Efforts to Promote Environmental Governance in Serranía de las Quinchas

Camilo Altamar Giraldo, Master Student Universidad de Manizales and Mónica Amador, University of Bristol  (Translation and comments: Juan Riaño and Naomi Millner)

Environmental governance is a central element of socio-ecological resilience, so its study is essential to understand the dynamics that are used in the territories, especially in those ecosystems where the biophysical component is extremely important and is attended by anthropogenic difficulties such as armed conflict and deforestation of forests.

In 1959, the Colombian government issued Law 02, which declared the Caráre Region (comprising the Serranía de las Quinchas) a forest reserved zone destined to soil protection and forest economy stimuli. In 1997, the Ministry of Environment when even further and requested Corpoboyacá to delimit and declare the Serranía de las Quinchas a Protective Forest Reserve. In 1999 the local government issued Agreement 017, which declared the Quinchas ecosystem as Ecological Heritage. And finally, in 2008, Agreement 028 outlined and enclosed 21,228 hectares as a Regional Natural Park.

The Serranía de las Quinchas Natural Regional Park (PNRSQ), located in a hilly area in the middle of Colombia, was declared a protected area under the administration of Corpoboyacá, a decentralized autonomous institution, who is in control and administration of regional natural resources for the Department of Boyacá in Colombia. From this point onward, this institution has been able to use legal instruments such as Agreement 028 to issue a series of regulations that limit people’s rights to access resources within the Serranía de las Quinchas (refer to the triangle of environmental legislation in the Serranía de las Quinchas), in order to fulfil conservation outcomes for a territory highly valued for contributing to Colombia’s biodiversity and the protection of the humid tropical forest of the low lands of the Andes.

The declaration of the Regional Natural Park Serrania de las Quinchas in 2008 and the restrictions on access to resources and zoning have complicated the exercise of the park’s inhabitant’s rights, especially vulnerable communities of settler peasants without land titles and long histories of armed conflict survival. The preliminary qualitative analysis of our BioResilience research of the Andean forests in the Serranía de las Quinchas has revealed that environmental governance is highly precarious. By governance, we mean the set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations that lead to environmental actions and results; interventions that produce a change in nature-related incentives, knowledge, institutions, decision-making, and behaviours (Lemos & Agrawal, 2006). In order to meet positive conservation outcomes and stimulate the resilient capacity of these forests, it is necessary to create spaces for dialogue and joint construction with the communities that have inhabited and build life projects in the Quinchas mountains. Fostering these spaces is necessary in order to implement changes in land use, execute proper zoning that protects biodiversity, and secure the implementation of the programs, plans and projects that allow the environmentally sustainable subsistence of peasants and the adequate application of the regulatory policy and legal framework.

Taking into account the complexity and heterogeneity of the Colombian territories, the legal framework has established that decentralized autonomous institutions such as Corpoboyacá, design, develop and implement Environmental Management Plans. These plans serve as inter-institutional agreements that set the basis for formulating and implementing social and ecological outcomes for local communities and the environmental. However, in practice environmental governance is practically non-existent; decisions are made from the top down without taking into account the opinions of the communities.

In the case of the Serranía de las Quinchas, two Environmental Management Plans have been designed and created by Corpoboyacá. The first one was created in 2005 by an external consultancy company which drafted a Plan that included the design of various programs to be carried out between public institutions and the communities. However, despite these efforts, the document and the projects were never implemented, due to what the community has claimed because of lack of information, actions and economic resources on the part of the government’s environmental institutions, as well as municipal and institutional officials declared that the lack of commitment and sense of belonging of the communities (BioResilience workshop in Puerto Pinzón-Boyacá,  July 2019).

The Environmental Management Plan for the Regional Park was formulated in 2015. This document became legally binding and into effect thanks to a 2016 local decree, making the Plan the most important instrument for local development planning, guiding the park’s management. The 2015 Plan outlines information, rights and prohibitions by all the stakeholders (actors and entities in the territory) to accomplish environmental conservation of biodiversity and forest expansion as central objectives in the declaration of Regional Natural Park. Thus, each of the components of this document is of interest to the actors who converge in the Serranía de las Quinchas, generating a system of agreements and projections between them. The Plan’s structure is framed in three components of (i) socio-environmental diagnosis (ii) zoning-limits and (iii) strategic and socio-economic programs.

During our fieldwork, the BioResilience researchers noticed the communities living in las Quinchas had deep knowledge gaps about the Plan and how the Serranía is governed by different social, economic and environmental factors. In order to increase communities’ participation in environmental governance and socio-ecological resilience, we engaged in capacity building efforts to train different community and institutional actors in the content and scope of the Plan. The BioResilience project, however, from a critical and proactive perspective, has developed capacity building training with communities as an opportunity to develop capacities and recognize local knowledge about the Serranía de las Quinchas, and in turn, analysing the limitations and opportunities of the document. The researchers of the project have emphasized that the first step to increasing environmental governance in the Quinchas and the protection of the forest and its biodiversity is establishing the Administrative Committee of the Regional Natural Park with the active participation of communities’ delegates within the park and its area of direct influence.

Indeed, when reviewing more than 1,000 pages of the plan, it is noted that it regulates the fundamental rights of communities, non-governmental organizations, companies, territorial entities, corporations and nature (according to the position that the Colombian Constitutional Court has proposed based on the doctrine of the Ecological State); It also contains information on biophysical diagnosis, social characterization, zoning and the design of projects that will generate sustainable development in the region. In this sense, to achieve a general understanding of this agreement, it is necessary to synthesize and disclose it for public discussion, so BioResiliencia has synthesized the Plan and didactically prepared a summarized booklet accessible to communities and officials, in addition to hosting four capacity building training sessions between October and November 2019 among the communities that belong to the Regional Natural Park, with the assistance of more than 50 delegates from rural communities, community action boards and community organizations. In this post we want to share with the public in general and interested in the Plan of the Serranía de las Quinchas the Primer that synthesizes this park administration instrument, and we invite you to comment on it and discuss its contents and the strategies for its implementation, we hope to continue with the community training in our purpose of increasing environmental governance and inter-institutional dialogue for the conservation of the forests and biodiversity of the Serranía de las Quinchas, as well as for the permanence of its inhabitants as a basis to contribute to the socio-ecological resilience of this ecosystem.

References

Lemos, M. C. y A. Agrawal (2006) “Environmental Governance”, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 31: 297-325