Protection of Páramos
DELIMITATION AND ITS CONTROVERSIES
Community voices and proposals in conservation processes
Social justice activism has long been a part of the history of the páramos. Prominent social justice leaders, like Juan de la Cruz Valera of Sumapaz, and agrarian reform movements were shaped by these ecosystems. ANUC (Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos), one of the older campesino associations in the country, also had deep ties to these areas in the 1960-1990s when they aimed to redistribute haciendas from large landholders. This agrarian-based organizing tradition revived with the onset of the government delimitation process beginning in 2011.
After the first delimitation law (Ley 1450 of 2011) was passed banning all economic activity in the areas declared páramos in the name of conservation, campesino communities mobilized against the universally prohibitive measures. In widespread protests and legal action through tutelas, paramuno communities
called for a more participatory delimitation process and more informed conservation policies and environmental regulation. The government was legally obliged to listen to community grievances, agreeing to rethink the delimitation process and implement a more inclusive framework.
Protests both in favor and against delimitation of the páramos as conservation agendas and community livelihoods seem to clash.
The Constitutional Court established a seven-stage participatory process that gave voice to numerous rural groups in the new proposal to delimit and determine how to conserve and protect the páramos. As a result, Ley 1930 of 2018 revised the original delimitation plan, lifting the universal prohibition of economic activity, replacing it with new guidelines on protecting the integrity of these ecosystems. While Ley 1450 limited all agricultural activities in the páramos, this new law allows for “low-intensity agriculture,” which remains an ill-defined legal concept. Law 1930 also lacks guidelines on who determines degrees of intensity and distinct metrics of measurement. Today, community activists push for greater specificity. They also argue that it is still unclear how delimitation will occur, what it will entail, and the unintended consequences it may have over present and future rights to land and water.
Here we share a few of the citizen-led initiatives
and proposals of paramuno communities:
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Listen to a conversation with Carlos Alberto Morales, member of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Sumapaz (SINTRAPAZ).
Carlos reminds us that rural communities are not the only ones responsible for caring for the páramos. He argues that urban residents in Bogotá also need to participate in conserving their source water supplies.
He blames the Green Revolution for imposing unsustainable agricultural practices on campesino communities who know how to cultivate in agro-ecologically appropriate ways.
Carlos mentions citizen-led initiatives that prohibit slash and burn techniques as well as hunting in páramo areas. These are part of a series of strategies to recover agroecological practices. He reminds us that campesinos would not exist without the páramo nor would the páramo exist without campesino communities.
One example of such community stewardship is a recent fire that campesinos put out in Sumapaz before the fire fighters even got to the area. This is a product of the community's historical relationship with and care for the territory.
Carlos poignantly asks: Who knows the páramos better than the campesinos? Even the state consults the community in terms of planning and infrastructural development because campesinos understand the territory better than anyone else.
Parámo Citizens' Agenda
Paramuno community proposals revolve around shared governance and active community participation in political and ecological management of the páramos. In terms of agriculture, campesinos seek the gradual replacement of agrochemicals and tangible support for the recovery of agro-biodiversity in order to sustain food systems for not only the paramuna communities, but for all of Colombia. Citizens of the páramos also value education, both locally and nationally. They desire an integration of their local knowledges into national curriculum, aiming to boost overall awareness of the vital importance of these ecosystems. Likewise, they ask that the government provide them with training in sustainable agricultural practices. Some campesinos have called for the creation of a rural university in which education relevant to the ecosystems and social dynamics in rural areas is taught, including ways to adapt to climate change in the páramos. They also have ideas for ecotourism projects and the creation of ecoveredas.
Further details about the proposals:
The inhabitants of the páramos of Chingaza, Sumapaz, Guerrero, Cruz Verde, and Cerros Orientales have written and formalized a citizens’ agenda that delineates their premises and values concerning political reforms and the care of the páramos.
Their proposals rely on the acceptance of the following broad premises:
The ecological function of the páramos takes precedence over economic productivity of the land. However, the recognition of this principle cannot be to the detriment of the well-being and dignified life of páramo residents.
Gender equity is important to conservation: Women, in particular, contribute to agrobiodiversity through cultivating plots of land with different crops for family consumption, using and caring for medicinal plants, and conserving native seeds.
Nature is a relevant actor in the concept of territory, and therefore must be consulted in decision-making processes. Moreover, nature is deserving of rights, and must be treated with solidarity, reciprocity, respect, and recognition.
For further information on páramo-based community proposals, please consult these short books published from two projects: Proyecto Páramos y Sistemas de Vida (Páramo Project and Life Systems) organized by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute of Research on Biological Resources (2015) and Comunidades de los Páramos (Communities of the Páramos) supported by Tropenbos International Colombia and the Universidad Central (Bogotá 2015). Topics of the books include local knowledges of native plants, histories of deforestation, personal narratives of the residents of the páramo of Chingaza, and diverse educational experiences based on the traditional and popular knowledges of páramo peoples.
Páramo residents seek the implementation of alternative agricultural practices. Limited agrobiodiversity has led to widespread food insecurity and is a product of unsustainable economic activities.
Paramunos’ multi-pronged proposal includes:
Gradual replacement of agrochemicals: Local communities aim to phase out the use of harmful chemicals, such as nitrates and phosphates, which are typically implemented in potato and onion farming. They understand the importance of protecting both the health of residents and the health of the páramos. In place of these synthetic chemicals, they seek to use cleaner, less risky, and less expensive alternatives.
Protection of native seeds: Residents understand native seeds to be essential in maintaining the food security and autonomy of rural and urban communities. They desire support for further research on the reproduction and adaptation of native seeds. They also highlight that it is important for these seeds to remain healthy enough to meet international trade standards.
Recovery of agrobiodiversity: Paramuno communities argue that there must be a national commitment to the diversification of food systems. Crop diversification will restore the topsoil in the páramos. Moreover, the recovery of agrobiodiversity is an aspect of connecting producers to a healthier food web.
Páramo residents argue that these initiatives should be carried out without harming their wellbeing and livelihoods. These proposals intend to meet the basic needs of paramuna peoples, and they highlight the importance of mitigating the cost of conservation to local families. Paramuno communities argue that the state should be responsible for assisting them to avoid displacement and to guarantee the continuation of food production while enabling better local adaptation to climate change.
Páramo residents seek deeper involvement in all decision regarding their territories and lands. Co-responsibility in environmental, territorial, economic, and cultural governance of the páramos are among their highest priorities. With government support, they seek to boost the power and participation of local organizations and institutions. Community members and leaders should have an equal role in the monitoring and management of current environmental projects. Moreover, citizens of the páramos should have an official channel for participation in the Territorial Planning Councils (Consejos Territoriales de Planeación) as civil society representatives that form part of the integral development planning of all territorial entities and state actors.
Citizens must be informed of their rights. Communities remind the government that it must provide people with quality and timely information on the different projects, policies, and decisions that concern páramo
residents. Future proposals for territorial development must include a network of páramos residents who offer input on what areas are best suited for water production, primary forest conservation, and agricultural production. Youth and future generations must also have an essential role in these political processes, as they will soon become community leaders.
Páramo residents contend that all proposed environmental restrictions must come with compensation for local health, housing, educational, agricultural production, and agrotourism sectors.
The citizens that created this formal proposal share their ideal vision of life in the páramos in the short, medium, and long term. They envision the preservation of the páramos, but in a way that economically, socially, and culturally protects the residents of these ecosystems. Education plays a major role in their proposals, as residents desire the integration of local knowledges into national curricula and the integration of environmental values into civic education. An important part of páramo culture is learning from older generations. This intergenerational transmission of knowledge should have equal value to typical classroom learning.
The new educational model envisioned by páramo residents includes not only an appreciation for local knowledges, but also technical training on natural resource management and sustainable agricultural practices. The development of a Rural University could provide education that would be relevant to the social and ecological context of the páramos, providing a focus on agrobiodiversity, agro-ecotourism, landscape restoration, and conservation-related specializations.
In order to promote co-responsibility in the management of páramos, residents propose the creation of a national chair of climate change that would focus on the particular vulnerabilities of the páramos, support local climate adaptations, and foment transitional economic processes.
Campesino Reserves (ZRCs)
Another ongoing social and political struggle in the páramos has been the recognition of Zonas de Reserva Campesina (ZRCs) or in English, Campesino Reserve Zones, since their creation in national legislation in 1994. There are currently 64 organizational processes underway to conform ZRCs in the country, although only six of these are constitutionally recognized thus far, and seven more are undergoing the process of official incorporation. Currently, only two officially constituted ZRCs are located in páramo areas, another is in process of being constituted, and five more community-organized projects to conform ZRCs that border or overlap with páramos exist.
Carlos Alberto Morales, member of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Sumapaz (SINTRAPAZ) explains the general mission of ZRCs; the historical process to conform a campesino reserve in Sumapaz; the stigmatization of these processes when they became attached to the agrarian reform included in the peace accords between the national government and the FARC-EP; and how since 2017, the communities of Sumapaz have not received a response from the government about their petition to constitute a ZRC.
Carlos explains the vision of the communities of Sumapaz for their ZRC. They look to stop the expansion of the agricultural frontier and to achieve recognition of campesino communities that live both in and bordering páramos as guardians and stewards of these ecosystems.
The campesino communities of Sumapaz conceptualize planning not on a large-scale that renders invisible the human presence in and near páramos, but in terms of territorial ordinance from farm-to-farm that supports transitions to agro-ecology, healthier livestock practices, the recovery of seed diversity, solidarity-based economic practices with value added to products by the community, such as a dairy cooperative they founded in Sumapaz; a balance between dignified rural livelihoods and care for bodies of water and forest cover that enables communities to remain in the territory.
ZRCs are a form of land regulation that aims to stabilize rural economies, granting campesinos collective land titles similar to ethnic groups in the country. These zones are important for campesinos in their struggle to achieve equity with other marginalized groups and to protect their ways of life and territories from land concentration and large infrastructural and extractive projects. It is difficult for ZRCs to achieve official recognition by the state due to the stigmatization of campesinos as supporters of former guerrilla organizations who controlled much of the countryside during the armed conflict. Moreover, acceptance of ZRCs would then oblige the government to engage in prior consultation processes with these rural communities before any type of project could take place that would affect them or the environment. In the case of any displacement provoked by development projects, citizens would then receive compensation and be assisted to move to areas that would maintain or improve upon their previous living conditions. ZRCs also entail the development of sustainable development plans or life projects for and by campesinos communities that can foment agroecological practices, improved and diversified livestock models, fair trade, and economic solidarity.
2° Campesino Festival of Páramo Art
On November 7th and 14th 2020, musicians, artists, paramuno community members, academics, and other interested groups came together to celebrate diverse perspectives on art and rural life in the páramos. The performers discussed the intimate relationships that residents of the páramos have with the land through musical lyrics frequently making reference to the unique flora and fauna, such as frailejones and the yellow hummingbirds (colibrí paramuno) that perch on their leaves. Performers also expressed their personal narratives through theater and poetry.
Two songs performed at the festival:
Protection of Páramos
DELIMITATION AND ITS CONTROVERSIES