On a mission to formalize private property and strengthen land tenure security in conflict-affected areas in Colombia, the National Land Agency and USAID partner to deliver integrated rural development and land governance solutions.
When Derly Jomar and her husband bought 1.5 hectares from her father-in-law in Calarma, they made the uncommon decision to travel to a notary two hours down the mountain in Chaparral, Tolima, to make the purchase official. Most people in this isolated corner of Colombia tend to make business deals with a firm handshake, a person’s word, and perhaps a scribbled contract on a spare piece of paper. Five out of every ten land parcels in Calarma are informally owned.
This decision to notarize their purchase agreement, although laudable, still represented just part of the formalization process. Completing the process requires additional steps before government land-entities. However, as Derly explains, “We couldn’t afford to completely formalize our property with the nation because it’s very expensive. But we needed proof of purchase in case my father-in-law dies. We don’t know if all of his children are going to respect our purchase.”
Once the papers were notarized, Derly and her husband embarked on their plan. They used the notarized papers to take out small loans from the bank, building equity and credit. In 2015, she took out a loan for US$2,400 (6 million pesos) to buy an oven and set up the first official bakery in her village.
Jomar’s story is now an example for her neighbors, small-scale coffee farmers, of what can be achieved when property moves along the spectrum from informal to formal ownership.
The Colombian Institute for Rural Development, USAID and now the National Land Agency have been working to secure land rights in this coffee-producing district since 2014. USAID, through its rural development programs, first went to Calarma to introduce the idea of formalization to campesinos who never had considered it a priority or had the opportunity to learn about it.
“It was difficult because very few people knew anything about formalization, and there was little interest,” says Juan Carlos Padilla, a land formalization expert from the National Land Agency. “But that is the advantage of doing it this way—the contact with the users. It’s more than land governance, it is social work.”
The government has had little presence in this mountainous area of the country ever since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, emerged in Southern Tolima in the mid-sixties. Some say these leftist rebels brought order to what was an otherwise chaotic time in Colombia’s rural areas, where families and neighbors were pitted against each other by virtue of political preference. But FARC control also meant that government services and investments were kept out of the region for decades.
LAND AND DEVELOPMENT: AN INTEGRATED APPROACH
USAID and the National Land Agency have been helping campesinos fulfill the necessary steps to formalize their private property—including land formalization requests, technical studies, judicial or notary approvals, and title registration.
As a result of this initiative, the National Land Agency expects to deliver registered property titles to 300 families in Chaparral in April 2017. This joint effort between the Colombian government and USAID has brought two important observations to light: Colombia’s rural poor lack the resources to formalize their land without subsidies and support from government actors, and the absence of government services exacerbate Colombia’s weak land regulatory framework.
Formalizing property connects farmers with their land and provides incentives to make investments. To reinforce these investments, USAID is facilitating public-private partnerships in strategic value chains, increasing farmer productivity and incomes. As part of its integrated approach in Chaparral, USAID is connecting over 200 formalization beneficiaries to a coffee partnership that will link them to new technology and inputs and to sell more coffee (see side story).
“First and foremost, owning a formalized property creates an attachment to the land. A valid property title also allows individuals to access government programs and subsidies that serve their families and farms. Finally, the property serves as an asset for accessing financial services, like loans,” says Luis Ernest Váquiro, general manager of CAFISUR.
A CHANGE IN FOCUS
The Colombian government has made land formalization a priority, with a lofty goal of formalizing and registering 35,000 land parcels over the next two years. To do this, having strong regional-level land entities is critical.
In addition to small campaigns in places like Chaparral, USAID is working with the government on a methodology for formalizing land on a massive scale at a substantially reduced cost to rural landholders. USAID and the National Land Agency are launching a massive land formalization pilot in the municipality of Ovejas, located in the department of Sucre, and the pilot’s results will shape the strategy to roll out massive land formalization throughout the country, with leadership from local authorities.
“The only way for land formalization to be sustainable and lasting is for local authorities to become the principal actor in the process. The National Land Agency aims to provide more capacity building, structuring, and policies tailored to the realities of each department,” explains Catalina Ceballos, director of land security at the agency.