My name is Federman and I live in the community of Atnamana where I cultivate watermelons, beans, pumpkins, chili peppers, maize, mangos and aloe vera.
If there is water, people here can cultivate. To make a living for my family, I need to work on my farm all day long. My day starts around 5:30am and ends very late. I came here to La Guajira department 29 years ago as an internally displaced person – the second time I had been displaced by paramilitary forces.
Our challenge is the rain, to have access to enough water and to make ends meet.
When I came here 20 years ago, we could plant beans and watermelon for the drier season and pumpkin, maize and others for the wet season. Now we cannot cultivate anything for six months of the year and even in the wettest period we can only plant a few crops, because there is little rain.
Life has been hard in these past years because we have had a long drought since 2012.
Even the river is now totally dry, and the cacimba, a well that we dig in the river bed to collect water, is empty. My family depends on my farm and I still have three sons at the school too. When there is water in the region and we can cultivate and irrigate, everyone can live properly.
There was water in the river until a few years ago, but since then it only has water when it rains, and soon after, the river is dry again.
To me it is clear that the river is affected by the coal mining in El Cerrejón, as well as the seismic studies they do for oil – all of this changes the whole water system.
Another problem we have is the low price of products.
For example, my chili pepper is ready for the harvest, but the price is not even enough to pay a day’s wage. So I prefer to use it for myself, give it away for free or even just let it rot.
I need to irrigate my crops so that they can grow. But even if you have some irrigation water, you always need the water from the sky and it hasn’t rained properly for years.
I try not to depend only on my crops. I keep animals, such as sheep and chicken, so that I can have some reserves for the drought. Sometimes I sell one animal and with that money, I try to cover our needs, but I know this won’t last forever. During the past dry season, we finally received food aid: rice and cooking oil.
I got lucky because the Colombian Institute of Farming selected my farm land on which to drill a 100-metre-deep test well.
I convinced them to leave the well open after they had finished the testing. I also got a water reservoir and recently, when we got connected to electricity, I installed a water pump. I use the water from the well for drip irrigation, as the water from the river is only available for a few months during the year.
If there is not enough water, we may have to move away. But I have already been displaced twice and I would like to stay here.
If there is not even water to drink then no one can put up with that. Not even water for the animals, not for anything.
I think that if the government supported us and drilled wells in the villages, people could improve their lives.
We have formed a farmers’ union, the Atnamana Farmers Association, with 37 families.
Together we were able to buy land at a bargain price and now everyone has a small patch of between three and seven hectares – although we never received the property deeds. The community organization has supported us a lot and has strengthened the bonds between people.
The predominantly semi-desert and rural Guajira department on the Caribbean coast of Colombia is one of the poorest and most isolated areas of the country. Access to public services such as water, healthcare and education is scarce. The population suffers from child malnutrition, food insecurity and water shortages. The impact of climate change is aggravated by underdevelopment and environmental shortcomings. These include the building of the El Cercado dam that diverts water previously used by communities to palm oil and rice plantations and to the operations of one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines in El Cerrejón.