A Plan for Turning Swords into Plowshares in Post-Conflict Colombia

March 1, 2015

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

by Kati Moore (MEM ‘ 16)
Nicholas School Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke University graduate students Martin Ramirez and Mike Younis are heading to the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Coral Gables, Fla., next weekend to present a novel peace-building plan to help mend the effects of decades of armed conflict in Colombia.

Their plan calls for turning former guerilla combatants into urban farmers.

The scale and extent of their program, called the Urban Agriculture Peace Laboratory, would depend in part on the amount of funding received, but Ramirez says they imagine it would start with small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and herbs that could be sold at neighborhood farmers markets.

Participating in such a program would allow former combatants to provide for their families, contribute to urban and suburban food security, and integrate themselves back into civil society.

The Colombian government has been battling rebel forces in the South American country for more than fifty years. Recently, it began negotiating a peace treaty with the rebel group FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.  

Ramirez, a native Colombian, says he has long been concerned about social challenges in Latin America. He began developing the idea for a post-conflict urban agriculture program with Younis last summer while they were doing field work for their masters project on climate change adaptation for Latin American coffee growers.

“There was palpable tension over the issue of conflict between the government and guerrilla groups,” says Younis.

Their main goal behind the Urban Agriculture Peace Laboratory, he says, is to provide options for former combatants.

“People are leaving this conflict without being prepared to re-enter society,” Younis says. An urban agriculture program would be a way for them to do that.

“Peace is going to be a great failure there if there are not enough alternatives for people leaving the conflict,” Ramirez says.

The Clinton Global Initiative University conference will be held March 6 through 8 at the University of Miami. The brainchild of former President Bill Clinton, it is an opportunity for young innovators to share their ideas for action on a variety of global issues, including education, environment and climate change, poverty alleviation, peace and human rights, and public health.

Ramirez and Younis are Master of Environmental Management students at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

They say they look forward to discussing their idea with other students and professionals at the conference, and hope to find both collaborators and funding to help them tackle the issue.

“We come from an environmental background, but we are talking about how to generate peace and generate social change,” Ramirez says. “We feel that all disciplines have to come and give alternatives.”