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Learning and challenges towards energy autonomy through conservation agriculture systems in Tolima and Cauca.

CSA has been involved in rural accompaniment processes for 30 years; its conservation agriculture approach has been consolidated since the 2000s, and the energy transitions component is also integrated, based on the concept of autonomy and adaptability with rural farming families. The mechanism has been to encourage local experimentation processes with these families, towards the development of management processes and management of concepts and practices more appropriate for the efficient management of local ecosystems and how this management generates emerging properties, generally wasted in farm management and how they lose the ability to harness energy associated with ecosystems and production systems that are more friendly and conservationist. Since 2016, with the support of Fastenatkion, the integration of photovoltaic and wind energy systems, stoves, biodigesters, and other tests are being carried out to generate less dependence on external inputs on farms, mainly from these types of technologies, which are integrated and adapted to their best possible use on a family scale. 

This work is basically developed with peasant and indigenous communities in Tolima and Cauca. The organization considers that the energy transitions with peasant population are based on the principles of conservation agriculture, as an element that allows the integration of structural measures, towards a farm management that recognizes not only the role of technologies, but fundamentally the role of local ecosystems and their responsible management, as the main differential factor for the autonomy and welfare of families and ecosystems themselves, derived from good treatment, gender equity and the reduction of efforts and time of the family in agricultural work. 

The institutional approach from CSA in Tolima and Cauca is based on the need to improve and increase the levels of family autonomy in rural contexts, in terms of knowledge, identification and development of strategies to reduce, substitute and take advantage of the use of ecological and bioenergy relations at the farm scale. As well as the use of photovoltaic, wind and hydraulic energies, which under the mechanism of family experimentation are integrated into processes and conservation agriculture with rural communities.

The approach implies within the concept of energy transition, concrete actions towards soil management and conservation, in favor of increasing biomass levels and therefore restoring emerging soil properties (moisture, organic matter, microorganisms, apparent densities, fine roots, among other variables), indicators that allow measuring progressive improvements in soil fertility, essential for the replacement of external inputs (synthetic fertilizers, including organic or biopreparations, which involve considerable time and effort for families). This approach is based on the properties of an unconsolidated system of land-grazing, which generates better fertility conditions, even in the current context of climate variation and change and its impact on rural livelihoods and lifestyles. 

In this initiative they work on the integration of hybrid technologies (photovoltaic and wind), generating up to 3 kv of power in high mountain rural contexts, with a special focus on conservation tourism in moorlands. They integrate eco-efficient stove systems, biodigesters, and irrigation of vegetable gardens with nitrogenous water from fish ponds. We also promote circular economy circuits through community savings funds and agroecological markets in Morales and Cajamarca.

Finally, they developed a system for strengthening family capacities in the M&S of the farm strategies; took the lessons learned to the media; and connected these farm efforts to their scaling up to integrate environmental compensation schemes that promote conservation practices and developments that protect soils, water, biodiversity and family well-being.

Technical characteristics of the proposal

Components:

  1. Hybrid systems: photovoltaic + wind (power up to 3 kilowatts)
  2. Family photovoltaic systems (power up to 600 watts)
    Equipment: Solar panels of 150 and 400 Watts, regulators, controllers, 100 amp solar batteries, and PVC wiring and piping, suiches and boxes, under safety standards inside homes.
  3. Ecological stoves (800 to 900 degrees in irons, 300 to 400 degrees in chimney) and increased by +-2 to 3 degrees in water temperature.
    Materials: Refractory cement up to 1700 degrees, toletes bricks, metal plates, stainless steel chimney and storage tanks, iron boilers and hot water piping to sinks and showers).
  4. Heating systems in fish ponds (+- increase of 2 to 3 degrees in the water).
    Materials: Guadua greenhouses, agrolene plastic, 1/2 inch tubing, half inch hose for irrigation of organic vegetable gardens. Dataloggers for measuring day and night pond water temperatures.
  5. Soils under advanced stubble processes (between 24 to 54 species of accompanying weeds in 12 square meters – 60% decrease of sunlight on the soil by accompanying vegetation – increase of organic matter and humidity levels at 30 cm depth between 20% to 45% compared to soils without cover).
  6. Savings funds and agroecological markets, which generate between $300,000 and $600,000 in monthly income for each family.

Productive, community, environmental, or economic processes or activities that were positively impacted by the implementation of the community experience of TEJ.

Social impacts:

1. Improving the quality of and access to family energy systems in rural areas.
2. Potential for integration into conservation production systems.
Greater understanding that energy is not only in technologies, but also in ecosystems, and its proper use depends on good management and local conservation.
4. Additional income for families through savings funds and agroecological markets.

Energy impacts:

1. Investment savings in monthly energy payments, in  average between 20 to 30% of the tariffs.
2. Saving between 15% – 20% of firewood for cooking food in wood stoves.
Increased efficiency in fish production, decreasing from 14 months to 8 months to obtain average weights in Tilapias and Mojarras between 450 to 550 gr/fish. 
4. Savings of 30% in the purchase costs of gas for food; due to the integration of biodigesters in the cooking of food.
5. Savings in the substitution of external inputs such as fertilizers for food production (to be quantified).

Beneficiaries of the experience

Women (60%) (Men 30%) and young people (10%) of family participation in the transition processes, support entire families.

  1. High interest and capacity building of rural communities in these processes, towards territorial and energy autonomy.
  2. Adaptations to technological systems supported by farmers (stoves, ponds,  biodigesters and soil management).
  3. Effective reduction of family time in production processes.
  4. Improved quality of access to electric power and protection of household equipment.
  5. Circular economy systems, through local savings funds and agroecological markets.
  1. High costs due to inflation of equipment and materials.
  2. High variability of climate change, which demands more permanent M&S, and permanent adaptations to improve efficiencies.
  3. High transportation costs, which implies minga mechanisms among producers for local commercialization.
Women’s participation in the TEJ community experience

The mode of intervention from CSA integrates gender conditions and perspectives. The strategies for family accompaniment and support take into account the criteria of the family as a whole. Women and youth participate in the criteria for the design, implementation and M&S of technologies and on-farm practices. Women and youth play an important role in the circular economy cycle, such as in the savings funds and in the agroecological markets, where they market the surplus from agroecological production.

Impact of the community experience of TEJ on public policy

Family conservation strategies in moorlands have been integrated into regional policy measures (CARS), to finance with mandatory resources measures related to the implementation, maintenance and M&S of technological adjustments (solar, wastewater management, ecological stoves, and conservation). Cortolima in Tolima, through agreements 023 of 2017 and agreement 020 of 2019, integrates a permanent financing mechanism for 17 families inside the Anaime and Chili Regional Natural Park, with year-to-year investments of water use fees from rice farmers of the Magdalena plan, for property investments, which will strengthen conservation processes, and greater autonomy in access and efficiency in socially fairer energies, including the conservation of the local ecosystem and family welfare.