The Campesino Reserve Zones (ZRC) are an example of resistance promoted by communities, and were legalised by Law 160 of 1994. The aim of these territories is to provide land for the small-scale farming population to develop their own economic models that promote food security and sustainable agriculture, challenging the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and large-scale exploitation of the land through agro-industries.
The National Land Agency (ANT) is the institution in charge of authorising the ZRCs, which, once installed, offer significant protection measures for the territory, including preventing land titles being granted for mining activities or private property. Between 70 and 80% of the food products found in large Colombian cities are produced by the small-scale farming economy, which demonstrates the importance of safeguarding the Colombian countryside and protecting small-scale production models.
“The State must invest in the ZRCs because [the population within the area] deserves their rights to be recognised. Which rights? The right to life, the right to land, the right to housing, health and education, the right to freedom of expression and the right to access the market and investment as small-scale farmers”, says Oscar Duque, founding member of the ACVC.
The main aims of the ZRC:
- Contain the expansion of the agricultural frontier (that is, between land dedicated to agricultural production and that which is conserved in its natural state);
- Correct inequitable concentration of land ownership;
- Create conditions for the strengthening and sustainable development of the small-scale farming economy;
- Regulate the use and ownership of land, granting preferential distribution to low-income small-scale farmers;
- Establish a comprehensive model for sustainable development;
- Protect the campesino economy and its food security.
Currently, six ZRCs have been installed in the country, each with its own challenges and particular situations, given the variety of climates and the production culture of the communities located within these delimited areas. Although their objective is to develop a model of sustainable agriculture which promotes food sovereignty, most of the production in the ZRCs is still based on the logic of the global market that exerts pressure to produce large quantities of food for export and as a result, countries depend to a large extent on importing the food they need.
Agricultural big business is at the centre of this system at every stage of this model, from the ownership of seeds to the production, distribution and consumption of food. That is why food production in the ZRCs cannot be completely separated from the model adopted by the Colombian State, which means that most farmers continue to use fertilisers and respond to market dynamics in terms of the products they grow.
The Campesino Reserve Zone in the Valle del Río Cimitarra region covers 550 thousand hectares of land, 370 thousand of which are Forest Reserves.
ZRCs tend to be created in areas that have been particularly affected by the armed conflict, which often means that the people living in the ZRCs are victims. For example, 16 extrajudicial killings have been committed in the ZRC in the Cimitarra River Valley and the majority of the population is victim of forced displacement. Often, these lands are also affected by years of heavy fumigation in the attempt to eradicate coca crops. This has had a hugely detrimental impact on the land, which has led farmers to use fertilisers to produce crops that previously thrived on the once fertile land. It is also of concern to see the loss of native seeds and the increase in the use of transgenic seeds, sold by the same agro-industries that later sell the fertilisers to campesinos, necessary for the production of their crops.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulties it is important to recognise that the ZRCs challenge the dominant food production model and with technical assistance and improved rural infrastructure, could prove to be an important tool for the territorial protection and food sovereignty representing a sustainable model. The creation of a ZRC requires the campesino movement to be organised and work together, in order to advocate for the importance of these areas, for the preservation of their traditional ways of life and the fulfilment of their right to self-determination. Because of this, the ZRCs are an example of territorial resistance that promote food sovereignty and sustainable rural development.
 Secretaría Senado: Ley 160 / 1994
 PBI Colombia: El fortalecimiento de la economía campesina: una apuesta de la Zona de Reserva Campesina, 21 October 2015
 CONAP: Ponencia en el Encuentro por la Paz: ACVC, una experiencia de organización, movilización y resistencia en el territorio, 15 August 2011
 Jaskiran Chohan: Charla sobre Cumplimiento y Resistencia al Régimen Global de Alimentos en Colombia: Zonas de Reserva Campesina como propuestas para la soberanía alimentaria, 9 October 2017
 Revista Claves 21: Colombia: desafíos de la soberanía alimentaria, 22 November 2016
 PBI Colombia: ACVC
 El Espectador: Fumigar con glifosato, un desastre social y ambiental, 12 April 2015
 Op. Cit., Jaskiran Chohan
 Grain, Las leyes de semillas aniquilan la soberanía y autonomía alimentaria de los pueblos, 14 July 2010
*Cover photo: Florian Zeidler