we’ve spoken to believe, understandably, that the future of Colombian economic development lies in its natural resources – in particular agriculture. But at what cost to the precious environment?

During our stay in the pueblo of Zapatoca, our host Armando explained how in recent years the local government has allowed and promoted the building of chicken processing facilities in the surrounding countryside. The town applauded the decision believing there to be job prospects and economic prosperity to come. However, the reality has been that the facilities have produced few jobs (a circumstance of industrial agriculture worldwide – labour needs are few, as farms are more like factories) and instead have contaminated the valleys. They are also an eyesore on the otherwise pristine landscape.

Similarly we passed through the department of Boyaca, near the stunning setting of Villa de Leyva. Here the entire landscape was dotted with huge plastic polytunnels. We think they were for growing tomatoes.

It’s a tricky conundrum to solve – trying to balance economic development with environmental protection. In Colombia the environment is one of the country’s greatest assets and it would be an unforgivable sin to pursue the former at the expense of the latter.

Polytunnels: spoiling the view, and the environment - on the road down to Villa de Leyva

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