Local communities are key forest stakeholders, and their involvement in decision-making and sustainable management generates positive outcomes for livelihoods, rural development and forest conservation. In Colombia, approximately one million people depend on forests, among them Afro-Colombian communities in the Pacific/Chocó natural region, indigenous peoples in the Amazon and other numerous local communities and farmers. These groups regularly use forest products (timber, fuelwood, bush foods and medicinal plants) partly for subsistence purposes and partly for income generation. To protect their forests for people and climate, Colombia is now taking rapid steps towards connecting community forestry activities with wider climate and forestry strategies.
Participatory community monitoring in Colombia is driven by the local need for information on the state of natural resources. This approach allows local communities that depend on forests and other natural resources, to come up and implement their management and ethno-development plans in an effective and timely manner.
In 2017, to put theory into practice, a workshop to begin mapping forest monitoring initiatives was held by Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM in its Spanish acronym), with the support of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under the UN-REDD Programme and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Colombia . A proposal was also put together that included guidelines for participatory community monitoring in Colombia and its articulation within the country’s National Forest Monitoring System. Twenty-five community initiatives, several ONGs and other cooperation agencies participated in this kick-off activity. A community monitoring working group was formalized and now gathers annually to evaluate progress and strengthen the link between institutions and communities. These meetings represent an important component of the first Joint Declaration of Intent that Colombia signed with the governments of Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
To facilitate collaboration and to strengthen technical capacities further, communities across the country have created networks to exchange experiences and share information on the latest developments in the area of the land-use and land-cover monitoring. In 2019, several communities were trained to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for forest monitoring and management. Led by IDEAM and other groups, these training sessions have been replicated in communities by community delegates.
The members of the group also had the unique opportunity to share knowledge and lessons learned at a South-South knowledge exchange "Participatory Community Monitoring and its articulation within National Forest Monitoring Systems," organised together with Ecuador, Panama and Peru. During the exchange, participants discussed the progress of linking local and national monitoring in their countries and emphasized the importance of having agreements on the use and validation of the data generated by communities. The need to safeguard sensitive information related to sacred sites was also discussed.
Currently, the working group continues to be supported by various partners such as WWF Colombia, Fundación Natura, Fondo Acción, Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Amazonía (FCDS), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and FAO, under the framework of the UN-REDD Programme.
2020 has already proven to be a particularly successful year, with more people joining the initiatives than ever. Youth and women are also actively engaging in activities. Their participation and engagement in discussions have dramatically increased, as they feel increasingly empowered to fight for their voices to be heard when it comes to protecting and preserving the biodiversity of Colombia’s forests. They continue to demand and ensure that their unique knowledge and skills are taken into consideration, and that their crucial role is recognized by decision-makers.
Achieving these results involved many challenges. The roadmap to reaching effective participation was long and complex. Currently, the communities are well-prepared to share their knowledge further and to participate as speakers in various national and international meetings and conferences. They are aware that constructive dialogue on the role of communities in the protection, sustainable use and management of natural resources is crucial for attracting investments from the government and other organizations.
One of the most important lessons learned from this process has been the value of quality dialogue between the communities and technicians from diverse institutions. As Everildys Córdoba, the Coordinator of the Chocó-Darién project, says: it is necessary to "make the technical a community and the community technical," so that communication channels are consolidated and real results are achieved.