CUCAITA, Colombia – In the Colombian Andes, where the potato is practically a monoculture, the onion is transforming the countryside into a second opportunity for the farmers of the region.
“I started growing onions when I was 20 years old and growing potatoes in Tunja. But when my whole family picked up and left for Cucaita to grow onions, I went with them,” EFE was told by Antonio, a farm hand who left the capital of Boyaca province to live in the nearby fertile municipality where he restarted his life.
He admits that when he arrived in Cucaita, “life in the country was harder then,” something that has changed lately because “we’re closer to the people who buy our products.”
The quality of the onions he produces along with his neighbors has interested foreign businesses, to the point that the Swiss multinational Nestle created “Maggi de la Huerta” (Maggi of the Vegetable Garden), a product line based on ingredients grown in Colombia.
Negotiations between the multinational and Cucaita producers include the purchase of 240 tons of onions a year, about 10 percent of the region’s annual production.
For the culinary director of Nestle in Colombia, Jorge Peña Herrera, it is “of vital importance to generate value shared by both the farm communities and the customers who buy the company’s food products.”
With the new Maggi line, Nestle seeks to satisfy consumers with products that are increasingly natural.
One factor that determined the multinational’s decision was the strategic geographic location of Cucaita, since it is 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bogota and just 18 kilometers from Tunja, capital of Boyaca province, the most Andean of them all.
“The idea is to be better people and provide food for the nation. One of our goals is for our work to be appreciated. We believe in the value of what we’re able to produce,” said Antonio, who also works on crops of potatoes and corn to get ahead.
As for the transformation the countryside has undergone and the way crops are now grown, Antonio noted that “we’re getting better every day, we grow onions and at the same time care for the land. We previously had no particular awareness about caring for the soil, but that has changed. We also try not to waste water.”
For the farm hand, they now produce a better quality of vegetables, while keeping in mind the presentation and cleanliness of the product before delivering it to a distributor, all of which is raising the standards of quality.
“We have excellent workers, and we’re all making an effort to pay more attention and produce better onions. We’ve learned that quality is better than quantity,” he said.
He also said he trusts that young farmhands will find new motivation to stay in rural areas, though he believes that with fewer people working in the fields, the more they will be valued.
“I believe the future of the countryside will be better than it is now, because there won’t be so many people working there. Production will be better, so they’ll get paid more,” Antonio said.