A Home called The Blessing

USAID is helping the government to increase efficiencies around rural land administration and reduce the cost and time to title rural property in Colombia.

One early morning in 1994, Gloria Ester Buelvas was woken and told she had to leave her grandfather’s farm in San Pedro de Urabá, where she had lived 16 years of her life. Nearly three decades later, Buelvas still does not know why she and dozens of members of her family were threatened and forced to leave their hometown.

“The paramilitaries told us we had from dusk to dawn to leave town. We organized ourselves and went to Carepa, 100 kilometers away,” Buelvas said, recounting a traumatic experience. “But when we got there, they told us that we had to leave from there too.”

Colombia’s Urabá region stretches from the border of Panama along the Caribbean coast and is famous for bananas and large cattle ranching estates. Over generations, the region became a textbook example of the type of class divisions between landless farmers and an elite land-owning class that fomented strife and erupted in brazen warfare between the leftist guerrillas and paramilitary groups in the nineties. Families like the Buelvas were caught in the middle, accused of helping or supporting one side or the other.

Although the traumatic memory of displacement persists, Gloria Buelvas and her family eventually found peace 500 kilometers away in Meta, a corner of Colombia’s eastern plains. La Unión del Ariari is located in the municipality of Puerto Lleras and home to a hodgepodge of families displaced by decades of conflict and several Venezuelan families who recently arrived.

Lack of Access

Over the years, the municipality provided relief, including improved roads and electricity, and the families rebuilt their lives. Gloria and her neighbors supported each other through subsistence agriculture, but none have ever obtained a land title for their property. In Colombia, low-income families can rarely afford to access land formalization services, which are complicated and expensive. In fact, the majority of Colombia’s rural parcels lack a registered land title.

Families without registered land titles mean the country’s cadaster, which is a comprehensive map of land ownership, is severely out of date, especially in areas that have been affected by violence. Unclear land rights with no backing from the state have made it easy for illegal groups to run off people like Gloria Buelvas from their land. 

This is changing, thanks to the implementation of Rural Property and Land Administration Plans, or POSPRs by their Spanish acronym, all over the country. USAID is helping the Government of Colombia untangle land administration issues and meet its commitments to the 2016 Peace Accords. The Land for Prosperity Activity is USAID’s largest investment in land tenure programming in the world and its main objectives are updating the rural cadaster and strengthening land administration.

Updating Records

When the cadaster of Puerto Lleras was last updated in 2011, it included 2,300 properties. Following the implementation of the 2023 POSPR, the initiative surveyed over 4,600 properties, many of which are home to displaced families. More than half of these parcels are not recognized by the state but are ready to be formalized and issued a registered land title.

In addition to formalizing properties, the Rural Property and Land Administration Plan provides the government with information about landholdings that could be subject to agrarian reform processes and provides a path for more than 700 landless farmers from Puerto Lleras to apply for land with the government.

“The government is going to give me the deed to my little piece of land, so I named my farm ‘La Bendición’ (The Blessing) because it has been a blessing for me and my family.” says Gloria Ester Buelvas.

Reaching Complex Municipalities

Puerto Lleras is one of 11 municipal-wide Rural Property and Land Administration Plans being supported by USAID. After considerable preparation and training, the implementation of POSPR requires an average of 18 months to complete field work and information gathering. Once completed, it is up to Colombia’s National Land Agency to deliver property titles to landowners.

With government support, USAID is implementing POSPR in some of Colombia’s most complex regions, where armed groups operate and illicit crops play a role in the local economy.

The POSPR methodology, which has evolved since being first tested in 2018, uses a variety of approaches to reach rural landowners. After a thorough analysis of available property records, squads of technical, legal, and social experts sweep the countryside, engaging communities, documenting parcels, and updating landowner information in the cadaster. A social outreach component relies on the support of volunteer community leaders and is critical in reaching rural residents with information about the land titling process, formal land markets, and women’s land rights.

“People around here ask why the state wants to give them land titles. There is a fear that if the government gives you a land title, it will then take away your land,” explains Luz Estela Velandia, who worked as a community volunteer for the POSPR in Fuentedeoro. “We assure them that nobody will come and take away their land. In fact, it is the opposite. A land title ensures they are recognized as owners under the law.”

Calculating Costs

To improve implementation, USAID has created a mathematical model to calculate the direct cost per property of POSPR implementation in municipalities where USAID has completed interventions, including Puerto Lleras. By tallying all costs related to the implementation of the parcel sweeps, including labor, logistics, systems, infrastructure, and more, USAID extrapolated a cost per property as well as cost per property by process, type of parcel, and route of parcel formalization.

Using a baseline from Colombia’s former land administration authority, INCODER, in Puerto Lleras USAID identified a 72% decrease in the cost-per-parcel from COP $3,802,639 to COP $1,080,376. When compared to the results of the first USAID-supported massive parcel sweep in Ovejas, which had already reduced the costs of the baseline, USAID found a 43% decrease (See graph below in Colombian pesos).

This would still be a steep price for first time landowners, however the cost of adjusting property records thereafter is much lower.

Since the Peace Accord was signed in 2016, USAID has been the foremost partner in facilitating the government strategy to move away from a demand-driven land administration policy to one in which the government assumes the cost of first-time formalization. The large-scale POSPR interventions alleviate the burdens that once prevented most low-income rural landholders from seeking a valid title. Once a property is registered, future title transfers become less time and cost intensive.

“I tell people that, yes, they will have to pay property taxes, but a land title can also bring them government subsidies, programs, and better services. I tell them a land title represents their rights. And I tell them that women have the same rights to appear on a property title as a man,” says Velandia.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure

“The Regional Land Office in Bolívar represents rural development.”

Q&A with the Mayor of San Juan Nepomuceno, Wilfrido Romero, and Bolívar’s Habitat Secretariat, Jorge Luís Valle

Regional Land Offices

USAID is promoting an innovative land administration strategy that supports the creation of Regional Land Offices (RLOs) in partnership with regional governments across Colombia. RLOs address issues of land formalization in municipalities with limited resources. RLO land formalization teams, which include a land surveyor and legal expert, rotates around the department, working in municipalities where local leaders have limited budgets and experience with titling property. The strategy takes advantage of economies of scale, allowing municipal leaders to share costs, and strengthens land use planning between municipal and regional leaders. RLOs interface with Colombia’s property registry authority, the Superintendence of Notaries and Registers, which is often located far from rural municipalities. They also assist with the titling of properties in urban areas, including public properties with schools and health centers, and provide technical assistance and training.

In October, USAID’s largest land tenure investment, Land for Prosperity, was on hand for the launch of the Regional Land Office in the Department of Bolívar, located in the Montes de María region of northern Colombia.

At the event, regional leaders delivered 146 land titles to landowners in the municipalities of Arjona, Calamar, Cartagena, El Carmen de Bolívar, Magangué, Mahates, María la Baja, San Jacinto, San Juan Nepomuceno, Santa Rosa del Sur, and Simití. RLOs ensure gender equality and a total of 108 land titles benefited women. The Bolívar RLO plays a central role in the Departmental Land Working Group, which coordinates tasks related to land administration and property formalization in the department in efforts to increase the efficiency of land titling and promote a culture of formal land ownership.

In this interview, the Mayor of San Juan Nepomuceno, Wilfrido Romero, and Bolívar’s Habitat Secretariat, Jorge Luís Valle, shared their insights on how the Bolívar RLO can ensure sustainable land administration in the department.

What does the launch of the Regional Land Office mean for Bolívar’s communities?

W.R: A well-organized office brings people closer to the habits of legal land ownership so that their land titles can be passed from generation to generation and from owner to owner. It is an invitation to the community to align itself with the office, to resolve their doubts with clear and accurate information, and to learn how to do land transactions moving forward.

J.V: In a word, it represents rural development. It means formalized property. It is the opportunity for the residents of Bolívar who still live on untitled land to own a property that they can feel with the security that it belongs to them, because it has the legal support of the state.

How does the launch of the RLO impact the San Juan Nepomuceno community?

W.R: It means that finally, the people who are in this territory can have property titles because this is something that people always dream of, having something of their own and knowing that no one will kick them out of their territory.

What other benefits does the RLO bring to the community when completing land transactions?

W.R: In San Juan Nepomuceno, this is an opportunity to boost agricultural development. Property titles allow families to access credit and other resources, which will facilitate investment in their farms and the development of our municipality.

How can the RLO be sustained into the future?

J.V: Without a doubt it can and will be over time. The Bolivar Regional Land Office is a strategic ally to reach each of the municipalities and the villages in corregimientos, and veredas in Bolívar. I believe the office is the critical link to continue formalizing land and properties, and to convert registered property titles into a positive habit of the community.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure


Explore the Redesigned SERVIR Global Website

Visit SERVIR’s newly redesigned website, which showcases the breadth and impact of SERVIR’s global network. 

SERVIR combines cutting-edge science and data from NASA with development expertise from USAID to connect space to village. Our work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America supports locally led efforts to strengthen climate resilience, food and water security, forest and carbon management, and air quality. 

The new design includes new pages highlighting SERVIR’s work across five service areas:

The updated website also highlights two cross-cutting areas important to the work of SERVIR: Climate Change and Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

To access information about SERVIR service areas and cross-cutting themes, go to the new SERVIR Global homepage and select “What We Do” in the navigation bar. Within each service area page, you will find featured services, key related resources, and the most recent news and impact. 

The website redesign also includes the updated and fully integrated SERVIR Service Catalog and a new and growing Resource Library. With these new features, it is now easier for anyone who is interested in SERVIR’s work to search for relevant resources, information and tools.

Please help us spread the word about the refreshed website! You can:

  • Bookmark your favorite page and share it with your contacts;
  • Share our announcements on X and LinkedIn and tell us which content is your favorite by tagging @SERVIRGlobal;

Contact the SERVIR Support team and let us know what you think of the redesign. We welcome any feedback on how to improve the user experience for our community.

To Farm on Titled Land

With USAID support, plantain farmers in Fuentedeoro obtain secure land tenure and find new business opportunities.

Fuentedeoro is known for plantains. The municipality is located in Colombia’s eastern plains, a vast region of large rivers that drain the Andes into the Amazon basin. In this landscape, Luz Dary Mendoza learned farming from her father, who grew a variety of crops in the fertile plains. But his livelihood and family’s future always depended on the revenue generated from the region’s cash crop: the plantain.

Today, Luz Dary has her own farm in the village of Sardinata Alto, Fuentedeoro, and in 2018, she helped create AGROSARDI, an association consisting of 40 farmers who grow plantain on 40 hectares of land. Like all plantain farmers in Colombia, Luz Dary and her colleagues are challenged with pest management, an unpredictable and erratic climate, and intermediary buyers who pay low prices. But none of these obstacles are as important as secure land tenure, which has silently stymied progress for years.

In Fuentedeoro, an estimated 6 out of 10 parcels lack a registered land title. In fact, none of the 40 members of AGROSARDI have a property title. In most cases, landowners hold what are known as cartaventas, or notarized letters declaring the many details about the land they purchased. No cartaventa is exactly the same, and they are not legally supported by the government. The pervasive lack of land tenure is a disincentive for women like Luz Dary to invest in their plots and agribusinesses.

“We have never had a title to our farming plots. The only thing we have is the cartaventa, and that doesn’t give us any security,” explains Luz Dary.

Historically, landowners in Colombia are responsible for titling and registering their properties with the state, but due to costs, complicated land laws, and the absence of government services in rural areas, only wealthy landowners end up formalizing their land.

The Rural Property and Land Use Plan, known by its Spanish acronym POSPR, seeks to change this paradigm. The initiative, which surveys and updates the cadaster for every parcel in the municipality, was recently carried out by Colombia’s National Land Agency with USAID support. Land formalization teams surveyed almost 4,500 rural parcels, covering Fuentedeoro’s more than 56,000 hectares. The land administration plan discovered that some 2,000 plots are ready to be formalized. Among these plots are the farms of Luz Dary Mendoza and 19 AGROSARDI members.

“Thanks to the parcel sweep and USAID’s initiative to increase land security, we are finally going to own the land, receive a property deed. Many of us will now feel better about investing in other crops such as fruit orchards that will generate even more income,” says Luz Dary.

This year, the National Land Agency will deliver the first batch of 200 rural property titles, thanks to land formalization efforts and USAID investments to strengthen land tenure in Fuentedeoro, Meta. Luz Dary and the members of AGROSARDI will celebrate their land titles, the basis for building a plantain agribusiness.

Building New Partnerships

Under Luz Dary’s leadership, AGROSARDI joined a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) focused on plantain agribusiness. The PPP, which was facilitated by USAID Land for Prosperity, is valued at more than USD $250,000 and links critical investments from the public and private sectors to nearly 200 plantain farmers in and around Fuentedeoro.

Thanks to the PPP and the regional government, AGROSARDI will be able to access tools such as tractors and loading equipment to improve post harvest handling and moving plantains to new market channels. The PPP also has the support of Agrollanos as a commercial ally, which will purchase its plantains for distribution through final products to large food companies such as Pepsico.

The PPP is part of USAID’s comprehensive strategy to mobilize regional actors and the private sector and foster licit economic opportunities in areas where land tenure security is being strengthened. The strategy looks for strategy value chains in regions where USAID is working with the government to survey and formalize informal property in a handful of municipalities. Since 2021, Land for Prosperity has facilitated more than 27 public private partnerships, which have mobilized more than USD $90 million in public funds and investments.

Thanks to the plantain PPP, farmers are learning Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). AGROSARDI will generate cleaner, agrochemical-free crops. GAP also promotes soil recovery through the use of organic fertilizers, resulting in cleaner plantain suitable for human consumption.

“I always invite young women to get involved in farming. I know that if they live this experience, they too will fall in love with it and will continue to fight for a stable crop that allows us to support our family.” says Luz Dary Mendoza, plantain farmer, Fuentedeoro.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure

From Landless to Landowner

Violence in Colombia has displaced families towards informal settlements. USAID is helping the government to deliver land titles to these families and respond to their needs.

Before 9 de Agosto was a barrio, it was open land on the edge of Tierralta, a town in Colombia’s Caribbean plains. The more than 40 hectares of land belonged to a local power company, and then one night, on August 9th, it became home to 3,000 desperate people. They arrived and never left.

The invasion occurred in 2010, and Jairo Gómez was there. He was one of a multitude of victims and families displaced by the violence that had engulfed their region and pushed them out of their homes. Gómez pounded in wooden posts, hung a tarp and hammock, and braced himself for the inevitable backlash. In less than a week, the police showed up with teargas and violence to evict the families. Gómez stood his ground.


A City of Cambuches

“It was a city of cambuches,” Gómez says, using the local word for shelters made from plastic sheeting.

Social leaders emerged, and soon they were laying lines to create the lots for dwellings and future roads. By the end of the first year, 5,000 people lived in 9 de Agosto, which anywhere else was known as the barrio de los desplazados, or displaced people.

That’s how a neighborhood is born in the 21st century Colombia, as shanty towns built with plastic coverings and scrap wood and carved out of open lands along major roads or near towns. The county has grown this way over the last 20 years due to the conflict that has made Colombia home to a population of more than 6 million internally displaced people (IDP)—second only to Syria—and made Colombia the country with the highest number of IDPs and the least number of refugee camps.

In 2017, the local power company traded the land to the municipality, and local leaders set up services like electricity for some of the more than 4,000 parcels. Today, many shacks and tarps have been replaced by cinder blocks and bricks. Those who can afford it, have added zinc sheets to their roofs to protect them from the heavy tropical rains. Others remain the same as they were in 2010, plastic sheeting, wooden planks, and dirt floors, simple cambuches.

Titling the Properties

This year, with USAID support Tierralta made a giant step towards incorporating the neighborhood into the town’s masterplan by titling more than 260 parcels. The event featured Mayor Daniel Montero delivering property titles to a packed auditorium, and was significant on several levels. First, as a clear example of the government providing families with a tangible asset that will inevitably lead to improvements in their neighborhood; second, the event represents the single largest delivery of land titles made by a municipal administration in the history of Colombia. “The wait times for government services are slow and you can never get everything done, but today we have fought for something beautiful,” Montero said to the crowd. “A land title will bring you new opportunities and hopefully bring peace, happiness, and hope to your homes.”

Local Land Administration

The Colombian government has struggled to facilitate land planning in areas affected by the conflict or to provide residents with services to legalize the properties of informal settlements like 9 de Agosto.

In 2021, USAID helped Tierralta reactivate its Municipal Land Office, which employs a team of land experts and surveyors who live in the municipality and work under the municipal Secretary of Planning. Under Colombian land law, municipalities have the power to process the titling of urban properties, including public properties like schools and health centers.

With USAID’s support, Tierralta’s Municipal Land Office has improved its capacity to title urban property and reduced processing times from multiple years to just a few months. Key to the process is the improvement in communication and work flow between land agencies, or in this case with Colombia’s property registry authority, the Superintendence of Notaries and Registers (SNR). By working directly with the regional SNR office, Tierralta’s Land Office can title dozens of properties at a time.

For every single property, the SNR requires a physical verification of the property as well as the property’s history. Municipal Land Offices are fulfilling these tasks.

“In municipalities with land offices supported by USAID, we see that we are delivering more titles, and our goals are achieved in a more agile and comprehensive manner.It is really important that there are professionals working in these municipalities, because this work will not be done from Bogotá. Municipal Land Offices are facilitating the cooperation between our offices,” says María José Muñoz, who works in the SNR as a Delegate for Land Protection, Restitution and Formalization.

Since 2020, 42 USAID-supported Municipal and Regional Land Offices delivered over 6,800 land titles to families living in the urban areas of rural municipalities. In addition, the land offices have formalized more than 1,600 public properties and provided land and property services to more than 16,000 citizens.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure


The Long Road to Land Ownership

USAID is helping the municipality of Chaparral, Tolima to carry out local land administration tasks and play a larger role in the future of rural property.

Edith Vaquiro and José Preciado have had their ups and down with home ownership. When they bought their first home in rural Chaparral, Tolima, thieves entered their property and dismantled their house. It was stolen right under their noses.

In 1999, they sold that lot and bought a new parcel closer to the center of Chaparral. This time they built everything with their own hands, first with wooden boards that they later replaced with cement walls. The lot includes a garage where José works on 4×4 vehicles, the kind that are used to access the mountain towns of Southern Tolima.

“We struggled and worked hard. For many years we did not have a floor or a door. And we just kept working,” says Preciado.

Eventually, Preciado installed a concrete floor and a proper door. This year, the couple achieved a new goal: the property title.

Theirs is one of 30 land titles delivered at an event earlier this year by Chaparral’s Municipal Land Office (MLO), which was created with support from the Land for Prosperity. The Land Office operates under the Municipality’s Secretary of Planning and is something of a one-stop shop for local land administration. It facilitates rural development initiatives and allows the local leaders to deliver on state-led land titling strategies that take the onus off land owners.

“Without a land title, it’s as if you had nothing. We now feel like owners of something,” says Edith Vaquiro.

Thanks to the couple’s business, they have been servicing a small loan in order to make home improvements. Now, with the land title as a qualified form of collateral, they plan to take a larger loan and build a second floor on their home.

Stronger Capacity for Land Administration

For now, the Municipal Land Office is operating thanks to Natalia Quinoñes. As the MLO’s legal expert, she reviews hundreds of urban properties and provides citizens with information to begin to understand the complexity of Colombia’s land laws and the process of property formalization. Quiñones graduated in law last year and is relatively new to the land administration. In her job, learning is a continuous process, and she studies how land laws are evolving in today’s Colombia.

“In law school, they did not spend a lot of time on property law, so I never had a deep understanding of the process. I have learned so much through the experience, and I continue to study and learn every day,” she says.

Eight of out 10 properties in the municipality of Chaparral are informally owned, meaning they lack a land title. In the urban center, the rates of informal land ownership could be lower, but the government does not have an updated cadaster of which properties have registered land titles and which do not.

“Chaparral has problems with informality. The tools of the Municipal Land Office can solve them.”

Natalia Quiñones, land formalization expert in Chaparral, Tolima

Since 2020, 42 USAID-supported Municipal and Regional Land Offices delivered over 6,800 land titles to families living in the urban areas of rural municipalities. In addition, the land offices have formalized more than 1,600 public properties and provided land and property services to more than 16,000 citizens.

A Formal Land Market

In May 2023, Land for Prosperity began implementing the Rural Property and Land Use Plan, known as POSPR by its Spanish acronym, by creating project schedules, training timetables, and plans for security, communications, and environmental management. Chaparral’s Municipal Land Office is critical to supporting the land formalization teams and is a conduit between government land agencies to process land titles, update the cadaster, and file all the information on land use, collected over the 12-month implementation period.

LFP helped to delineate the city’s urban perimeter, verified the geodesic network, and divided the municipality into workable intervention units. The parcel visit phase has begun and rural families in Chaparral are participating in the process. The POSPR is surveying an area of more than 88,000 hectares and approximately 8,600 parcels. More than 2,600 parcels are expected to be titled by the National Land Agency.

Chaparral is one of 11 municipalities being supported by USAID under the Rural Property and Land Use Plans. The POSPR methodology is strengthening land tenure and providing legal certainty for more than 22,000 parcels across Colombia. In each municipality, the POSPR methodology is reducing informal land ownership in rural Colombia, strengthening institutional capacity for land administration, and educating the population on formal land ownership.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure


“The drivers of deforestation are closely associated with land issues.”

Q&A with Ayda Garzon, head of Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia

The head of the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park within Colombia’s National Parks Authority (PNN), Ayda Garzón, manages the preservation of more than 4 million hectares of protected area, including the protection of indigenous communities, archeological heritage, and the rich biodiversity held within. At the same time, rampant deforestation continues to threaten many parts of the park. In this interview, Garzón talks about the drivers of deforestation, coordinated efforts with the government, and USAID’s support to improve land governance around the park.

What are the challenges of managing and protecting the Serrania de Chiribiquete National Park?

They are many and very big, almost proportional to Chiribiquete’s size. It is the largest protected land area in Colombia and the world, located in the departments of Caquetá and Guaviare, with the presence of indigenous and farmer communities. The northern section of the park borders the deforestation arc of the Amazon, and in the southern part, the park borders indigenous reservations, however there, the area retains a high level of conservation.

What are the factors that contribute to the deforestation of the park?

Through our analysis, we understand that deforestation in Chiribiquete is closely linked to land access and property issues and land grabbing. We see five big deforestation hotspots inside Chiribiquete that correspond to two areas in San Vicente del Caguán, two sections going towards San José del Guaviare, and one area which is the northern border of the Yaguará II indigenous reservation. Then we have zones such as San Miguel that, although they are not very large, already show evidence of deforestation.

Does deforestation increase illegal cattle ranching and illegal crops in the park?

Once deforestation processes have begun, roads appear connecting plots of land, and after two or three years, the cows start to appear. In the last year, cattle ranching increased twofold. Until a year ago, there were not more than 50 hectares of illicit crops in Chiribiquete, but since then we have also seen an increase.

What are the tools that the government needs to fight this?

A vital element is ensuring that the communities trust the government and feel they are and will continue to be taken care of. The lack of the government presence leads to communities recognizing the presence of FARC dissidents as the ones who govern the land. The government needs to make an effort to take care of these populations, and in this way build peace.

Do you think that land use planning contributes to the fight against deforestation?

I think that in the case of the areas around the national park, in theory it can contribute. We have the designations, such as the parks and forest reserves, but I think forest reserves have lost their validity, despite being a mechanism to ensure that the forests can be preserved and exploited in a sustainable way. With Colombia’s issues in terms of land access for rural communities, deforestation is a result not only of people colonizing the forests, but in many cases, it’s a result of government policies. In the case of the Amazon Forest Reserve, the government directed and promoted new colonies and occupation, and they did it with counterproductive policies that people still have ingrained in their heads in terms of what is required for someone to consider themselves the owner of a piece of land. So today, people who do not have grass or cows, do not feel they are owners. So, regulations and land use planning exist, but in the end, what transforms the land are the people who do not have the right tools or knowledge and receive no support from the government.

The USAID Land for Prosperity Activity is supporting the government to survey the park´s boundaries and its vicinity to update the rural cadaster for the first time. Why is this important?

For us, having an updated cadaster is interesting for several reasons. It forces us to work with government land entities like the rural cadaster authority IGAC. It also forces us to work with municipality leaders on a complicated topic, which is land. And once the cadaster of neighboring municipalities have also been updated, then the information must be synchronized. In addition, we already monitor deforestation, but our tools do not have the same level of detail as the land survey for the rural cadaster. For us, this is a big win.

Does the designation of national park make your job difficult?

What we do is protect and conserve that natural foundation, the base that supports all development, and it is difficult for these areas to be understood as opportunities. Sadly, when we talk to the mayors, the first thing they say is that having a protected area is the worst thing that can happen to them, because they cannot collect land taxes, for example, and they cannot intervene in the areas in any way. And this is not only in municipal or departmental administrations, but a lot of national entities also see national parks this way. Therefore, it is a challenge to promote protected areas and make people see them, Chiribiquete in particular, as drivers for development, as partners for the development of a municipality or department.

Do you think that USAID is contributing to conservation?

I think they are on multiple fronts, for example, in terms of prevention, patrolling, and control, and the application of environmental law. USAID has a number of actions and programs that are strengthening government entities, and they are carrying out projects and providing tools to the communities that allow them to make better use of their land. USAID has initiatives around communication and awareness raising that I think are vital, and that helps to bring that knowledge and that work closer to the communities.

How urgent is it to stop deforestation inside the park?

If we don’t coordinate efforts and work with the communities in the northern part, Chiribiquete does not have a high rate of survival in the medium term. The process of deforestation moves fast, and every day there is more transformation. If we don’t make the indigenous communities who are protecting the southern parts of the park our natural partners, it is very likely that a time will come when there will also be deforestation in that region. So, our first challenge is to work with the communities, to make them our natural partners for conservation. Without discriminating between indigenous and farmer communities but including everyone.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure

Beating the Stereotype

How a land surveyor in Meta’s Regional Land Office has overcome challenges to find herself in a career dominated by men.

Leany Alba, 28, grew up in Bogota and dreamed of being a professional photographer, but her parents never warmed up to the idea. She always loves maps and followed a career path towards becoming a cartographer. On that path, she found a burgeoning job market for her current profession: land surveyor.

For years, geographers, cartographers, and topographers were considered occupations for “strong, young men.” Alba bucked the trend when she took her first job with Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit as a topographer, surveying properties that were being returned to displaced families in Meta. Though her parents had once worried about their daughter, imagining her measuring buildings on urban construction sites, they supported her decision to work in rural Colombia.

“These jobs were once dominated by men, because it was much more physical. But this is nonsense. A woman can endure the high temperatures and carry equipment just like a man,” says Leany.






Leany Alba works in some of Meta´s most isolated municipalities, in partnership with the regional and municipal governments, surveying urban properties to make land rights a reality for thousands of Colombians.

In 2022, she accepted a job with the Meta Regional Land Office, as the only woman topographer on a team of land formalization experts who regularly travel to rural municipalities to assist small-town mayors with the titling of urban parcels.

“With today’s technology, there is no excuse. Any woman can work as a land surveyor.” says Leanny.

Meta’s Regional Land Office supports municipalities like Mesetas, La Uribe and La Macarena, focusing on titling properties in the towns’ urban areas. Underfunded municipalities like Mesetas cannot afford to maintain its own land office, so the regional strategy allows it to share the costs of land titling, like labor and equipment, with a group of municipalities.

The innovative concept was first supported by USAID in the Department of Meta, and has found success in other departments like Cauca, Sucre, and Bolívar. The regional land office strategy has planted seeds for regional-level leadership in land administration and created a conduit of support for secure land rights.

“So one of the challenges is communication with people. Women often have better communications skills, and it is necessary to have a certain tact in dealing with rural people, since almost nobody understands land” explains Leany Alba.

In a little over a year, Meta’s Regional Land Office has delivered nearly 700 urban land titles, which include 34 public properties with schools, health clinics, and municipal services like parks and recreation. The Regional Land Office has titled properties in Mesetas, La Macarena, Uribe, Vista Hermosa, San Juan de Arama, and Puerto Rico.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure

“Now they call me a farmer” – Rural women make an impact in global agricultural value chains

Before becoming a community agronomist, Anamika Ghosh had never stepped foot on a farm. Like most women in her community, her family was involved in farming, but her role was confined to cutting and preparing seed potatoes at home. “I had no knowledge about farming,” she said. “I supported my husband but was not a farmer myself.” 

Anamika’s story is typical of many women. Although women make up over 50 percent of the agricultural labor force in many countries, their roles tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and underpaid. Land ownership is often required to participate in contract farming, and as women continue to face barriers to owning land, they remain underrepresented in global food and agricultural value chains. 

Closing the gender gap in agriculture could increase global GDP by US 1 trillion and reduce global food security for 45 million people. The private sector is a key partner in this effort, as more companies realize that investing in women’s empowerment has direct impacts on their bottom line, increasing productivity, expanding the supply base, meeting international standards, and enhancing company reputation

Under the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program, USAID worked with private sector partners to empower women and expand their access to agricultural supply chains. In India, USAID and PepsiCo partnered to empower women in PepsiCo’s potato supply chain by increasing their access to critical productive resources like land and agronomy knowledge. Over 1,800 women received agronomy and sustainable farming practices training for the first time and over 800 farmers (65 percent women) received land literacy training. In Ghana, USAID partnered with Ecom Agroindustrial Corp. (ECOM), a global commodity trading and processing company, to increase gender-responsiveness in ECOM’s internal policies and practices and to pilot targeted women’s empowerment activities in cocoa communities. ECOM reached over 2,600 farmers (55 percent women) to engage in dialogues about harmful gender norms around control of productive resources and gender-based violence. To increase women’s economic security, the company supported alternative livelihoods for women in 37 communities. 

Women’s land leasing group Eid Mubarak stands in front of their potato harvest in 2021-2022 growing season. These women collectively leased land from a local landholder under the project in order to join PepsiCo’s potato supply chain as independent suppliers. Credit: Landesa


Both partnerships achieved notable results in women’s empowerment and in the companies’ tangible and intangible business metrics. In both countries, women began to be recognized as farmers rather than “farmers’ wives” – a shift that opens the door to new opportunities. In India, access to agronomy knowledge increased women’s confidence, leading to improved social mobility, financial autonomy, and greater say in household decisions over the use of land and income. In Ghana, men and women farmers started to change their beliefs and behaviors around gender roles and responsibilities, with men recognizing the importance of women owning land and equitable sharing of household tasks and household decision-making. According to cocoa farmer Emmanuel Oboery, rethinking the division of labor in his household led to more collaboration and increased productivity, “Before, with only me working in the farm, I would make two or three bags per season.  Now working together we can make five or six bags. Before me and my wife were each on their own separate path, but we are one now.”

Woman demo farmer shares proper PepsiCo practices with women and men farmers in her community during a field visit. Giving women leadership roles in farming can increase their recognition and acceptance among both company staff and community members. Credit: Subarna Maitra


Once women had improved access to productive resources and harmful gender norms started to shift, there were improvements in company productivity, supply base retention, and brand image and loyalty. In India, families of women who received agronomy training had better gross and net yields – 84 percent of women farmers trained reported an increase in their farm yield compared to the previous year and 76 percent reported a decrease in rejection rates. PepsiCo and ECOM staff reported that women in project communities are joining the supply chain at a higher rate than men, supporting greater stability and growth of the supply base. Farmer loyalty is closely linked to better company reputation. As farmers see companies making intentional efforts to engage women farmers and the benefits that come with it, they feel more inclined to start or continue to work with the company.

A couple shows off their cocoa trees on their farm in Ghana. Both participated in gender norms training under the USAID-ECOM partnership to promote women’s recognition and participation in cocoa value chains. Credit: Thais Bessa, ILRG


Private sector engagement can provide opportunities for greater sustainability and scalability of USAID investments. The USAID-PepsiCo pilot spurred a larger five-year Global Development Alliance across five countries to empower women in different supply chains. This will help PepsiCo meet its commitment to improve the livelihoods of 250,000 people in its supply chain by 2030. PepsiCo staff are now leading training with women farmers in new communities across West Bengal, using gender-responsive tools and materials developed under the partnership. In Ghana, ECOM has developed a five year gender strategy, which includes gender equality metrics the company will report against internally at the country level, and recruited dedicated staff to implement it and continue to roll out gender norms training to farmers in new communities and regions. 

ECOM gender field officers hold up peppers, one of the alternative livelihood activities the USAID-ECOM partnership is supporting for women farmers in cocoa regions in Ghana. Credit: Dan Myers, ILRG

These partnerships demonstrate that investing in women is not only critical for USAID’s development goals related to food security, economic growth, and resilience, but it is also good for business. Anamika, the once shy woman who thought that cutting potato seeds was not important, now feels confident to lead the family farming business and train other women. “Now I know I am a farmer. I have technical knowledge and I am encouraging others in my community.” When they can access the productive resources needed to thrive, women farmers like Anamika have the potential to transform global food security and supply chains, feeding their families, their communities, and the world.

Discovering Quality Coffees in Cauca

USAID is promoting women and young coffee growers in northern Cauca, raising the quality of their coffee and opening doors in global markets. 

“We as coffee growers work for the common good. More than coffee, it is us, a part of the countryside who are taking care of the environment,” says Fanllany Méndez, spokeswoman for the coffee growers association Asoprodig, located in Santander de Quilichao in the heart of Cauca, one of Colombia’s most productive coffee growing regions.

Women from Cauca like Fanllany Méndez have always seen coffee as their best option to help their families and get ahead. At 31 years of age, Fanllany is a community leader who encourages other women in Asoprodig to plant coffee, improve their skills, and promote marketing.

“Thanks to coffee I was able to study, and thanks to it I will also be able to give my children an education.” says Fanllany Méndez, a coffee grower from Cauca.

The hard work paid off this year when Asoprodig was chosen to participate in the 12th version of the Specialty Coffee Fair and Competition of Cauca. In the event, 10 small coffee grower associations participated for the first time, allowing international buyers to try their specialty coffees.

Winning New Markets

Fanllany Mendez and the 10 associations participated in coffee cupping, exposition of production machinery, and business meetings with buyers from Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, Peru, China and Colombia. The coffee growers, who a decade ago had no market channels available, came to the fair to prove that in the municipalities of Northern Cauca are also producing specialty coffee with added value.

“In Cauca there are many families that depend on coffee, and the beans offered in this fair represent the best qualities we have,” Méndez said.

Under normal circumstances, the small growers end up selling their coffee to local buyers. Thanks to the event, three Northern Cauca coffee associations sold coffee lots to international buyers two more are under negotiation. In addition, the National Federation of Coffee Growers is leading the negotiation of 10 coffee lots from the 10 associations from the region.

Effective Partnerships

During the two years of implementation of this coffee alliance in northern Cauca, 55 events have been held, including field schools and workshops on commercial organizational strengthening, reaching 414 coffee growers, with a strong participation of women and young people, 40% and 19%, respectively.

The fair forms part of a public-private partnership in the coffee value chain of Northern Cauca, which was facilitated by USAID in 2021 through the Land for Prosperity Activity. The PPP includes the Mayor’s Office of Santander de Quilichao and the National Federation of Coffee Growers, among other public and private actors.

The PPP is valued at more than COP $8,340 million (USD $3 million) and includes over 1,000 coffee growers from five Northern Cauca municipalities. The partnership is an example of USAID’s 20 years of support for Colombia’s $3 billion coffee sector. As the country’s third top export, coffee has the potential to promote formal economic opportunities in one of the Colombian regions most affected by illicit crops.

This year, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Santander de Quilichao, USAID is emphasizing the promotion of Café Asociativo as an innovative initiative. The strategy promotes coffee from the PPP’s smallholder coffee farmers and seeks to promote new technologies and collaboration to improve production, quality, and open new markets.

“For the first time, our growers have the opportunity to participate in the fair’s coffee auction, following almost three years of effort and dedication. This is generating new business and opportunities for our coffee growers, but above all for the youth of our region,” says Lucy Amparo Guzmán, Santander de Quilichao’s mayor.

A Link to Rural Youth

Santiago Samboní is a 21-year-old who has always grown coffee with his mother and grandmother on their farm located in the rural area of Santander de Quilichao. For Santiago, being a successful coffee grower is more than just production, it’s about training and acquiring knowledge that can improve the process. Today he is studying to become a food engineer.

“We have to understand that coffee is not only picking and selling, but adopting a broader approach to improve productivity in the farms and then our income,” says Santiago Samboní, young coffee grower in Santander de Quilichao.

“All this growth is thanks to the training and support from the PPP, which highlights trainings for youth and allows us to continue working in agriculture.”

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure