Hope in a Fishing Net

Lino Diaz’s hands are rough from manual labor, his face is dark from overexposure to the sun and he looks older than his 32 years. Lino has that hardened look that comes from a difficult life.

When Lino was 19, it was already clear to him that there were few economic opportunities in the remote town of Policarpa, in Colombia’s western state of Narino. “During those days, it was very difficult,” he recalls without expression.

Lino heard rumors of employment in the oil and mining region of La Hormiga, in the neighboring state of Putumayo. Based on those rumors, Lino, along with his brother and parents, abandoned Policarpa for the dream of a better life.

Unfortunately, La Hormiga’s reality was far different. There were no jobs to be found, and Lino and his family could not support themselves. Like many impoverished residents of Putumayo, Lino started to work as a “raspachin,” (a term used to describe people who collect the coca leaves). Most of this illicit crop is cultivated in Putumayo.

But Lino realized that coca production was not the business for him. Driven by a desire for economic stability, he decided to look for a new source of income. He set up a water tank near his home and took the plunge into fish farming. Later, Lino joined the Asociacion de Piscicultores de Valle del Guamuez (ASOPEZ), which was started by a group 12 campesinos who, like Lino, wanted to get into a legitimate business.

Lino and the members of ASOPEZ had the drive but lacked the financial and administrative resources to achieve commercial success.

They contacted PADF to inquire about joining its Alternative Development and Areas for Municipal-Level Development in Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, ADAM), which was helping former coca growers to establish and operate legal enterprises. The key to success in this endeavor have proven to be the linkages among government institutions, local producers, and markets. ADAM focused on developing competitive advantages and market opportunities for producer groups and their products.

ADAM received support from the Colombian government, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation (Accion Social).

With PADF’s help, Lino and his colleagues started a fish farming project in the southern part of Putumayo. Using skills learned from ADAM’s training and technical assistance provided through PADF, the aqua farmers were able to improve their infrastructure, production, and administration of the small businesses. The association has grown to 102 members, including Lino, and provides benefits to 300 families.

ASOPEZ now has its own building that includes commercial space, administrative offices and a cold storage room. PADF’s implementation of the ADAM program has had the added benefit of improving communications, human resource management, and conflict management among the beneficiaries.

“The fish farming project has allowed us the opportunity to have our own source of income,” Lino says. PADF “has trained us and they accompany us through the entire cycle of production.”

Before receiving ADAM’s support, Lino’s family lived on less than $700 a year. Today, they earn more than $2,000 a year. And his hopes for a better life have been realized.

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