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Empowering Community Leaders in Colombia to Overcome Land Conflicts

Competition over land is both a direct and underlying cause of conflict in Colombia, South America. Inequitable land distribution, conflicting land use priorities and complex land tenure processes have led to forced displacement and armed conflict in many areas of the country. Indigenous populations, for whom land is central to community life, dignity and livelihood are impacted by these conflicts and:

  • illegal timber extraction
  • coca cultivation
  • settlement

Communities Impacted by Land Conflicts

In Urabá, Colombia the indigenous Emberá community has struggled to maintain control of its collective territory as non-indigenous peasant families settle into the area and engage in illegal timber extraction and coca cultivation. These activities:

  • increase security risks
  • damage the environment
  • weaken the community’s connection with their land

Caquetá is home to both the indigenous Paez community and non-indigenous peasants. These two groups coexist peacefully in some areas, but Caquetá’s fragile ecosystem is under threat from overconsumption of water and timber and intensive hunting and harvesting. The communities are not organized and have little control over land use patterns.

The Awá and Cofan communities in the Putumayo region are at odds because they both claim the same culturally significant territory. State records are unclear about territory demarcations, and both groups want to sustainably manage the area to preserve the environment while ensuring food security for their people.

What is WWF Doing to Help?

WWF focuses on tackling fundamental causes of conflict such as control of land and access to natural resources, while enabling the indigenous groups to assert their rights. Mediation of specific disputes with extensive capacity building and advocacy is also essential in addressing the conflicts.

WWF has partnered with the local indigenous governance organizations and supported trainings, expert assistance and other activities to build capacity for land management and self-governance. As a result, the indigenous partners have learned:

  • conflict transformation techniques
  • communications skills
  • perspective on how to approach state authorities and assert their rights
  • technical know-how including governance, mapping and land policy

Success for the People of Colombia

More than 250 indigenous leaders and small farmers received training in the transformation of conflicts,organizational management, communications, leadership and territorial control. Other results include:

  • 3,000 community members benefited from the leaders’ assistance
  • 70,000 acres are under review by the parties to the conflicts to clarify ownership and achieve reconciliation