This year, Rare will partner for the second time with Corporación Autonoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC) in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca. In December 2016, Rare signed a 2.5-year contract with the regional environmental authority, enabling Valle del Cauca’s communities in 14 watersheds to protect, restore and sustainably manage watersheds, as well as transform land use and agricultural practices that affect the local water supply.
Since 2010, Rare and CVC have worked together to promote sustainable use and management of Valle del Cauca’s natural resources. In the first year of their partnership, Rare worked with CVC and 10 other organizations across Latin America to empower local watershed conservation. With help from Rare, CVC staff saw their messaging on natural resource management resonate at the local level, and CVC leadership later approached the organization with an offer to partner at a larger scale. Their first collaborative conservation program was born: In late 2013, Rare trained seven CVC staff members to run Pride campaigns for watershed conservation throughout Valle del Cauca, centered around the watersheds of Panse, Sonso, La Paila, La Guinea-El Tanque, El Jordan-El Rincón, Bitaco and Frayle.
From 2017 to 2019, Rare and CVC will again collaborate in seven new areas of Valle del Cauca, in addition to following up with their first seven sites. Each area provides critical watershed function for millions of Colombians and essential habitat for threatened and endangered species. Now, however, to better serve local partners like CVC, Rare — and all conservationists currently working in Colombia — will need to adapt to the country’s changing, post-conflict landscape.
Navigating Conservation and Sustainability in Post-Conflict Colombia
More than 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia came to an end in November of 2016, when the country’s congress passed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As highlighted by World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, the conflict’s toll on the Colombian population has been massive: “Up to eight million people have been directly affected by the conflict and more than five million are internally displaced,” wrote Kim. “These victims are among Colombia’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens…they lack access to dignified housing, quality education, and economic opportunities. Colombia faces enormous challenges to compensate and reintegrate this population.”
Regions with vast rural areas beset by unsustainable land use practices — Valle del Cauca included — are closely associated with the conflict. The Inter- American Development Bank found that 88 percent of municipalities with the highest level of conflict are rural areas, and 58 percent of deforestation took place in municipalities with the highest conflict levels. Recognizing the opportunity for stability and peace in post-conflict Colombia, the nation is prioritizing sustainability and climate resilience in its development agenda. Rare aims to help communities in regions like Valle del Cauca thrive after conflict, using a unique skill set that combines participative and community-powered conservation, behavioral science, and proven solutions for sustainability.
A New Partnership in a New Colombia: Adapting in Valle del Cauca
Valle del Cauca is an expansive and extremely biodiverse region in southwestern Colombia, home to a network of watersheds that supply water for 35 million rural and urban people. The region’s mountains, forests and rivers are interconnected in the provision of clean, reliable water. Valle del Cauca’s montane cloud forests and páramo vegetation regulate and filter water that flows downstream to communities — wipe out those ecosystems in the mountains, and the rivers in the valley below will suffer.
In February 2016, seven Rare Fellows from CVC completed two-year Pride campaigns for watershed conservation in Valle del Cauca. In those two years, the Fellows increased knowledge, discussion and passion among communities around sustainable watershed use.
They found that community trust with CVC had grown over the course of their campaigns — a difficult feat for local government bodies to accomplish in rural Colombia. The Pride campaigns also achieved promising numbers in reach and conservation adoption. In total, the campaigns directly reached 43,153 local residents and created agreements that have thus far protected 2,495 acres and 46.38 linear kilometers of protective streamside forest areas for conservation and/or restoration.
In Colombia, Rare’s goal is to make local people so proud of their biodiversity, they participate in conservation on their own initiative.Itala Yepez Zabala, Rare’s Watersheds Program Director
Rare will build on its earlier work with CVC with the post-conflict national development strategy in mind. Rare and CVC will work to further the community participation and trust-building developed in their first seven campaigns. In addition to the seven new campaigns, Rare will follow up with its CVC alumni to help them scale their original work and ensure that they continue to strengthen their relationships with communities.
This year, Rare will also add to the sustainable solutions it promotes in the region by honing in on key local revenue streams in each community — the sectors on which local people already heavily rely, like coffee, cattle and chocolate — and teaching local people methods to make those practices more sustainable. Rare will revisit its roots in behavior change and delve into the study and application of behavioral science to inspire local people to adopt more sustainable behaviors. In Valle del Cauca, Rare and CVC will sharpen their messaging to better communicate the consequences of destructive land use with concepts close to the hearts of the valley’s communities — talking about nature in terms of its value to families, livelihoods, and the welfare of future generations. “In Colombia, Rare’s goal is to make local people so proud of their biodiversity, they participate in conservation on their own initiative,” says Itala Yepez Zabala, Rare’s Watersheds Program Director.
As Rare and CVC work with communities to bring sustainability to their watersheds, Rare will also explore their potential to build social capacity for climate resilience. Rare and CVC’s wider aim in adapting their conservation work is long-term impact — finding ways to help Colombian people secure their livelihoods while safeguarding the longevity of their natural resources at a time when the future is the country’s most pressing puzzle to be solved.