It is 6am and already the heat is intensifying as we descend from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to one of the low regions near the coast. Today we travel to the Zona Bananera region with Women for Conservation and their partner and national sexual and reproductive health provider, Profamilia. In the small community of Guacamayal, 25 young women are eagerly waiting to be seen by Profamilia medical staff as part of the three-month check-up after receiving their contraceptive implants.
La Zona Bananera is a municipality of Santa Marta in northern Colombia. The region includes two protected areas that are home to many native species, such as the Colombian red howler monkey and the Florida slide turtle. However, this land around the Magdalena River, which is an internationally recognized wetland site, is now mostly occupied by banana monocultures. Crops divert water from the Sierra Nevada river system to crop irrigation, degrading the ecosystem and leaving local people without drinking water.
Meanwhile, local farmers producing diverse crops of yucca, yams and chili peppers are being forced off their land as dry seasons intensify and yields dwindle. When they sell their land out of desperation, it often ends up in the hands of big banana growers and multinational corporations. In many cases, the former landowners then end up working on that same land as wage earners.
Kelly Donado, coordinator of the Women for Conservation program, comments that one could think of the banana-growing region as a place rich in resources, income and infrastructure. But, she says, “everything is exported. All the food that’s grown here, they take it away. And meanwhile, there is a total lack of basic services. Women have to walk very far to get to health centers and once there, services are inadequate.
Kelly grew up feeling this need first hand in her local community. In her Sierra Nevada mountain village of Santa Marta, she is the “mother of the community” who liaises between local authorities and neighbors, including bringing food into the community when roads have been blocked and markets closed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly shakes things up. So when she saw the impact of Women for Conservation’s family planning, sustainable livelihoods and nature education programs in the Sierra, she decided that the same successes should be replicated in other places. parts of the department of Magdalena.