A man (Enrique) stands with his arm around a woman's (Eloisa) shoulders, both smiling

Peace of Land

After Colombia’s civil war, a mother and son return home to their farm

A panoramic view of green mountains topped by clouds

Like millions of Colombians, Enrique, 38, and his mother Eloisa were forced to flee their land during the country’s 50-year civil war. “The FARC rebels came to our village in 2000,” said Eloisa. “They warned us about many things.”

Every week, there were killings. Terrified, Enrique and his mother abandoned their farm in Balsillas, a small village in the mountains of central Colombia.

“There’s no cure for fear,” Eloisa said.

They fled to Bogota. With few skills and no connections in the city, Enrique struggled to find work. They spent four years living in poverty in the city, waiting for the conflict to subside.

A woman (Eloisa) eats from a bowl at a dinner table
A close-up portrait of a woman (Eloisa)
A view of green fields and trees with mist and clouds in the background

Land is Life

For many Colombians living in rural areas, land is their most important possession. Enrique and his mother Eloisa depended on their land to grow food to eat.

“After one has worked so hard, leaving everything behind is difficult,” Eloisa said. “Wasting your youth all the hard work, just to leave it all behind?”

A cow and baby stand in a green area surrounded by trees
A man (Enrique) shows a certificate inside a presentation folder

A Powerful Piece of Paper

For decades, Enrique and Eloisa had no official rights to their land.

Now, Enrique is the proud owner of a powerful piece of paper: a land title.

“The land restitution the government gave us provides us with a very good future,” Enrique said.

Two men kneel in a wooded area, one teaching the other about plant grafting and cloning

Today, Eloisa and her son Enrique are helping to build a more prosperous future for Colombia by returning to the land they lost. With clear property rights, Enrique has greater security. He is investing in improvements on the farm, so they can earn more income.

“For me, it was very important to return here to the farm because I started to grow cacao, coffee, plantains, cassava,” Enrique said.

A close-up of ripe coffee beans on the tree
A close-up of green bananas on the tree
A close-up of ripening cacao bean pods on the tree

Enrique attends a farm school to learn about the diseases that affect cacao, different cacao varieties and the process for cloning the trees.

He and his mother have 35 cacao trees in production on their farm and more than 900 trees that are clones of different varieties.

A man (Enrique) in a baseball cap sits at an outdoor group meeting
A group sits outdoors in chairs at a meeting

Connected to Markets

Enrique now sells his main cash crop, cacao, to a local buyer to be refined into chocolate, packaged and sold nationally.

“As for the crops, when you can grow what you plant, you can save for the future,” Enrique said.

a close-up of roasted cacao beans
A tray of candies
Close-up of hands holding a pile of cacao beans
A woman (Eloisa) stands at a kitchen counter, making chocolates

Eloisa also loves to prepare traditional Colombian chocolate from the cacao they grow.

“We have relaxed lives, go to bed with no worry, work peacefully, without any problems,” Eloisa said.

Eloisa was heartbroken to have to flee her beloved farm during the conflict. Now that she has returned to the land, she lovingly cares for a vibrant garden filled with flowers, plants and herbs.

Enrique said: “I saw my mom happier, more content.”

A close up of pink and white Dahlia flowers
A woman (Eloisa) and a man (Enrique) stand outdoors, smiling, with their arms around each other

“This is a better future for us tomorrow,” Eloisa said. “That is our hope -- to live better, day by day. And make peace that will last. For the farm, for the family, for everyone.”

About this story

Colombia’s 50-year civil war displaced about 6 million people. Grievances over land were at the heart of the conflict.

For the rural poor, who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, land is their most important asset. Yet many lack secure property rights. During the conflict, many poor farmers fled the violence that ravaged the countryside. In doing so, they were forced to leave behind their main source of income and identity: their land.

Today, USAID supports the Colombian Government in resolving these land issues.

For farmers like Enrique and Eloisa, that means being able to return to the land they lost in conflict and gaining a new sense of security in form of a legal land title.

With their land returned and their property rights secure, Enrique and Eloisa are now investing in their own future — expanding and diversifying crop production, learning modern farming techniques to increase harvests, and selling cash crops — with USAID’s support.

Video by Dave Cooper for USAID; photos by Susanna Jolly, USAID