We Cordovans are proud of our region’s natural resource wealth alongside municipal and departmental authorities who preach their benefits. It would lead us to believe the region should be prosperous and its inhabitants should enjoy high standards of living. However, reality shows otherwise: we are a poor region with low incomes and life quality levels.
Indicators illustrate our poverty and low living standards. The department’s per capita income is half that of Colombia’s and similar to that of countries such as Papua New Guinea. Figures from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) indicate that in 2019, 35 percent of the population suffered from shortcomings in vital fields such as health, education, employment, access to public services, and good housing conditions. These deprivations, called multidimensional poverty, are suffered by 47 percent of Córdoba’s inhabitants of populated and dispersed rural centers and 23 percent of those in municipal centers. Available monetary poverty figures for 13 cities and metropolitan areas indicate that in 2019, 36 percent of Monteria’s residents were poor and 6 percent lived in extreme poverty.
These high poverty levels are mainly due to the region’s low quality of human capital resources, which are less productive. With poor health conditions and low education levels, our workers produce less with the same effort than a person in good health and with better education. This low productivity makes the minimum wage too high for local production conditions and sends workers into the informal economy, which is reflected in the fact that less than 15 percent of those employed pay social security health and pension contributions.
Some figures illustrate the dire health and education situation. In health, the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey found that in Córdoba the infant (younger than one year) and childhood (younger than five years) mortality rates were 18 and 21 per thousand live births, respectively. In education, we continue to have illiterate residents: in 2018, 11.6 percent of inhabitants were illiterate. In the Saber tests (national proficiency tests) Monteria’s students rank below the national average, especially those with the best performance. According to the World Bank, students from Córdoba learn less than those from Bogotá or Risaralda who complete a similar number of years of education. All this leads to a level of human capital readiness below the national average.
Problems provide opportunities. To harness these we need discipline and motivation, two conditions that led the Napa Valley region north of San Francisco, in California, to become a global wine powerhouse, leading the world and winning international tasting competitions. During a visit to that region, I saw its productive sophistication, the variety of its products, and the level of well-being of its people. I also noted that their farmers could generate a lot of value with limited water resources and less fertile soil than ours. They can do this because they have good-quality human resources, competent public administrations, a favorable business climate, and high-quality universities dedicated to agricultural research. All these characteristics make its farmers very competitive in world markets. Reaching this degree of development requires discipline and motivation: from farmers, businesses, civil society, and municipal and departmental public administrations. To achieve this goal we have to take ownership of our problems and solve them ourselves, instead of waiting for these to be solved in the country’s capital, because that won’t happen. Current conditions are not immutable. We can change them if we so wish and set ourselves to the task.