Growing opportunity: Colombian fruit firm looks beyond war with some help from Canada
With peace deal approved, victims of Colombia's 50-year war work to start over
Lucero Martinez, originally from Colombia's Choco province on the Pacific coast, is one of more than a dozen women clad in white protective suits doing the sweet-smelling work.
For Martinez and dozens of other women who've been victimized by Colombia's half-century-long guerrilla war, the production line at Fruandes has become a place of second chances — thanks in part to Canadian investment and appetites.
All of the fruit — 40 tonnes a day — that's cut up and dried here gets packaged and shipped overseas.
Colombia's Senate and Congress recently approved a controversial peace deal negotiated with FARC rebels, formally ending the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere that killed an estimated 250,000 people and uprooted more than five million others from their homes.
"The civil war started in the countryside," said Jennifer Gonzales, the company's social development manager.
The factory has hired 43 women, all of whom were uprooted from their rural homes because of the conflict.
Lucero Martinez, a 39-year-old single mother to seven children, and now a grandmother, is hopeful her work at the plant will help her kids find a better future.
"Women are very vulnerable because of the violence," Gonzales said.
"We want to give them the chance to get a formal job, to have a more stable life."
Martinez's daily return trip from Cazuka to the Fruandes factory is a five-hour odyssey on public transit in constantly snarled traffic. But the $250 US a month she earns is good by local standards.
Most in Cazuka are internal refugees who fled violence in the countryside.
Peace deal fragile
The peace agreement calls for FARC fighters turn over their weapons to the army and allows FARC leaders to pursue their goals by running for political office.
Bolstering farm businesses
Jennifer Gonzales, Fruandes' social development manager, says it's crucial victims of Colombia's conflict be given opportunities to rebuild their lives.
"It's not only with a signature that's going to change everything. We have many problems. We need to give opportunities to people."
Canadian help on the farm
Cuso provides Canadian business and leadership expertise to help farmers in former conflict zones increase their production.
Many of Colombia's fruit producers are in the Ibague region, about a four-hour drive west of Bogota on twisty, mountain roads.
She, too, was a refugee from the violence in Colombia.
"This is the horror story of my life," she told CBC News.
Usme left Colombia when she was a teenager and settled with her family in Gatineau, Que.
"My mom didn't feel safe and didn't want her child to grow up in the country. I took the decision to come back because I feel safe right now."
Farmer Orlando Hernandez is one of Fruandes' top growers. He took CBC News into his coffee and banana fields to show off his crops.
He says with the violence in the countryside on the decline, farmers have been able to reap something of a peace dividend in recent years.
"A few years ago, barely anyone could come around these parts, not even Colombians much less any foreigners," Hernandez said.
"They were victims of kidnapping and extortion. Nowadays, people can come and make a business out of our farms."