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“Loving what we have": the project of the Campesinx University of Miranda (Cauca)

By Jessica García

Since 2016, a collective food sovereignty project has been under construction in the small town of Miranda, in southwestern Colombia. What does this project consist of?A hundred acre farm, where 25 families live, where each plot holder has access to a productive unit of 5 acres and where the Campesinx University for Miranda and Northern Cauca is starting to take shape.

This project is the result of historical struggles of the Colombian peasantry, and in this case, of the Caucanxs in particular. After the mobilizations of the 2016 National Agrarian Strike, in which peasant organizations from all over the country came together, demanding the fulfillment of the agreements assumed by the Government of Juan Manuel Santos in the Cumbre Nacional Agraria Campesina Étnica y Popular (National Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Agrarian Summit) in 2013 and 2014, peasants from all over the country came together to demand the fulfillment of the agreements assumed by the Government of Juan Manuel Santos in the National Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Agrarian Summit in 2013 and 2014, campesinxs of the Asociación Proconsitución de Zona de Reserva Campesina del Municipio de Miranda (ASPROZONAC), affiliated to the Federación Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria (FENSUAGRO), obtained this farm that same year.

This farm was supposed to go together with a productive project financed by the State to support campesina families who were beginning to work the land. However, in practice, this project was never implemented and the families had to work everything out on their own. It has been these families who have started a process to recover the land that had once been used for sugarcane monoculture plantations and, later, for extensive cattle raising.

"We had everything before the green revolution package arrived, we had good food, we were very humble, but we had everything, so we said, we have to return to our reality and we started to work on a small agroecology project here, and we began to see that this was our reality", said Briceida Lemos, a local campesina leader who lives and works on the land.

It is within this framework that a great collective commitment began to take shape in a context of extremeinequality in access to education. This is how the peasant university was born in Miranda, as a learning space of its own, a space to strengthen the "common peasantry as a subject of rights" and as a strategy to ensure the permanence of young people in the territory.

As Briceida says, leaving the countryside to go to the city to study means uprooting yourself from your place of origin, where it is very difficult to return.

This year is the second year of activities of the Campesinx University. Two certification courses have been developed so far, one in Agroecology and the other in Solidarity Economy. Since 2021, 35 students have graduated from the Agroecology courses and, currently, there are 28 students taking courses in Solidarity Economy, mostly from Miranda, and the nearby towns of Caloto and Corinto and even some students from Valle del Cauca.

The Campesinx University has had the support of both civil society organizations and universities, such as the Javeriana University, which has been supporting them with technical advice in order to consolidate the structure of the university.

So far the university has been an itinerant university that has developed part of its classes between the big house in Miranda, in the collective farm mentioned above, and secondary schools in Caloto and Corinto. Its itinerancy allows it to bring the university closer to the teenegers who are in high school and to show the process that is being built to other campesinxs communities in the region.

The acquisition of this farm, as well as the beginning of a collective agroecological project, together with a campesinx university organized by peasants, constitutes not only a bet of great resistance against the handful of families that control most of the land in Colombia, but also, it is an act of recognition and love for the peasant identity. As Briceida states, "What we want is to re-root our territory and to know that what we have is unique and that our peasants should not be ashamed to say that they are peasants, but that they should wear it with pride". It is a university designed to"love what we have".


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