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Creators

Meet the Filmmaker Creating Food Forests in Columbia

Linktree Passion Fund winner Santiago Roa is tackling deforestation in his native Colombia head on.

Jaguar Siembra working with Indigenous communities in Colombia to regenerate forests.

Jaguar Siembra working with Indigenous communities in Colombia to regenerate forests.

In 2020, documentary filmmaker Santiago Roa set out to explore the effects of the climate crisis on Ciudad Perdida, the site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that is home to around 60,000 Indigenous people.

“My idea was to film a message about why we are having this climate imbalance, because we as humans are disconnected from nature. That was the first intention,” he explains over a patchy Zoom call from Colombia. “But then that year it was an 11 month summer without rain. The rivers were really dry. It was really, really hot. The Sierra was 80% deforested from cocoa [harvesting] in the past.”

When he arrived, the area’s Indigenous peoples had begun regenerating their forests. Roa realized that at the same time as documenting what was happening in the Sierra, he also needed to be part of healing the land. He spoke with Indigenous elders who gave him their blessing to work with them, plant trees, and use the medium of film to show the rest of the world what they were grappling with.

Santiago Roa is helping rebuild forests in Colombia

Winner ot Linktree’s Passion Fund, Santiago Roa, helping plant trees in Colombia

“In the beginning, it was me and then a couple of friends. And then more and more people joined in and then we had the idea, ‘Let’s create a foundation,’” Roa says.

Together they launched Jaguar Siembra, a nonprofit company working to support Colombia’s Indigenous families with regenerative agriculture.

It’s an important and impressive mission that has seen Jaguar Siembra crowned the People’s Choice winner of the Passion Fund, a Linktree initiative that distributed a total of USD$250,000 to 30 different creators and entrepreneurs. The aim of the Passion Fund was to give initiatives like Jaguar Siembra the financial support they need to grow.

For Roa, winning the Passion Fun was “a blessing.” As the first grant the non-profit company has ever received, it’s delivered funding that’s allowed them to plant some 5000 trees and buy much-needed film equipment.

Santiago Roa filming with Indigenous communities for Jaguar Siembra

Santiago Roa filming with Indigenous communities for Jaguar Siembra

Today, Jaguar Siembra works with 60 Indigenous families in five communities. Roa and his team work with those communities to create ‘food forests’—full of plants and trees growing the likes of avocado, orange, pineapple, peanut, corn, mango and banana—to both regenerate the land and provide a source of food.

But as well as working on regeneration and their film projects, they also facilitate direct-to-consumer coffee bean orders from the Indigenous families who grow the beans.

Coffee beans from Indigenous communities in Colombia packaged by Jaguar Siembra

Coffee beans from Indigenous communities in Colombia produced by Jaguar Siembra

Roa is trying to create food systems that are more fair for Colombia’s farmers, so the people who grow coffee and cocoa are properly remunerated for their work. Instead of having proceeds hijacked by big businesses in the global north, Jaguar Siembra’s system ensures money stays in Colombia and helps to fund the regeneration of Indigenous land.

“Most of the farmers live in poverty here,” he says. “The idea is to battle against that to create something better.”

Jaguar Siembra has not always been an easy project to operate. Between an often-hostile government and drug cartels with their own vested interests in the land, Colombia is not a country particularly welcoming of environmentalists. Funding is a persistent issue. And Colombia’s farmers feel the ecological brunt of the climate decisions made in other countries.

But four years in, they’ve already made great progress. Jaguar Siembra has planted 10,000 trees, regenerated over 200,000 kilograms of C02, built four tree nurseries, and created eight media projects.

Right now, Roa is gearing up to release a short film about the human relationship with food and the environment. Next year, Jaguar Siembra will create three new nurseries, and sow in five different communities. “The idea for the next year is to at least plant 200,000 trees,” Roa says.

Social media is critical for Jaguar Siembra, as a way of spreading the message and bringing in supporters in. With that, Linktree has been a crucial tool for showcasing the different threads of work that the organization does.

Jaguar Siembra use Linktree to promote environmental sustainability

Jaguar Siembra use Linktree to promote environmental sustainability

”Maybe some people are more interested in the trees, some are more interested in the coffee, some are more interested in the documentary. So it’s really cool because you can share in a more organized way the branches of the project. It’s like a tree. It’s a Linktree, so it’s perfect,” Roa laughs.

Whatever brings someone into the Jaguar Siembra universe, Roa is happy to have them. As he tells it: “Everyone is welcome to join this dream.”

 

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