In Colombia’s municipality of Segovia, in the department of Antioquia, on the eastern edge of the Andes, lies one of the country's great gold reserves, most of which lie under natural forests with great ecosystem richness.
Its people identify as peasants because they were born "in the mountains, where the sun shines, where the eagle nests, where the nightingale sings, where the moon lights the paths and where they take care of the land with the furrow of their hands,” says Madonna Zapata Bolívar, Social Mission Professional, FAO Colombia (FAOCO).
In particular, the community of El Tamar has been dedicated for many years to informal forestry activities, which provide them with their livelihood. Driven by the need to formalize their activity and to access jobs and fair income, they have been working since 2018 with FAO through the UN-REDD Programme and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia (Minambiente), to implement a Community Forestry Model. In this process, one important milestone was strengthening community governance to move towards formalizing their community forestry enterprise, now called Ecoserrania.
They participated in regional South-South exchanges, facilitated by FAO through the alliance of REDD+ and Forest Farm Facility (FFF) teams. These exchanges allowed them to create support networks with their peers in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Panama. Since 2020, this process was continued by WWF Colombia, leveraging the formalization of the Ecoserranía Association and the completion of the forest census. The census was necessary to access the forest harvesting permit, which was finally granted by the regional Environmental Authority (Corantioquia) on in September, 2021.
Seven months later, the Ecoserranía Association achieved its first legal timber sale through hard community work. This included negotiating with the final buyer, receiving an advanced payment to cover the operating costs of harvesting and transporting the timber to its destination, the Timber Harvesting Fee (TAFM), in accordance with the national legislation, and obtaining the Single National Online Permit (SUNL) for the mobilization of the harvested timber.
A total of 14.5 m3 were sold, in accordance with what is allowed by the environmental authority, from the harvest of two trees of a species authorized by the environmental authority.
"The harvesting of low volumes of wood indicates that we are indeed carrying out sustainable forest management, which will be complemented with the planting of new trees of the species harvested, in accordance with our harvesting plan," said Marlon Galeano, legal representative of the Ecoserranía Association. "In addition, and contrary to what we were used to, this low volume of harvesting was compensated by a better price, which was the result of direct management with potential buyers of legal timber."
Throughout this process, in addition to institutional support, the community's commitment and openness to the governance strengthening processes has been key. For Galeano, this first legal timber sale represents a very important step towards his dream of consolidating a community forestry company that is recognized throughout Colombia for being environmentally sustainable and contributing to the country's fight against climate change.
Some of the lessons learned from this process are:
- Institutional accompaniment of community forest producer organizations should generate self-management capacities in these communities. Ecoserranía is an example of this, given that they achieved the first legal timber sale without the intervention of other actors in the negotiations.
- In Colombia, the community forestry management process incorporates local cultural traditions and forms of community subsistence, merging them with scientific knowledge to protect and strengthen social capital.
- The strengthening of social and entrepreneurial capacities has been crucial for Ecoserranía, reinforcing the value of the forest as a source of income, employment and well-being.
With contributions from:
Lucio Andrés Santos Acuña. Forestry Officer, REDD+ Team, FAO
Juliana Zuñiga Gallego. Component leader of the Technical Assistance project for the implementation of the community forestry model in Colombia, FAOCO.