“Having a land title is being rooted to your land without being afraid.”

Q&A with the Mayor of Puerto Rico, Meta, Colombia

In Puerto Rico, Meta, seven out of 10 urban properties lack a registered land title. Informal property ownership is a very common phenomenon in southern Meta and is largely due to a history of violence and the absence of state services. In 2022, the municipality’s Mayor’s partnered with USAID to create a Municipal Land Office, a local land administration strategy that prioritizes land titling as a key to boost rural investment and improve the quality of life of its 12,000 inhabitants. In this interview, Mayor Diana Navarro, talks about what it means to legalize property in Puerto Rico and how USAID is supporting this strategy.

Puerto Rico’s Mayor, Diana Navarro

How do you describe your rural development strategy for Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico has a hard and difficult history, but as a municipality we value very much what we have, the natural wealth is incomparable. There is productive potential and human capital with a lot of hope and desire to move forward. We are focusing on three fundamental pillars: the legalization of land, the construction of tertiary roads, and the development of electric power. With these three issues, people can understand and begin to believe in what we are doing in the territory.

Why is land legalization so important?

During the campaign I went all over the territory, even into the most remote areas. It is not easy, and one of the challenges is to reach and listen to the people who live far away. In my visits, I met many displaced people and many stories, and we decided that we have to evaluate how to make people feel more comfortable and secure on their land. So, one of the strategies is to legalize their property. In terms of property, Puerto Rico is in a state of informality: 70 percent of the land is not titled.

Municipal Land Offices provide information for residents

How did the creation and support for the Municipal Land Office come about?

With the support of USAID and the Land for Prosperity program, we have created what we are calling the Green Municipal Land Office, which is part of the Mayor’s Office under the Planning Secretariat. It is called Green because it is important to recognize the natural resources of the municipality, including the water sources, morichales (wetlands), and the Ariari River. Recently, through the Land Office, we delivered the first 32 titles, which correspond to urban private and public properties. Our first goal is to title 400 properties. In addition, with USAID we are in the process of strengthening the culture of formal land ownership among the people so that they improve their understanding of what is possible.

Mayor Navarro delivers land titles to residents.

For a Puerto Rican, what does it mean to have a title to your property?

What does it mean to be a landowner? It is being rooted to your land, it is being able to defend your property and not be afraid, but also being able to access bank loans and make secure investments in something that you know belongs to you. At the first land title event, I spoke with a 70-year-old man who has spent 40 years trying to legalize his property. He was emotional and told me that he finally felt that his plot of land was his. With land issues, it is necessary to understand the connotations and emotions of a family when they receive a land title after so many years of living in informality.

USAID helped to create and set up the Land Office. How can the Municipality guarantee its sustainability in the future?

Just as the Municipal Land Office is giving us a hand with the titling of property, it will give us a hand when it comes to collecting property taxes. I have a year and a half left in my term, but the land office is under a long-term agreement. My aim is to leave office with a plan for the future budgets, an investment by the municipality, and a percentage of the collected land taxes is destined to fund the staff and technology required for the office to continue operating.

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site

“Women need to know we also have rights to our property deeds.”

Q&A with landowner and Tumaco neighbor, Nancy Lucrecia Valencia

Nancy Valencia, famous in Tumaco for her delicious sancocho

Nancy Lucrecia Valencia says she has an “irresistible personality.” She arrived in Tumaco 25 years ago, where she lives in the Tres Cruces neighborhood. She has always felt like family of the many children in her neighborhood because she used to cook for them in a nearby school. Today she has a small restaurant in her home, which became famous when she cooked sancocho for Colombia’s President. She is the proud owner of her home, but she never obtained a land title that shows her as the property’s owner. Last year, Nancy and more than 100 of her neighbors in Tumaco received registered property titles for their homes. The ceremony was led by the mayor, and the titles were made possible thanks to USAID’s support and the work of Tumaco’s Municipal Land Office (MLO). In this interview, Nancy talks about her life and the process to get her long awaited land title.

Why hadn’t you gone and processed your property title before?

Because people told me that it costs a lot of money and a lot of work, one thing and the other. But having a land office in Tumaco is important, because people don’t have to go looking for information in different places. You go, they answer your questions and get things done the way they should be done. Now with my title, I feel like I am at another stage in life.

What impact does owning your home have on your life?

It gives me great satisfaction because I went through a lot of inconveniences paying rent. This is very positive for me. Sometimes we get this idea that people are humiliating us, and we don’t understand that we can also participate and have the deed to our home if we want to.






Many of Tumaco’s neighborhoods are located in tidal areas and cannot be titled by Tumaco’s Municipal Land Office.

How did you learn that the municipality was helping citizens obtain their property titles?

I found out through a neighbor that asked me if I already had my property’s deed. She explained that through the mayor’s office they were processing property titles for free. I went to the Municipal Land Office in the Ciudadela neighborhood. There they gave me all the information about the process, about what I had to do and the documents I needed.

How was your experience with the Municipal Land Office?

I knew I met all the requirements to get my title. The land office provided a good service at the office, and today I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to Tumaco’s Land Office, I have the title to my home and property!

Secure land rights for women are a crucial part of a gender responsive strategy to strengthen land tenure, and can have an outstanding impact on promoting gender equality and protecting one’s patrimony. When women have access to land and property, studies show they are more likely to earn higher incomes, enjoy increased decision-making power, and feel more protected in marital conflicts.

What would you say to the women who want to formalize their parcels but do not know how?

I invite them from the bottom of my heart and soul to be strong women that we are and to go to the Tumaco Municipal Land Office. That the women who have been through these horrible situations, always feeling crushed, need to know that we too can receive many benefits. Even when the men are the ones who work, we also have rights because we are also part of the home.

Land Rights are Women’s Rights

In Tumaco, the USAID Land for Prosperity Activity works closely with the municipal government to streamline gender equality and social inclusion in local land policies and activities. The USAID-supported Municipal Land Office developed an articulated gender and land titling strategy to target women-headed households in urban settings. Every month, small teams of land experts visit neighborhoods around Tumaco to explain the benefits of land titling and the rights of the women who live there.

USAID-supported municipal land offices in Colombia have delivered approximately 800 land titles since 2020. Over 600 land titles in the name of women-headed households or joint titles have been delivered to Colombian women.


© 2022 Land for Prosperity

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site

“We know our land and our community”

Q&A with Ana Cristina Marchena, a community leader from Guarumo, Cáceres

Since 2020, with support from the Government of Colombia, the Land for Prosperity Activity is leading a massive land formalization campaign in the municipality of Cáceres, in the Bajo Cauca region. Due to the presence of armed groups, illicit crops, land mines, and artisanal gold mining, the initiative depends on community mobilizers for several important steps of the property formalization process. In this interview, Ana Cristina Marchena, a community leader from Guarumo, Cáceres, talks about her role and the value community mobilizers add.

How would you describe the lives of the families in your town, Guarumo?

Guarumo has been badly hit by violence. Here, people depend on informal economies because there are no industries. We have artisanal gold mining, and with that come other problems and bad actors. There are moments of abundance when there is gold, and moments of scarcity. It is a very vulnerable situation. When it comes to education, if people want to go to university, they have to leave. Here, most young people who finish high school end up going to the river, to the mines. If they don’t end up in mining, there is a culture of choosing between “I’ll join the army, or I’ll join the other side”, and they end up being recruited by armed groups. Almost all families I know have been victims or have had problems with these groups. It is very common.






How does the violence affect the population?

There are many displaced people in Guarumo. The violence was hard between 2018 and 2020, and many of the victims were forcefully displaced from their homes. We’ve only had six months of peace recently. During those years, I was one of the few who stayed in the community, in the area, because we couldn’t get out or didn’t have anywhere to go. With a big family, where can you go? It is very difficult. In Cáceres, the violence has taught us to be resilient and to take care of our own while praying, because God is the only one who protects us.

What are your tasks as community mobilizer, as part of the land formalization process in Cáceres?

My tasks consist of supporting the land formalization teams. In Cáceres, people can’t just go approach a community alone; they always need someone with them. The community recognizes me as a leader, because I have worked with women and children. When I invite people to participate, they believe me because they know I support programs and projects for the community. I also help to explain the land formalization process to farmers, in our language. That you can’t own land in certain areas, like close to the river, or that the government cannot award a property that is right next to the highway.

Why are community mobilizers valuable to the program?

We are an important part of the parcel sweep because we know our land and we know our community. We have experienced first-hand the difficulties and needs of the community. And as mobilizers, we do our job without expecting any compensation, we do it from the heart because we know that we have big problems that are related to land tenure.

As a community mobilizer, how do you approach and interact with armed groups?

First, they know about our work and know that we are trying to help the community and trying to not affect them. These programs greatly benefit the community, so they respect us as leaders and as mobilizers. Sometimes we do have to ask for authorization to allow the program to enter certain areas, because these are areas where they haven’t allowed strangers or people outside the community in. We are forced to interact with them, there is no other way.

And when there are properties occupied by them that are going to be formalized, what do you do?

We have had difficulties in some places that we know are occupied by them and where they don’t let us go. But we don’t try to force them either. With the parcel sweep, they are going to have to let us enter because we know all areas will be formalized.

What topics were you trained in as community mobilizers?

They taught us about land tenure, like who is an owner and who is an occupant. They taught us basic concepts about land formalization so we can explain it to farmers. They also taught us about land mines, because we go to rural areas and have to know how to walk and avoid being a victim. They taught us about ‘agricultural productive units’. We usually have an agronomist with us, and we explain to people that their crops can also be sold. A lot of them grow cacao and we get there and tell them “look, you can sell these products in town” so they know they can access other sources of income.

Luis Hernandez (r) also works as a community leader for the massive land formalization pilot

What challenges have you faced with the communities?

There are challenges for the same reason that the community is vulnerable. Many people live in places where they shouldn’t, and they have been there for many years and already have their dream based on the houses they have built. For us to go there and tell them that they won’t receive a property title is not easy. Their reaction is understandable. These people need a housing subsidy and must be relocated to another area. But Cáceres is very poor and that is a big challenge.

Do you think land formalization can change the way you face illicit crops?

For us, illicit crops are part of our economy. Many people come to this sector to collect them and they bring money and investment to the community. They see them as a source of income and not as something illegal. It is one of the few job opportunities there are. If they come to offer projects to replace these crops, they need to make sure they are just as profitable.

USAID Land for Prosperity
Cáceres, Antioquia, Colombia
© 2022 Land for Prosperity

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site

“The Land Office is important, because today everything is geared towards formalizing land.”

Lina Castellanos, Agency for Territorial Renovation in Southern Córdoba, Colombia

Lina Castellanos has worked in Southern Córdoba for more than ten years, looking for opportunities to support municipal administrations and build their capacities. Under the Rural Development Program with Territorial Approach, known as PDET, the Agency for Territorial Renovation is supporting Municipal Land Offices, created with USAID technical and financial support, to administer property and create an environment for licit economies to grow and all actors can benefit. In this interview, Lina Castellanos talks about land formalization in Southern Córdoba and the role played by Municipal Land Offices.

How can Municipal Land Offices support Puerto Libertador?

The office provides farmers with advice on the formalization of urban and rural property. Thanks to USAID, the office has a lawyer, a topographer, and a social worker who can travel to rural villages and urban areas to help legalize properties. The office also formalizes the properties of public entities such as health centers, schools, police stations, and cemeteries. Often, the government cannot intervene in these properties because they have not been formalized in the name of the municipality yet. This is a barrier to investing in infrastructure or services, and in the end, it affects children and the entire population.

What is the role of the Agency for Territorial Renovation?

We facilitate the process to comply with the PDET approach. We are working with communities that in 2018 said they were interested in the legalization of their parcels and the formalization of schools, health centers and other properties. After celebrating five years since the Peace Accord was signed, these steps to clear ownership are important for the community to access better services, parks, and playgrounds, which all play a role in fighting their recruitment into armed groups, especially for the youth. We have to improve the learning environment, create better opportunities, and promote the good use of free time.

What are some of the characteristics of property in Puerto Libertador?

Puerto Libertador is a big municipality with a lot of mining companies, unlike other areas in Southern Córdoba. Here, a lot of people work and live from mining for many generations. Mining as a way of life has been passed on from generation to generation.

Why is the rate of land ownership so low?

Land tenure is a complex subject, and more than 85% of all properties are informally owned. This is due to several reasons, such as a lack of government presence, history of violence, and the existence of illicit crops.

Why don’t mining communities have access to property?

Today, everything is geared towards formalizing land. This is why the Municipal Land Office is so important in order to empower people when it comes to land formalization. Until now, many people in mining did not have access to any tools for land formalization, and until recently there was no agreement between the municipal administration and the Ministry of Mines and Energy to formalize the land that is used for mining.




“Puerto Libertador has an ocean of needs and with the creation of the municipal land office I believe the voices of the community have been heard by the municipal council. The people who don’t speak up will never be heard.” -Eder Soto, Mayor of Puerto Libertador

What types of conflicts exist because of the mining in Puerto Libertador?

There is a very big social and environmental conflict in the Mina Alacrán village. The community is living straight above the mine’s tunnels, on land that has been conceded to mining companies and that has mining titles. Therefore, these 350 families have to be relocated. But they are not going to leave the area until their rights to housing and land are guaranteed. We have had meetings with the community, land agencies, and the Ombudsman to find solutions.

What role can the Municipal Land Office play in this?

The municipal administration could guide the community and carry out a study to identify which families are living on parcels that are private property or are owned by the government. The history of each parcel needs to be known. With a parcel study, the community would be in a better position to negotiate with the mining company. The Municipal Land Office can also provide legal advice to the community on the process of formalizing property.

Photos by LFP (USAID)
Puerto Libertador, Cordoba, Colombia
© 2022 Land for Prosperity

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site

Q&A: Working with PepsiCo to Build the Business Case for Private Sector Investment in Women’s Empowerment

Cross-posted from AgriLinks

Since 2019, PepsiCo and USAID have been working together to empower female farmers in West Bengal where they have PepsiCo local staff and agronomists providing trainings to women in the potato supply chain, equipping them to take on the role of community agronomists, and supporting women’s self-help groups access land leases to grow PepsiCo potatoes. As a result, women in the PepsiCo potato supply chain are producing higher quality and quantity of potatoes, expressing feelings of increased empowerment and finding support from their families and communities. Given their success in West Bengal, USAID and PepsiCo have expanded their work in India and to three more countries — Pakistan, Vietnam and Colombia — through a new Global Development Alliance funded through USAID’s women’s economic empowerment funding.

Sarah Lowery, economist and public-private finance specialist in USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division, and Corinne Hart, senior gender advisor for energy, environment and climate at USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub, share how PepsiCo is helping USAID make the business case for women’s empowerment.

Why did USAID partner with PepsiCo?

Sarah: The partnership began as a conversation between PepsiCo and USAID about the impediments of insecure land rights to achieving PepsiCo’s sustainability goals, and it developed into a collaboration to strengthen land rights and empower women in PepsiCo’s supply chains. We began working through our existing Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) activity in West Bengal to understand the myriad roles women already play in potato production, provide them with support, training and access to land, and shift harmful gender norms that limit their opportunities.

Corinne: Following the successes with ILRG, USAID hosted a cocreation workshop with PepsiCo, where we discussed strategies to make the case that women’s empowerment and gender equality in their agriculture supply chains can be a core part of their business; critical to advancing their sustainable agriculture goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). This partnership also has the overall goal of making the business case for women’s empowerment in the food and beverage industry as a whole. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a key partner providing a robust, evidence-based, gender-sensitive approach to the activity. We’re looking at shifting power dynamics, harmful gender norms, supporting women in gaining access to productive assets like land and also increasing their personal empowerment. Our strategic approach includes involving men to increase their understanding and enthusiasm about the benefits that accrue to the family when women in their households have a more recognized relationship with PepsiCo.

What are some of the results for women that you’ve seen?

Corinne: The data shows that women who are participating in this activity report that they feel seen and respected as farmers for the first time. We are tracking data on women participants’ perceptions of their own self-worth and how others in the community see them. These qualitative metrics are critical to understanding women’s empowerment, alongside quantitative indicators such as income earned and access to training and skills building. Measuring changes in perceptions of self-worth and personal empowerment are incredibly important components of women’s economic empowerment.

Sarah: Women are seeing their husbands become more supportive of them and their role as farmers. For example, we are working to create new roles for women as community agronomists. Initially, maybe their husbands or families did not believe they could or should do the job, but they have transformed these perceptions either by the influence of gender equality champions in the community, or seeing their wives be successful in these roles. We hear stories where women say “my husband didn’t think I could do it, and now he is taking my agronomic advice.” Women have persevered and continued to advocate for themselves and have become sources of information both for women in the community and for men as well. We’ve seen some of the biggest skeptics of our work become the most adamant champions.

Have there been any surprising results of this partnership?

Sarah: During this partnership, PepsiCo announced its 2030 Goal to Scale Regenerative Farming Practices Across 7 Million Acres, by “improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and communities, including economically empowering women.” Our USAID-PepsiCo partnership has played a pivotal role in demonstrating that empowering women is possible and is good for business. And to measure progress against its livelihoods and other goals, PepsiCo is developing its Livelihoods Measurement Framework. Critically, the framework includes measurement of gender equality. This is really important because if you’re not being asked to measure your progress on something, you may not think about it.

Corinne: PepsiCo is building its capacity at all levels to understand and see their business activities through a gender lens. This activity and its initial successes are attracting interest from other companies, as well as other local PepsiCo teams. Other industry actors are now reaching out to see how we can partner and share our approaches. PepsiCo has already been showcasing what they are doing and working to get other companies in the sustainable agriculture industry to think about how women’s empowerment and gender equality is linked to their ability to achieve their sustainable agriculture goals.

Sarah: Another unexpected impact we have found is that some communities are associating the gender equality interventions — like assisting women’s groups access land to lease, providing agronomic trainings for women, installing a local community agronomist in the area, providing gender norms workshops, etc.  — with PepsiCo in such a positive way that they have said, “We want to be a PepsiCo village.” Due to this initial success, PepsiCo is now seeing women’s empowerment as a part of a broader farmer loyalty strategy.

What are some of the lessons learned in working with the private sector?

Corinne: One of the big lessons has been that stakeholders across the company are motivated by different things and come with varying levels of interest. The local PepsiCo teams sometimes have additional, locally-specific priorities and pressures than the PepsiCo global sustainable agriculture team, and local company leaders have a huge amount of pressure and demand on resources and meeting their business targets. We have learned to tailor our messaging to different stakeholders across the company so that we can demonstrate the value-add of these activities to them, as well as making sure we are really clear about what would be expected of them.

Sarah: Particularly for the local business leaders who are focused on achieving their business targets, addressing gender inequality seems like an extra responsibility, at least at first. One of the interesting things is that as local teams are starting to see the value of women’s empowerment, we’re finding that they have begun taking on their own women’s empowerment initiatives. For example, at least one aggregator has begun working with a group of women to help them get access to land.

What are some important inclusive approaches that you’ve woven into the partnership?

Corinne: One important lesson we have learned has been to not be afraid to advocate for a gender-transformative approach. We want women to have access to land and to be farmers in the supply chain; we want men to recognize women as farmers and for women to identify as farmers. PepsiCo has been very receptive to testing a transformative approach. Additionally, preventing and responding to gender-based violence [GBV] is a central tenet of this activity. Some of the GBV interventions in West Bengal have included partnering with local organizations that provide survivor-centric support. [The United Nations defines a survivor-centered approach as one which seeks to empower the survivor by prioritizing their rights, needs and wishes.] We trained the local PepsiCo teams on what to do when they encounter GBV and gave them concrete steps to take.

Sarah: PepsiCo was very responsive to the inclusion of GBV prevention and response initiatives. As this was the first time focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment as a business performance driver, some of our partners at PepsiCo were surprised that we’d have to be careful of any potential backlash against women from a program that is focused on women’s empowerment. As we’ve developed the partnership, however, PepsiCo has been very attentive and at times has worried we weren’t doing enough on GBV. Seeing PepsiCo global and local staff take on the responsibility to think about and program for GBV has been inspiring.

What makes a partnership with a private sector actor successful?

Sarah: Keeping clear lines of communication open to be able to discuss any issues transparently and collaboratively, particularly around any tension points that arise, has been really important. That has also been very effective for learning.

We Hope that with Formalization the Context Will also Change

The health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that land formalization is vital to strengthen the role of health entities in rural Colombia. In Tumaco, 85% of the parcels are informally owned, illicit crops cover thousands of hectares, and the risk of antipersonnel landmines is high. Tumaco Mayor, María Emilsen Angulo, talks about the new USAID-supported land formalization campaign and how it could solve some of the problems that have hindered rural development for decades.

Is informality of public lands an obstacle to mobilizing resources that can be invested in infrastructure for public services, such as, health centers?

Understanding the importance of legalizing public properties and having the opportunity to benefit from public works funded by the regional government has been a step-by-step process for us. In fact, I’m honest with you, I am not sure if all the health centers are formalized, I do not have that information. But I know that, in the future, it will probably become an obstacle, since formalization is an essential requirement for implementing projects, especially at this critical moment when people’s health is a priority.

Have you been able to successfully care for COVID-19 patients?

Fortunately yes, and with the support of national, regional, and local entities, the situation in Tumaco has improved considerably. Daily positive cases have remained below 10. The curve has flattened substantially. First and second-level hospitals in Tumaco’s urban area have received funds. Luckily, these hospitals were built a long time ago, so the plot in which they are located is already legalized, which is certainly not the case for rural health centers. Tumaco is a vast territory, we have 368 veredas, in all of them there are communities in need of access to health services. We have almost 100 health centers, 80 of them in rural areas.

Eight out of 10 properties in Tumaco are informally owned, why isn’t there a culture of formalizing property in Tumaco?

Historically, the dynamics of the local economy have not urged people to see having formalized property as a priority issue for their livelihoods. Neither the farmer nor the fisherman has viewed their property as a tool to build their business or increase financial assets. We, as administrative authorities, have also failed to recognize the importance of formal property ownership. We have not had a vision of all the benefits this creates for rural development and for investing in social services.

What kind of challenges does the government face in formalizing land and serving the rural population?

We face multiple obstacles. Illegal groups have buried anti-personnel landmines in rural areas in an attempt to control the territory and protect their illicit crops. To be able to carry out the parcel sweeps, you must first deal with minefields. There are zones in Tumaco where people cannot enter due to the presence of these groups. So we will need permanent support and a strategic alliance with military authorities.

A crucial element of mass formalization is a social approach to mitigate conflicts and raise people’s awareness. We have to guarantee empowerment and permanent communication with citizens; council members; and leaders of community boards, veredas, and community councils. Coordination with them is fundamental, so that they can be prepared to help resolve this type of conflict.

We have to guarantee empowerment and permanent communication with citizens; council members; and leaders of community boards, veredas, and community councils. Coordination with them is fundamental, so that they can be prepared to help resolve this type of conflict.

How does the Land for Prosperity Activity aim to support the Mayor’s Office on formalization issues?

First of all, USAID has the resources that we do not. USAID programs also have the experience of having carried out the parcel sweeps and updated the cadaster in other municipalities, like Ovejas, Sucre. They already know the way, so we will not be improvising but building upon previous experiences. As for strengthening the Municipal Land Office, we could not even think of advancing land formalization without having a robust, capable office properly equipped with tools, facilities, and trained staff.

What other benefits does the Mayor’s Office in Tumaco gain from its relationship with USAID?

USAID has the advantage of having a close relationship with government entities, such as the National Land Agency and the Ministry of Defense. They have the experience and capacity to coordinate with all these entities to help us face a variety of situations, obstacles, and challenges in the field. USAID’s methodology is based on planning. We agree that without a Land Use Management Plan it is much harder to move forward but, thanks to USAID, Tumaco has already updated its plan.

Are the people of Tumaco willing to invest their time in this process?

I believe they are. But when we are ready to enter a vereda or a territory, we will need significant communication efforts because people no longer live there. We often see these challenges of visiting a vereda to find no one, just empty houses. People in Tumaco have a house or a farm in the rural area, but they do not live there, since they have left in search of better conditions for their children, or have simply been displaced by violence.

Banner Photo: SITUR Nariño

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