Land and peace

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the Farc in September 2016, expectations have been high for rural reform and new policies on land distribution, as some of the historic causes of the conflict have been promised to be addressed. The first point of the Peace Agreement mentions detailed plans to build security and food sovereignty in rural areas most deeply affected by the armed conflict.[1] According to Point 1.1.1. of the Peace Agreement, a “Land Bank” will be created and through that, three million hectares of land will be redistributed and given back to the population that has been forcibly displaced, in an attempt to deal with the accumulation of land whilst compensating those who have been impacted by the violence of the war.[2] It also promises to formalise 7 million hectares of rural land en masse, including small and medium sized plots already occupied by farmers with no property titles, whilst simultaneously creating a special agrarian jurisdiction in the legal system and an up to date register with detailed information about land ownership. Overall 10 million hectares of land should be distributed throughout the next twelve years.[3]

The Agreement also contemplates carrying out a multi-purpose census to bring together all the different territorial registers in order to have an up to date and complete database detailing the state of use, access and distribution of land in Colombia.[4]  It is an attempt to bring together information from the communities on the ground with official statistics managed by the State. After carrying out the census, the Agreement proposes the design of Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET) for how the territories will be organised, with broad and genuine participation by all sectors and actors present.[5] These two parts are important steps for improving Colombia’s present situation, but are not particularly novel on the legal front and do not represent new commitments by the State. The problem is that, for a number of reasons, these commitments have never been fulfilled in the country’s history.[6]

Octubre 2014, campamento ecológico, Magdalena medio
In the Colombian context, the State has a historical and social responsibility to solve the problem of land for ethnic and small-scale farming communities in the country. These communities have been affected by the armed conflict and by the absence of protection guarantees in their territories. Photo taken in the Magdalena Medio region. Photo: Florian Zeidler

The State has committed to creating and promoting integrated rural development plans which include infrastructure, health and education projects, as well as projects to increase food security within the Peace Agreements, and also to show its commitment to rural populations who have traditionally been neglected.[7]

There are still a lot of concerns about how this system will function, specifically in terms of the collective territories claimed by ethnic communities. As explained above, the Colombian legal system is particularly slanted towards individuals and rarely considers the needs of entire collectives.[8] In the context of land restitution this is a particularly difficult obstacle because most of the communities were collectively forced to flee their territories, and therefore claim their rights as a collective rather than a group of individuals.

Illustration: María Lessmes

Many abandoned lands were occupied at some point in the conflict by communities forced out of other regions; these lands are now under question, and may be used to provide land for the Land Bank.[9] People who defend land rights have expressed concern because they consider that this could result in the re-victimisation of the communities who have resisted and remained on their lands but who possess no formal title to it,[10] and another wave of forced displacement could be provoked.

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the Farc, conflicts relating to illicit crops have been increasingly visible, especially with regards to coca.[11] According to Point 4 of the Peace Agreement, the Government committed to starting voluntary crop substitution programmes for coca farmers.[12]  These are agreements where the coca farmer substitutes their crop and the Government commits to improving rural conditions to guarantee access to markets for their products.[13]  The communities, however, have spoken out about the Government’s failure to comply with the agreements made by its institutions to guarantee the farmer’s means to feed themselves, and at the same time the Colombian Army, and on several occasions the ESMAD Anti-Riot Squad, have been carrying out forceful eradication of the coca crops, leading to violent confrontations between the security forces and farmers in different parts of the country.[14]

The peace process with the ELN that began in early 2017 represents an even bigger challenge, because the guerrilla group wants their negotiations to be centred on the country’s economic model, which includes resource extraction and land distribution.[15] The model for participation is yet to be defined, but the objective is to include as many sectors of Colombian society as possible to broaden the debate and discuss the roots of inequality in the country. The subjects of land distribution and land use are at the centre of the negotiation process which could add to the complexity of the issue in the country.

Colombia is living through an historic moment, with two peace processes underway with the Farc and ELN guerrilla groups, which represent an opportunity for building a more equitable nation, with policies for structural changes that go to the root cause of the country’s conflicts.  Many challenges still remain, especially in terms of enacting and implementing what was agreed at the negotiation table, including the issue of land.  New political and social dynamics in the country are creating new conflict scenarios which could hinder the good intentions surrounding both processes and the initiatives to bring change to Colombia.

Hannah Matthews


[1] Alto Comisionado para la Paz: Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera, 24 November 2016
[2] Ibid., Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera
[3] Oxfam: Colombia’s challenge: addressing land inequality and consolidating peace, July 2017
[4] Interview  with Camilo Sánchez, Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad – Dejusticia, 18 October 2017
[5] Presidencia de la República: Decreto 893, 28 May 2017
[6] Op. Cit., Interview with Camilo Sánchez
[7] Ministerio de Agricultura: Plan de Desarrollo 2014-2018: Todos por un nuevo país, 2014
[8] Interview with Germán Romero, DH Colombia, 6 October 2017
[9] Ibid., Interview with Germán Romero
[10] Interview with Germán Graciano, Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartado, 6 October 2017
[11] El País: Acuerdo de paz con las FARC contribuyó al aumento de coca: Canciller, 12 de marzo de 2017
[12] Alto Comisionado para la Paz: Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera, 24 November 2016
[13] Point 4 of the Alto Comisionado para la Paz: Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera, 24 November 2016
[14] Coccam: Comunicado a la Opinión Pública: “ESMAD debe frenar acciones violentas contra las comunidades campesinas del país”, October 2017
[15] Verdad Abierta: Negociaciones con el ELN, en un laberinto sin salida, 28 November 2017

*Cover photo: Bianca Bauer

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