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Deforestation & Conservation




Sounds of PutumayoÁngela Jiménez

The 2018 declaration of the Colombian Amazon as a subject of legal rights (STC 4360) brought hope for a better future for forest conservation throughout the region. Governmental authorities were ordered to create plans to eliminate deforestation, but the timelines established by the court and the limited budgets and technical support provided to municipal and regional authorities have been largely unrealistic. Furthermore, indigenous peoples and rural communities argue that their voices, visions, and ancestral know-how need to be incorporated into the implementation of the court orders in good faith as well as in all territorial ordinance and conservation plans developed for the region. There is a decades-long history of international aid programs and government-sponsored projects being imposed upon the Amazon and its inhabitants rather than the prioritization of local communities as protagonists of their realities. Differential regional needs and nuances that would support agro-ecologically appropriate transitions to sustainable economies have often been ignored, including 

Amazonian saberes (wisdom and know-how). As a reaction to these structural failures and a history of unkept state promises, many social organizations and rural families are working to transform their relationships with the territory to build more sustainable presents and futures.


In this section, we highlight only a few examples from the department of Putumayo of the many community proposals and citizen-based initiatives that are dedicated to reducing deforestation, promoting conservation, and fomenting "buen vivir" (living well) in the Colombian Amazon.

Amazonian futures and life processesÁngela Jiménez
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Iván Melo, Jorge Luis Guzmán, and Kristina Lyons share their visions for better Amazonian futures. Kristina calls for structural change and wishes for the State to learn how to listen. Jorge Luis shares how he finds meaning in caring for forests. He also reflects on the impossibility of doing nothing, and finds hope in a new generation, reimagined relationships, and more capacious social contracts.









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Alianza de Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida (Alliance of Women Weavers of Life)

Alianza de Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida or Alliance of Women Weavers of Life is a women’s alliance founded in the department of Putumayo in 2005 based on the conviction that women have a unique ability to restore the peaceful social fabric that existed prior to the presence of armed conflict in the territory. Today, Tejedoras is an umbrella organization that unites women from a variety of organizations across Putumayo.


One of their many initiatives, Las Guardianas del Agua or Guardians of Water, is an alliance that empowers female leaders to advocate for environmental justice. After a massive debris flow in 2016 that destroyed much of Mocoa, the capital city of Putumayo, the Guardianas began to organize community workshops on climate change in relation to floods and landslides. Recognizing that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental activist, the Tejedoras engage in advocacy work for the protection of environmental and social leaders. They understand the construction of peace to be inextricably connected to environmental struggles. The Tejedoras also raise awareness about violence against women's bodies, femicide, and violence against the territory.

Images of Tejedoras de Vida organizing against femicide and in defense of women's rights; training in rural sustainable tourism; and organizing a tribute for Gloria Ocampo, a social leader assassinated in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo in January 2020.

The Guardianas recognize that they are confronting a deep-rooted culture of extractivism and a regional economy that centers around illicit coca production. When we spoke with Juliana Rincón, the granddaughter of the alliance’s founder, Fátima Muriel, she highlighted ideas for supporting more sustainable economic activities in Putumayo, including scientific tourism and bird watching, wellness tourism, and the promotion of legal uses of coca leaves for medicinal and food purposes.


Fundación ItarKa 


Fundación ItarKa is a family-based nonprofit in the municipality of Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo. The foundation was created in 2017 based on the legacy of Sinaí Rocha and Jorge Julio Guzmán, the founders of Puerto Guzmán who settled in the area in 1958. Sinaí and Jorge Julio were local leaders who organized and funded many infrastructural initiatives, including the construction of a school, hospital, health clinic, major road, electrical plant, and recreational center, which facilitated the creation of the Inspection of Puerto Guzmán on May 1, 1975. Despite their positive social impact, Sinaí and Jorge Julio, like many other colonos arriving in the Amazon from the Andean regions of the country, deforested land for cattle-ranching and agriculture, unaware of the unique forest vocation of the soils of the Amazon. 

Today, led by the current generation of the Guzmán Rocha family, ItarKa strives to remedy this deforestation through the rehabilitation of 18 hectares of their farm, La Sinita, where they practice silviculture "a lo Amazónico" (the Amazonian way) by working with native species, such as Achapo, Arenillo, Gomo, Marfil, and Granadillo, for sustainable timber production. Importantly, this reforestation is achieved by working with the selva, whose regenerative ability is emphasized and respected by the Foundation. For example, Jorge Luis Guzmán, Sinaí and Jorge Julio's son, shared with us that in areas that were deforested to create feed for cattle, the selva has been able to self-regenerate without the need for technological intervention. This is in contrast to land that was used for cattle grazing, where the soil is much more compacted and degraded and where more intensive human cultivation practices have been necessary to aid the regrowth of forest. 


ItarKa continues to work to improve the quality of life in Puerto Guzmán by promoting silviculture and reforestation, environmental education, and sustainable peri-urban planning. Current initiatives include: a scholarship for local students to learn audiovisual environmental tools; collaborative research projects on the history and the formation of Puerto Guzmán with the Urban Development Department at Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá; a project to support community-based territorial ordinance of a watershed in Puerto Guzmán with the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania; and financial support for the Alternativa Mutumbajoy