We took a holistic, expedient and humane approach to support smallholder farmers in Colombia during COVID-19. Here's how it looked on the ground.

We took a holistic, expedient and humane approach to support smallholder farmers in Colombia

September 4, 2020

On 20 March this year, Luis Miguel Botero discovered that his social business, Pomario, faced an existential threat. It was the day that a nation-wide quarantine in Colombia was announced, which was ultimately extended until the end of August. For Botero, as for many business owners, this presented the threat that his social businesses’ revenues would disappear overnight.

Botero’s social business, Pomario, had been employing rural farmers in the Santa Helena area of Colombia and selling high-quality produce to high-end cafés, restaurants and hotels in Medellín. Pomario’s mission is to support the livelihoods of its employees, who are survivors of Colombia’s 50-year, violent conflict. Through Pomario, they are able to earn 25% higher than the national minimum wage and access pension and healthcare, allowing them to escape poverty. However, with the announcement of lockdown, all hospitality outlets were shut down overnight; in other words, all of Pomario’s clients.  

Like most social businesses, Pomario works as a safety net for those who are not included in the system. 88% of employment in rural Colombia is informal, with wages well below the national average and without access to pensions, a decent healthcare system or unemployment benefits. Furlough schemes in emerging economies such as Colombia have been less comprehensive than those seen, for example, in Europe, and do not reach informal workers. Pomario employs people from this exact group, which otherwise gets overlooked by the system.

We realised the danger and acted quickly. Shortly after the announcement of lockdown in Colombia, we reached out to Luis Miguel and his team to find out how we could help support the livelihoods of rural farmers. Pomario is among those that received our emergency COVID Relief grant funding in order to maintain its work during the COVID-19 lockdown. In total, we raised $1.74 million and disbursed this to social businesses globally so they could continue to support those in low-income communities. We also worked closely with the team to brainstorm how to pivot their business model into the ‘new normal.’ With our input, Pomario was able to diversify the range of its clients to big retailers and hospitals. This has allowed Pomario to not only maintain its wages for its workers but also to make its business model more resilient to such crises.

Luis Miguel shared what the emergency COVID Relief funding meant for him and Pomario, stating, “With the relief fund, we managed to maintain our impact (all our bottom-of-pyramid collaborators maintained salaries 20% higher than the minimum wage in Colombia). In addition, we managed to adjust our commercial and distribution model to serve households through our new website.”

Jaime Bastidas, from our local team in Colombia, remarked, “The COVID-19 Relief grant funding allowed social business entrepreneurs (some with sales drops of up to 70%) to feel the unconditional support that the Yunus Social business team has with them in increasing the impact they generate at the bottom of the pyramid.”

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