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From Narco Capital to Regeneration Hub

Using Supply Chain AgriData Systems to Transform Cali into a Carbon-Sinking, Nutrition and Peace-Building Engine for Colombia & the World.

Photo of Santiago Gomez
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Lead Applicant Organization Name


Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Fedeorgánicos (organic grower federation), Universidad del Valle (Aerospace and Chemistry Departments), Truvalu, ING, Paso Colombia, Cavasa (largest wholesale food distribution marketplace in Valle).

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Valle del cauca, has a total area of approximately 22.195 km².

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We are a team of caleños who chose to build our lives in service to our home: Cali & Colombia’s South West. Several of us returned after years abroad, recognizing our homeland’s uniqueness, its pressing needs and our ability to make a difference. 

In El Lab, our mission is to nourish a thriving ecosystem of social entrepreneurs who, through startups, technology, policy, research and business influence work to restore the promise of this vibrant place, derailed for decades by a persistent drug-fuelled war. 

Our journey as a co-working space, startup accelerator, and educator for software developers brought us to Food & Agriculture: a key part of Cali as Colombia’s leading Agro-Industry hub. We collaborate with diverse stakeholders across Social Impact Investing, International Cooperation, Local Government, Academia, Trade Associations, Distributors, Manufacturers, SMEs and Farmer Cooperatives. Our work focuses on understanding needs, connecting new opportunities, co-creating stronger value propositions, and bolstering supply chains, commercial acumen, teams and management systems.

Through this journey, we meet inspiring community leaders and entrepreneurs who exemplify adaptability, integrity and creativity amid adversity. However, their projects often struggle to scale, as Colombia’s Food System’s incentives are stacked against them. Supply of conscious propositions outstrips demand, because conscious buyers and businesses are splintered. Furthermore, bringing them together is even harder in Colombia’s South West region: our culture suffers from a trust deficit, exacerbated by war and social fragmentation.

In this context, our ecosystem-building orientation - our focus on creating trust and community - is essential to forging new teams and solutions that will transform our city and region’s Food System.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Home to 2.5 million people, Cali is Colombia’s 3rd metropolitan area and 2nd-largest Afro-descendent city in the Americas. A melting-pot of Indigenous, European and African cultures, with the highest migrant share, we have long prided ourselves on being Colombia’s most welcoming, fun & diverse town. Nestled in a lush valley near Colombia’s main port, Cali boomed in the 20th century: our openness, location, biodiversity and fertility turned us into the country’s most prosperous and dynamic city. Here is where Colombia made its pioneering forays into film, Latin music, and modern theatre & dance. We launched Colombia’s 1st multinational and agri-tech businesses and founded world-class research centers. 

When it comes to food, we vallunos can rhapsodize about our diverse cuisine for hours: seafood encocado stews & savory chontaduro palm-fruit from the Pacific; hearty Andean sancocho soup - a medley of tubers, chicken & cimarrón herb simmered over firewood; cassava pandebono with icey lulada - an urban pick-me-up before a night of salsa. We localized Caribbean music and many global foods, as seen in a standard work lunch - corrientazo, showcasing starchy potato soup, followed by rice, plantain, pulses (or a fillet of beef, chicken or fish), greens, juice, and coffee. 

For centuries, dominant culture tried to suppress our diversity. However, discourses vindicating our mixed heritage are now gathering force: the globally-acclaimed Petronio festival and the legalization (just a month ago) of Afro-ancestral liqueurs like viche are two examples of a broader move towards regained pride in all our legacies. 

Cali’s resurgent confidence cannot hide enduring contradictions. Though our outlook has improved, from 1980 to 2010 we went from being Colombia’s leading city to its most troubled. We suffer severe inequality, racial & class segregation, and violence. Graft cripples progress, marginalizing rural areas and informal urban settlements. Our food system features a high-tech sugarcane monoculture, offering world-leading productivity, but damaging lowland biodiversity, water quality and soil health. Agri-tech in the valley coexists with crumbling infrastructure in the Andes: a once-abundant source of diverse, traditional foods now struggling with import competition and depopulation. Endemic foods fade from kitchens in favor of branded items with meagre nutrition. Rural and working class youth, facing limited legal work, poor food access, shoddy public services and insecurity, turn to migration & illicit drug economies: a ticket to survival in a cash-based society. Meanwhile, cash-rich, time-poor, ageing, overworked, commuters switch to US suburban lifestyles, displaying growing isolation, depression, sedentarism, obesity, diabetes, drug-use disorders, etc.: a public health time-bomb.

In this context, the time is ripe for a new Colombian dream that heals our contradictions and provides new life purposes harnessing our growing self-esteem and pride in place.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current challenges include:


-Low food availability & affordability in Cali’s urban periphery, inner-city and rural districts (50%), leading to malnutrition and poor diets.

-Poor diet quality for all groups - including a shift towards less nutritious, energy-dense snacks and meals, with high presence of contaminants

-Overwork, traffic, sedentary jobs and digital dependency contribute to decreased social life, cooking & shopping time, diet quality, excess consumption, higher waste and emissions, and public health strain

Supply & Distribution:

-Switch to cash monocultures (sugarcane, coffee, pineapple) drives vulnerability to price flux, loss of local food diversity, pesticide use and soil loss, lower resilience to income volatility, deforestation and higher emissions

-Low competitiveness of local food production leading to out-migration from rural areas, rural ageing, growth of illicit economies (cannabis, coca, mining), stronger gangs, extortion, and crime (rural and urban)

-Low farmer integration & poor or corrupt cooperative structures contributing to high reliance on intermediaries, long, illogical & high-emission food supply chains, high food waste & cost, and low profit margins for primary producers

-Food supply insecurity due to est. >70% reliance on out-of-region imports (for human food and animal feed) and transport bottlenecks (notably, to the South - a key source of staples)

-Environmental degradation - deforestation, water way pollution, biodiversity loss, soil erosion and contamination, poor waste management, high green-house gas emissions, poor animal and worker welfare, linked to food system design, particularly sugarcane cultivation, illicit crop production, and industrial poultry, pork & dairy farms

-Absence of timely, actionable market data re: regionally-specific demand and supply levels inhibiting: 1) locally-appropriate stock strategies, 2) business cases for economically advantageous local food sourcing investments (public & private) and 3) leaner supply chain structures that ensure profitability across stakeholders and food quality


-Extreme flooding, drought, and heat events:

-Increasing need for flood and irrigation control, fire & landslide management (esp. in Farallones foothills), cooling systems, and stronger mosquito- & insect-borne disease prevention strategies

-Higher energy & water demand (pumps, air conditioning, water collection) and need for source diversification (vis-a-vis reservoir & river dependence)

-Uphill shift in production zones for key cash and food crops (i.e. coffee, greens, fruit, grain)

-Ageing population in both urban and rural areas: 

-Labor shortages for agricultural activities

-Higher manufacturing, packaging, distribution and logistics wage costs

-Climate disruption in Colombia and beyond, driving high inmigration rate and population growth despite low fertility in Valle region

-Higher resource demand requirements (including food, but also housing, transport, public services, green space, entertainment)

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

A food system data revolution healed Cali & Valle’s landscape of unsustainable monocultures surrounding a congested, concrete jungle. They have become a tapestry of biodiversity corridors that blend into each other, with the food sector acting as a cornerstone to social mobility and wellbeing for all.

Urban Outlook:

Cali’s hotspots are gone as rooftops and abandoned narco-buildings switched to gardens, solar panels and water collection systems. Gardens adorn all neighborhoods - not just affluent ones. Cali’s 7 polluted rivers are again abundant fisheries irrigating riverside orchards and providing bathing and recreation. 

Ecosystem managers monitor the quality, safety, productivity and beauty of Cali’s lush landscape, integrating urban agriculture into the food system. The eco-management sector combines non-profit and public incentives into economic imperatives. This vibrant sector uses the internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI), sensing and big data to manage operations, while providing ample employment for locals and the wave of climate migrants. Privacy-adherent drone-glider and robots support work activities, enabling >50% leisure, learning and creativity time.

Circular supply chain, eco-management services replaced linear distribution. Eco-teams collaborate to deliver products and services that maximize cost-effectiveness and regenerative impact. They help organizations and individuals to:

1.Plan their demand & supply effectively. Customized demand & supply dashboards are the cornerstone of this activity, automating preferences, input and output projections for food, energy and other materials (such as clothing, furniture and equipment). They help balance budgets and offer the most regenerative sources and destinations. Economic dashboards include recipe-integrated, meal-planning buying carts, with nutrition tailored to private, secure genomic data. Organization dashboards work similarly at aggregate level, while integrating inventory management needs and larger scale production schedules. 

2. Integrate smart contracts, banks and traceability technology. E-dashboards are built into smart bank and credit accounts, which track financial, energy, carbon and biodiversity use budgets using next generation blockchains. Smart contracts provide the backbone to dashboard systems. They offer transparency and traceability for supply & demand and enable seamless, low bureaucracy financial management. They also enable aligning economic activity with missions and obligations (to members, partners and governments). 

3.Set up circular delivery logistics. Waste no longer exists. All linear activity shifted to a metabolic view of management, which integrates shelf-life and use-rate considerations and symbiotically channels side-products back into the energy and material system. For homes, a common strategy includes delivery, providing items in light-weight, reusable or biodegradable packaging. For the food service sector, delivery includes custom palletized items and automated storage. Food is processed at the optimal point in the circular chain, near cultivation and production sites.   

4. Harness data analytics to optimize design choices collaboratively with partners. This includes nutritional, wellness, biodiversity and financial optimization.

Every neighborhood boasts community food and wellness experience centers, including:

1. Local depots for storage and pallet / box customisation. 

2. Urban-rural farmer markets, where producers showcase their products, nutrition contents, biodiversity and social impact. Non-recurring purchases and delivery sign-up happen here.

3.Cooking and circular economy education and training courses.

4.Shared equipment rental and repair services for all long-life items.

5.Mental health and life-purpose exploration spaces. War and violence victims and victimizers, and their descendants, participate in restorative justice, reconciliation, and community-building exercises via ecosystem management projects.

Solar, wind and mini-hydro power plants are installed in most buildings. Surplus power supports Cali’s export-generating energy grid. Our water-reservoir network means we overcame the need for dams and centralized water treatment. It also reduced flooding & landslides even as storms increased. 

Researchers mine anonymous and open data from e-dashboards and AI-, IOT devices to advance the state of knowledge on:

1. Relationships between lifestyle, health, nutrition and agricultural system choices

2. Circular chain improvements

3. Bioprospection of Colombia’s mega-biodiversity for nutrition, medicine and industry, helping integrate ancestral and new ingredients (including endemic ingredients). 

Rural Outlook

Cali’s core gradually blends into rural areas. These host high-productivity, ecosystem-focused communities witnessing a flowering of civic, innovative traditional culture: a return to ancient LGBTQ-accepting, women-affirming, nature-centric values and roles as well as a participatory political life.

Horizontally-organized, transparent co-ops, with proportional gender and youth representation, drive economic and political decisions. They drive local village policy and ensure a strong voice in regional and national governance. 

Rural youth plays a major role in strengthening and linking campesino, indigenous and Afro communities to each other and to Cali. They lead the adoption of IOT, AI and e-dashboard technologies and stopped rural out-migration. Rural youth leadership educated urban eco-managers in food production, traditional cuisine and arts, ancestral medicine and community building practices.

Women’s leadership in co-ops, local government and truth-and-reconciliation centers shifted change-resistant, older male mindsets. They provided the impetus for ending violence and territory competition by innovating horizontal, cooperative-based, eco-management approaches. 

Women and shamans also vindicated traditional and indigenous knowledge, including the positive uses and community-building practices surrounding coca leaf and cannabis. This movement brought these millenary sacred crops into the legal economy and created a more inclusive, culturally plural regulatory system for food and medicine. 

Coca’s traditional role in building trust and strengthening communities returned to the mainstream. Legal, nutritious, non-addictive coca products became a harm-reducing alternative to riskier stimulants. Coca-sharing town-hall-like rituals were again used to address and prevent conflict, as in pre-colonial times. Coca-based products substituted cocaine as the preferred stimulant worldwide, representing an important surplus-based export. 

Ex-combattant and former gang members, who previously brought fear, violence and corruption to rural regions and city peripheries, morphed into arts, sports, hiking, shamanic and religious mutual-support tribes. They are now central in enriching cultural and spiritual life.

Sugarcane and other monocultures transformed into resilient and more profitable, mixed cropping systems with ample biodiversity corridors. Unproductive, erosive Andean cattle pastures similarly moved to productive silvopastoral systems. Cultivation of grain, tubers and plantain are back as well as ancestral, endemic crops. Unsustainable soy and cornmeal animal feed switched to wild grasses, marshland-sourced algae and other high-protein local feeds, with a massive carbon-sinking impact.

To enable this transformation, landowners supported an agrarian reform movement that democratized land ownership and strengthened ecosystem management cooperatives. Indeed, Valle spearheaded this policy change. Landowners saw a much more attractive business case in shifting from mono-crop land rental to participating in high-value, innovative ecosystem management cooperatives. They traded land for ex-combattants and rural communities for shares in the cooperative network. The model reduced everyone’s income volatility and ended conflict, while generating more profitable portfolios.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Through food expert network


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aura Stewart

Santiago, your proposal is looking for social change besides feeding people. Kudos for that. I would like to ask you some questions regarding your vision. At this moment, it seems to me that your proposal have several concurrent programs, how would you articulate all of them on a sustainable system? How do you envision your feedback loops? How are you going to engage consumers to ensure that they find your proposal appealing? How do you define success within your proposal? I would love to see your vision becoming a reality. That could transform not only Cali, but the whole country.
Best regards,
Aura Stewart

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