Colombia finds itself at a critical crossroads. On September 26, 2016, before an audience including the United Nations Secretary-General, U.S. Secretary of State, and several Latin American presidents, all wearing white to commemorate this historic day, President Juan Manuel Santos and his former enemy and leader of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño (better known as “Timochenko”) signed the peace accords. In a symbolic action to demonstrate unity and the beginning of the reconciliation process, President Santos pinned the peace dove (which he has worn every day during his current administration as a symbol of his commitment to ending the 52-year war) on Timochenko’s lapel. Words of peace and apology marked the occasion, along with an impressive flyover by Colombian air force jets trailing the colors of the Colombia flag up above. Traditionally, the sound of jets overhead used to mean potential bombing for the FARC—but on September 26, the flyover served as a gesture of peace and national unity.
Six days later, on October 2, much to the shock of many Colombians and the world, Colombian citizens voted against the peace accords by the slightest of margins. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, 49.78% voted in favor of the accords and 50.21% voted against; in actual numbers, this translates into a margin of a mere 53,894 votes. A total of 13,066,047 people voted, representing approximately 37.43% of eligible voters.
President Santos has declared on more than one occasion that there is no plan B. He has called the negotiators back to the table to determine next steps. This is the context in which the Land and Rural Development Program’s (LRDP) year 3 comes to a close and year 4 begins.
Since the beginning of the project implementation, USAID/Colombia and the program itself have made a commitment to continue pressing land reform and rural development initiatives forward regardless of the status of the peace accords. Today, more than ever, LRDP must continue to build on its strong foundation and support the government of Colombia (GOC) and the people of Colombia to press ahead.
During the year, we established ourselves as an “honest broker” by engaging new mayors and governors before and after they took office in January 2016. Building relationships based on trust, confidence, and transparency, we actively engaged mayors in 57 municipalities and governors in six departments to help them construct their municipal and departmental development plans—mandatory four-year plans that establish goals for growth and improvement, with corresponding budget allocations. Our efforts served to ensure that regional-level planning incorporated essential elements required for land reform and rural development, as well as the protection of vulnerable groups, such as women and ethnic minorities. In addition, through our knowledge of national-level entities and their initiatives, we helped ensure that these plans were consistent with national objectives (e.g., the Development Programs with a Regional Focus instrument to mobilize resources for rural development programs and garnering support for massive formalization pilot activities).
Complementing this work at the regional level, we successfully engaged three newly established national entities from the moment of their inception. Established via presidential decree in December 2015, the National Land Agency, the Rural Development Agency, and the Agency for Territorial Renovation began operating on a minimal basis during the fiscal year. Two of these entities (the National Land Agency and the Rural Development Agency) replace much of the work previously under the purview of the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER), which is now under liquidation and no longer operating. We quickly developed technical working relationships with each entity, demonstrating that the project is able to help these new institutions achieve quick wins. For example, directors and subdirectors from all three institutions as well as the Land Restitution Unit (LRU) traveled with us to the Ovejas municipality in Sucre, where we are working alongside government counterparts to implement a massive formalization pilot. The visit helped the agencies’ leadership understand current progress and challenges in the municipalities hardest hit by the armed conflict and was instrumental in demonstrating the relevance of the program’s integrated, territory-focused development approach to the agencies’ future success in overcoming entrenched rural neglect. As we enter year 4, we will continue to promote coordination between these agencies and will facilitate their link to important regional actors.
Another important effort throughout the year was the facilitation of public-private partnerships (PPPs), which are understood as collaborative working relationships in the agricultural sector that involve entities from both the public and private sectors and where all parties play an equal role in determining the partnership’s goals, structure, and administration, as well as individual roles and responsibilities. During the year, we facilitated the launch of five new PPPs with a cumulative value of US$20.8 million in the coffee, cacao, honey, and dairy sectors in the departments of Tolima, Bolívar, Sucre, Cesar, and Meta. The program’s approach is unique in that it does not directly inject resources into the partnership. Rather, we position the local government as the convener and a critical investor in the partnership while also strengthening essential knowledge and skills of producer associations and public partners, thereby paving the way for sustainable rural enterprise. These new partnerships, which include restituted families and families who will benefit from land formalization initiatives in prioritized regions, serve as an engine for rural development and economic growth.
Throughout the year, we also continued to engage GOC entities in developing information systems aimed at better managing land data, facilitating the restitution process, and better planning and tracking their progress. We completed seven systems for the LRU, Agustin Codazzi Geographic Institute (IGAC), Superintendence of Notary and Registry (SNR), and Cesar’s Secretariat of Agriculture, which are now being used by their respective entities and are contributing to more efficient workflows. In particular, the system that we developed for IGAC, which houses newly digitalized cadastral files, has resulted in a 73% reduction in time needed to deliver this information when requested during the restitution process; and the system that we developed for the SNR, which provides authorized public entities with easy and free access to Certificates of Delivery and Unencumbered Property (a certificate often required in the restitution process), has resulted in a 99% reduction in processing time.
We also produced 12 episodes for a radio drama series. Written and performed by 59 female victims of the armed conflict, these programs sought to increase awareness about women’s rights to land and provide information on how GOC institutions can support them in claiming these rights. The episodes aired on 36 radio stations and reached listeners in 96 municipalities.
This year, we also spearheaded coordination initiatives among USAID implementing partners. In Montes de María, for example, a representative from USAID’s Program Office participated in the coordination session, which allowed the agency to see firsthand how the projects are sharing information and coordinating their efforts to yield greater impact. Throughout the year, LRDP collaborated with such programs as Colombia Responde (both CELI Central and CELI North-South), Rural Finance, and Access to Justice.
In addition, revising the Activity Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (AMEP) proved to be an intensive and collaborative initiative throughout the year. Measuring the outcomes of institutional capacity strengthening is fraught with challenges, including the time lag between learning and results, the ability to assign direct attribution, and ever-changing institutions and leaders. For that reason, we continued to coordinate with USAID to identify indicators that better tell our story and to improve the balance between quantitative and qualitative results. USAID approved a revised AMEP, which includes indicators that assess both direct and indirect outcomes together with impacts on women and ethnic minorities. While the AMEP is an important tool for the program and USAID to communicate progress and impact, this must be combined with high-quality communications materials that make the link between the program’s work, institutional strengthening, and tangible impacts on rural communities.