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Rural Displacement Fund

Our market-based model empowers individuals through land rights and sustainable ag-ventures that thrive in post-conflict rural areas

Photo of Gustavo Bernal Torres
9 2

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

In Colombia, farming families where disproportionally affected by the internal conflict. 87% of displacements happened in rural areas, leaving behind between 4 - 6 million hectares of land (more than 15% of Colombia’s agricultural land, or the total size of Switzerland). Up until last year Colombia had the sad record of having the most IDPs in the world, this year Syria surpassed Colombia taking the #1 spot, but this is still a major social problem back home. IDPs ended up, mostly, in large cities but they struggled to integrate, their agrarian skillsets are not easily transferable to the urban informal economies where they arrive. And already constraint cities struggle to host them and to offer health and education services. Rural IDPs end up facing precarious livelihood conditions with high poverty rates and lack of opportunities in urban areas. Over 10 years ago, since my days back in college, I’ve worked on and off with IDPs on this issue. And I understand that Internal displacement is merely the consequence of 50 years of internal conflict. To address these problems, we need to attack the root causes of the conflict itself. The conflict started in the 60s when rural folks took up in arms to fight against land inequality and rural underdevelopment. Our solution is to address the three major challenges faced by IDPs while utilizing their skills— access to finance, access to markets, and complement their skillsets with knowledge on best practices. We plan to raise capital and acquire farmable land, parcel it into smaller farming units, build modular houses in each new farm, and finally lease it out to displaced families that want to return as smallholder farmers. The idea is that after 8-12 years, families have paid the entirety of their leases and property ownership rights would be transferred from the Fund to each family. To make the model sustainable, we also secure offtake agreements, help improve yields and scale production for the entire farm.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Boyaca, Colombia. For the moment, our main productive project is to grow and export quinoa to partner institutional buyers. Boyaca is perfect to grow quinoa, its location near Bogota and relatively safe rural areas make it ideal for a large scale pilot project.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our goal with the RDF is to bridge investors, consumers and landless displaced farmers to create impact investment opportunities in post-conflict rural areas. By creating an innovative financial structure that can properly capture long-term economic value and catalyze private capital in post-conflict regions, displaced families will have the opportunity to return as smallholders, while impact investors and consumers can also benefit from supporting/financing landless displaced families.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Much of the political, economic and social conflict in Colombia has historically involved rights over land. We believe secure land rights can break the cycle of poverty and violence. We want to prove that a clear path to land and home ownership can create dignified and content livelihoods for landless displaced families. Creating an asset base for their families, becoming agricultural entrepreneurs instead of continued to be framed as victims, can motivate individuals into a long-term project like the RDF. Migration and the movement of people is nothing new. It has been there since the beginning of mankind. And the causes have always been mostly the same, i.e. safety and/or the lack of opportunities at your place of origin. And that’s precisely the aim of the Rural Displacement Fund, we want to give conflict victims a chance to restart their livelihoods and rebuild ownership of their lands in war-torn regions.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We have identified five impact categories that should show the impact of the RDF: 1. Employment and income, the Fund aims to provide access to markets to families in informal economies reconverting to farming as ag-entrepreneurs, having a higher and more stable income. 2. Agriculture: sharing best practices and resources we aim to improve yields and scale production with sustainable farming methods. 3. Financial inclusion: Thru individualized lease agreements, families will create a credit history, build collateral and start to have access to traditional banking services. 4. Land: secure land rights can break the cycle of poverty and violence. 5. Education, Healthcare & Basic Amenities: hosting communities usually struggle to provide basic needs to displaced families, thru the RDF we expect families to get full coverage on basic necessities.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Inspiration for the RDF came from displaced families themselves. I’ve been working on and off with displaced families for over 10 years now since my days back in college, as a volunteer in a local NGO building emergency housing, I met hundreds of families who had just arrived to Bogota from rural communities. It was while talking to them that they shared their dream of returning one day as smallholder farmers. A few years had pass until I finally clearly structured the idea. Once I understood more about land ownership dynamics in Colombia and how millions of hectares are currently unused. Once the Peace Talk between the government and the FARC guerrilla group started, everything seemed to fall into place and the Rural Displacement Fund seemed like an innovative feasible solution to the inequitable distribution of land and rural underdevelopment while giving displaced families an opportunity to rebuild ownership of their lands.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

After conducting 100+ interviews and countless personal interactions with displaced families, we have identified certain profiles of families that even after having lived for 5-10 years in cities, they still dream of returning to the countryside as smallholder farmers. For these families, saving is incredibly difficult, but if they manage to save any money, it's mostly for their children's education and land acquisition. We estimate that from the over 8 million internally displaced population, 40%-60% may decide to return if the opportunity came up. Other targeted communities are other landless families that were displaced to smaller towns. They are still earning a living, mostly, through agricultural work. But the dream of land ownership is even stronger than for other families living in larger cities.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

87% of displacements happened in rural areas, and for most of these families, farming was their main/only economic activity. Our model wants to leverage their skillsets by sharing best practices and resources, improve yields and scale potential production. From our research, many of these families want to return to the countryside. But their dream is to return to their own piece of land and to a house of their own. And that's the objective of the RDF, we want to give families a chance to restart their livelihoods and rebuild ownership of their lands. Return as future smallholder farmers. But this is not a Colombia-specific issue. The RDF can be used as a framework and a template to develop sustainable agricultural business models in different parts of the world where internal displacement has affected thousands.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

I was lucky to get an initial grant from The Rockefeller Foundation and Kellogg School of Management to develop the structure and research needed to make the RDF a viable framework to give conflict victims a chance to restart their livelihoods and rebuild ownership of their lands while creating investment opportunities from the redevelopment of these conflict-torn areas. Equilibrium Capital also helped us mentoring our research work and guided us through the structuring of a new financial instrument. We have approached institutional buyers of quinoa in Colombia and abroad. We would like to close a partnership with them but haven't done so as we still don't have permanent crops yet to supply them.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Returning home

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

TerraBlanca Impact Capital

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

TerraBlanca is an impact investment fund aiming to empower the Internally Displaced Population (IDPs) and victims of Colombia’s armed conflict and other post-conflict countries. Through access to finance and to global markets, our objective is to build sustainable agricultural business models in rural areas to give participating families an opportunity to own a parcel of land, a house, and become smallholder farmers. On a personal note, my family and I did have to leave Colombia for safety reasons but we were few of the lucky ones as my father managed to take us legally to the US for a few years. Also, I’ve been working on and off with displaced families for over 10 years now since my days back in college, which is when TerraBlanca started as a dream in 2007, but it wasn't until 2015 when as an MBA student in Singapore I finally structured the idea and later legally constituted in Colombia in 2017.

Website URL:

www.terrablanca.co

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country

Colombia

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Bogota D.C.

Attachments (1)

RDF Feasibility Study- TerraBlanca Impact Capital.pdf

Feasibility study on the Rural Displacement Fund structure financed by The Rockefeller Foundation and Kellogg School of Management Sustainable Investing Fellowship.

9 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of George
Team

Is your organization willing to collaborate with other social organizations using new technology in order to make the most positive impact possible around the world with our combined innovations?

Photo of Gustavo Bernal Torres
Team

Hi George,

Of course! we are always open to collaborate with other mission-aligned organizations and individuals to improve our model and scale our impact. What do you have mind?

Photo of George
Team

Thank you for your time and consideration Gustavo.

We'd like to build our relationship with you first before beginning the process of collaboration. If you don't mind, please send us your email address so we can provide you with the information you need to get to know us as well?

Photo of Gaspard
Team

Hola Gustavo.
Interesante su proyecto. Se complementan con nuestro trabajo en Bogotá y Cali donde apoyamos a jóvenes desplazados y migrantes venezolanos para que tengan mejores oportunidades de vida a través de una formación en gastronomía. Pero varios jóvenes sueñan un día poder volver a sus tierras como lo menciona ud.. Suerte con su proyecto!

Si quiere hecharle un ojo a nuestro proyecto: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/2019-bridgebuilder-challenge/ideas/gastronomy-to-empower-young-migrants-in-colombia

Photo of Gustavo Bernal Torres
Team

Gracias Gaspard! Acabo de leer su propuesta y me parece genial lo que están haciendo. Yo estoy ubicado en Bogotá, dónde tienen la escuela de Manq'a acá? sería genial tener la oportunidad de conocer la escuela y a los muchachos que están capacitando.

Saludos!
Gustavo

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk
Team

Dear Gustavo,

I am not familiar with the rural situation in Colombia, but if I understand it well you want to acquire larger surfaces of land and split them into smallholder farms. Would it from a future general agricultural development perspective (due to mechanization, the contribution in Europe of agriculture was reduced from 20% to 2% of GDP in most countries over the past 5 decades) not be better to modernize agriculture and recreate more economically diversified rural communities? This is what I propose for revitalizing the meanwhile deprived rural areas in Europe. This still means that IDPs can return home and some/many of them can rebuild an economically sustainable agricultural future but that the focus of the rural economy shifts to other activities at the same time. (See: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/end-year-reflection-from-refugee-camp-incubator-van-nieuwkerk/ and http://www.openideo2019.refival.org).

Kind Regards,

Hans van Nieuwkerk

Photo of Gustavo Bernal Torres
Team

Hi Hans, thanks for comment and your point is noted and well-taken. Do keep in mind we intentionally keep smallholders together to mechanize operations and achieve economies of scale for the entire farm. We want to move from a subsistence farming model to a commercially viable and efficient agricultural operation. However, we did go through your suggested links and although we haven't included any formal education programs to diversify income generation in rural areas, we will definitely keep that in mind as we move forward in our project. Best of luck with your proposal.

Regards,
Gustavo

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk
Team

Dear Gustavo,

Clear! Success with your projects!

Hans

Photo of NDEF Cameroon
Team

Hi Gustavo Bernal Torres, welcome to the Challenge. We wish you success in your work!