BioResilience in the Public Hearing about Socio-Environmental Conflicts in Serrania de las Quinchas at the Senate of Colombia

Mónica Amador-Jiménez & Julieth Serrano

 

BioResilience scientists are committed to contributing to the conservation of Colombian Andean ecosystems through inclusive environmental governance and rigorous interdisciplinary science. Mónica Amador-Jiménez and Julieth Serrano represented the BioResilience project during a session at Comision V of the Colombian Senate -the most important commission at the Colombian Senate discussing about land distribution, agrarian and environmental issues- chaired by the Colombian Senator Jorge Eduardo Londoño (Green Alliance Party) on April 16, 2021. They highlighted the ecological value of the natural resources at Las Quinchas, and the socio-ecological context that should be considered when debating conservation actions in this area (see video below).

At the Colombian Senate, Commission V is in charge of debating environmental issues in the country. The recent session on The Serrania de las Quinchas was a public hearing focussed on its importance as key for the mitigation of climate change and as a biodiversity hotspot in the Magdalena Valley. The interdisciplinary team of BioResilience was invited as speakers, together with Colombian Senators and authorities involved in environmental governance.

Public hearings at Comision V are of high relevance in Colombia allowing multiple actors, from diverse fields, to share their views and knowledge on crucial issues related to public policies, in this case related to conservation, the mitigation of climate change and the wellbeing of nature and  local communities. During the hearing on April 16, 2021 local actors and environmental authorities exposed as a central issue the environmental and social impacts generated by the oil companies Ocensa (Central pipeline) and Mansarovar (oil extraction). Peasants reported that the environmental authorities have not taken care or acted to prevent the damage done by the oil companies. The Environmental Attorney pronounced to advance processes and to the authorities to notify the oil companies.  

 

 

The Serrania de las Quinchas is the largest remaining area of the lowland rainforest biome in the inter-andean valleys of Colombia. It is located in Magdalena Valley which hosts a high number of endemic species of fauna and flora. This includes 276 endemic vascular plant species (Bernal et al., 2016), 7 endemic bird species (Proves, 2017), and 14 endemic amphibians (Ovalle-Pacheco et al., 2019). Forests in the Magdalena Valley and Las Quinchas have also been historically connected to other areas of rainforest in Colombia like the Chocó and Catatumbo (Serrano et al., 2021). This means that degradation in Las Quinchas could also impact other areas of forest in the country and emphasizes the urgency of preventing further biodiversity loss. 

Due to the ecological importance of Las Quinchas, part of its territory was declared by the Colombian government as a Regional Natural Park in 2008. However, so far, the application of conservation policies has generated more uncertainties than solutions and new forms of dispossession are pushing peasants out of the park, excluded from policy decisions and passively displaced since there are no livelihood alternatives, clarity on the titling of lands within the park and also on the permitted uses in this new area of environmental conservation. 

Environmental problems in the Serrania de las Quinchas go up to when the Texaco oil enclave was formed in the 1940s, followed by the takeover of this territory by illegal paramilitary groups that exacerbated environmental degradation through illicit drug economies trafficking, logging and the expansion of pastures for livestock (Amador-Jiménez, et al., 2020; 2021). However, although these events are sequential in time, none have been resolved, and all continue affecting the Quinchas simultaneously in the present. 

The case of the Serrania de las Quinchas is significant in Colombia, and Latin America concerning socio-environmental conflicts since what is at stake is the political decision between promoting extractivist or environmental conservation and how to do it in times of climate change. However, in the audience, what was evidenced is the importance of rebuilding credibility and dialogue between environmental authorities and the communities of Las Quinchas, since the way to develop inclusive environmental governance is trust and mutual credibility based on concrete activities and joint decision-making.

The BioResilience researchers are committed to communicating the science we produce and establishing a dialogue with communities and environmental institutions operating in our research sites. We expect that our studies could contribute to influencing rigorous policy decisions for the conservation of the forest and the improvements in the quality of life of the forest communities. Our research group will continue to accompany these meetings and participate in planning and decision-making activities on environmental governance in the Serrania de las Quinchas as a transdisciplinary perspective fundamental for resolving the socio-environmental conflicts that unfold from the territory.