Nearly a month of anti-government protests and road blockades have taken a huge toll on Colombia’s economy.
Protests began on April 28 against a now-cancelled tax reform proposed by the government of President Ivan Duque. Demonstrators have since been demanding government to action to tackle poverty and police violence.
More than 2,100 road blockades in support of the national strike have paralyzed imports, exports and caused shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies across the country.
Losses amount to $2.7 billion and agriculture is the most affected sector, said Jorge Enrique Bedoya, the head of the Colombian Agricultural Society.
“The situation of agricultural producers in Colombia is very complicated,” Bedoya told Anadolu Agency. “Many producers have been unable to harvest their crops, others are seeing their goods rot in trucks, while many are at risk of losing all of their crops due to lack of inputs.”
Bedoya said blockades have put the transport of more than 5,000 tons of fruits and vegetables in jeopardy and more than 350,000 hectares of rice are at risk of being lost due to lack of fuel, fertilizers and herbicides.
The blockades “generates a lot of uncertainty for the food producers and for truck drivers who handle perishable products.”
More than 10 million poultry have starved to death and another 60 million could die because of a lack of feed, warned FENAVI, the country’s poultry association.
More than 250,000 tons of the imported corn and soybean used to feed the birds are stuck in Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port in the Pacific Coast, which is being blocked by transporters.
The fish industry is also barely surviving. More than 3,000 tons of fish could be lost, putting 200,000 direct jobs at risk in the industry, according to the Colombian Federation of Aquaculture.
‘Need to lift blockades’
Colombia’s Ombudsman Carlos Camargo warned that there is an “imminent need to lift the blockades” because if they continue, they could cause a collapse of food security.
“The protection of human rights is a priority and that implies guaranteeing food security, supplies, medical services, and public order,” Camargo said.
Nearly 300,000 jobs have been lost in the first 26 days of protests, according to the country’s chamber of retail businesses, Fenalco.
Pablo Arbelaez, who leads Vive Agro, a company that offers processed fruits and vegetables, had to lay off more than half of his 300 employees because the company could no longer pay them.
“The pandemic sent our business to intensive care, and now protests have deprived us of oxygen. Road blockades forced us to close the plant for the first time in nine years,” he said, adding nearly one month has passed since the company has not been able to supply many of their clients across the country.
According to Arbelaez, most small and medium-scale producers who supply Vive Agro with fruits and vegetables have had to throw away the products that have not reached their destination due to blockades.
“Those farmers who were unable to harvest their crops will not generate the cash flow necessary to pay credits for the next harvest and so it is a vicious circle,” he added.
Bedoya said the crisis has reached a point of no return.
“Starting from scratch? With what money? Some farmers have nothing to start producing again. Many went bankrupt during the pandemic, many are going to bankrupt now,” he said.
More than a week of talks between the government and protest organizers have resulted in a document of pre-agreements on Monday, the government announced.
Producers have urged the government to find solutions to mitigate the crisis.