PEACE BUILDING AND POLITICAL CONTEXT
November 24 marked the signing of the new peace agreement between the government of Colombia (GOC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Signed 53 days after the referendum in which a slim majority of Colombian citizens voted against ratifying the peace accords, this new agreement was the result of intense negotiations that included several initiatives promoted by the political opposition. On December 1, Colombia’s Congress countersigned the agreement, and implementation commenced, surrounded by political controversies and operational complications. In the coming months, the guerrilla group is expected to fully disarm and initiate its transformation into a legal political party. Amidst an agitated political scenario, President Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for his perseverance and will to end the 50-year conflict that has affected Colombians across the country, particularly those in rural areas.
Recent institutional reforms creating new entities to address the post-conflict implementation challenges are now starting their execution phase, giving way to the design of new policies and processes to respond to point one of the peace agreement (regarding comprehensive rural reform), which was only slightly modified in the new signed version. USAID’s Land and Rural Development Program (LRDP) remains committed to preparing Colombia for peace, which hinges on regional governments and entities being able to implement an integrated approach to rural development that embraces strengthened land rights and the restitution of land for families located in post-conflict regions, thereby facilitating sustainable livelihoods. To this end, we have achieved key milestones this quarter that contribute to the program’s overall objectives and that support the GOC in its post-conflict goals, enhancing Colombia’s capacity to mobilize resources to remote regions that have been neglected for decades.
Together with a territorial approach to peace building and rural development that includes strong community participation—a method being supported by the program through the design of the PDET model—the GOC must also engage in an innovative and effective illicit crop reduction policy if it hopes to successfully implement the peace accords. Although not part of LRDP objectives, and recognizing the general lack of illicit crops in LRDP’s municipalities, this issue is central to the rollout of integrated rural development and land policies in Colombia. As stated in a recent article by experts from Fundación Ideas para La Paz, “In a few weeks, the press will report on a new historic peak in [illicit] cultivations. The overlap between this increase and the start of the Trump era in the US is expected to result in great pressure for Colombia.” The GOC can respond to this either through a rapid and unsustainable strategy for illicit crop substitution or by making structural changes to improve state presence and to support communities engaging in voluntary eradication. The development of a comprehensive land tenure policy, especially regarding land formalization, is critical to the success of an innovative approach to illicit crop substitution. LRDP will provide the National Land Agency with recommendations for adjusting the massive formalization methodology designed by the program in year 3 so that it contemplates the presence of illicit crops.
LRDP achieved an important milestone this quarter by helping the Land Restitution Unit (LRU) prepare its Inter-Institutional Strategic Plan, which provides a roadmap for the GOC in terms of solving the large number of pending land restitution claims between now and 2021. This plan, which was submitted to the Constitutional Court, recommends how the GOC can adapt its restitution policy with regard to areas that are home to illicit crops. In addition, as part of our effort to help the LRU streamline restitution processes, we completed evidentiary material for ethnic restitution cases in Cesar and Meta on behalf of indigenous Yupka and Sikuani communities.
Property registration files are arguably the backbone of Colombia’s land-related processes, as they not only indicate a property’s location, type, and transaction history but also can reveal fraudulent owners. This information is essential for reducing tenure insecurity, land inequality, and conflict.
In our effort to enhance local governments’ capacity to address land formalization, we finalized the design of the municipal formalization plan for Santander de Quilichao (Cauca), which provides a formalization roadmap for 33,000 land parcels, consistent with the area’s ethnic and geographical diversity. Our solid relationship with the mayor, coupled with his conviction of the importance of inter-institutional linkages for the successful implementation of land policies, has resulted in a coordinated strategy for formalization and restitution processes at the local level. Furthermore, we advanced toward the implementation of our massive formalization pilot in Ovejas (Sucre) by organizing active interactions between key entities involved and convening technical discussions for the integration of this activity with the government’s multipurpose cadaster initiative. Alongside these efforts, we continued strengthening our relationship with and assistance to the National Land Agency so that it can manage the very complex challenges ahead in terms of meeting the government’s land formalization goals.
This quarter, we initiated one of the program’s largest activities aimed at facilitating the implementation of Colombia’s rural reform and multipurpose cadaster: the digitalization of property registration files housed by the Superintendence of Notary and Registry (SNR). Over one million files from 17 public registry offices will be digitalized, providing electronic access to property registry information for 20% of the country’s territory. Although this activity has faced major setbacks due to the sensitivity of the information and strict custody protocols, it is poised to have an enormous impact on the efficiency of Colombia’s land registry and to considerably decrease the illegal manipulation of property files, a major factor fueling land tenure insecurity, land inequality, and conflict.
As part of LRDP’s public-private partnership (PPP) strategy, which integrates land and rural interventions at the regional level, a new beekeeping school was established in Cesar. In November, 83 beekeepers graduated from the school, equipped with improved capacity and technical tools to generate sustainable livelihoods for their families. This is just the beginning of a promising project that will mobilize national and regional resources to benefit ethnic and campesino communities in the area. Likewise, in Montes de María, 123 cacao producers and representatives from public and mixed institutions participated in trainings conducted by Fedecacao and the National Company of Chocolates as part of the commitments made through the regional cacao PPP that seeks to improve productivity and product quality of the crop. LRDP is working closely with the Rural Development Agency to facilitate its involvement in prioritized PPPs, maximizing the impact of our support and engaging this new entity at the regional and local levels through tangible investments.
INTEGRATED APPROACH TO LAND AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
This quarter, we consolidated our efforts to integrate the program’s four thematic components and proposed concrete examples for strengthening such an integrated approach in years 4 and 5, as discussed during the Strategic Review Session held in Villavicencio (Meta).3 With PPPs as a cross-cutting activity to enhance the livelihoods of restituted families and promote land formalization to improve the delivery of rural public goods, we are working to guide the GOC at the national and regional levels toward this approach in order to ensure the sustainability of rural development interventions.