Héctor Morales Muñoz (ZALF)
Cocora Valley, Colombia, nature reserve, national park, forest, palm
Colombia | © Fernanda Fierro/Unsplash.com

A major challenge in the field of environmental peacebuilding is showing the impact of its initiatives. Questions emerge, such as "Which dimensions of post-conflict peacebuilding  are more likely to be affected by natural resource management projects?". Although quantitative studies assess the relation between natural resource management programmes and conflict risks, there is less research on what the specific mechanisms involved in implementing projects designed for environmental peacebuilding are.

[This blog is a summary of an article published in the International Affairs Journal. Access the full journal article here.]

 

The answers to these questions may vary dramatically depending on which actor is responding. An international peacebuilder may have a different idea on which of the many peacebuilding activities should come first as compared to a local expert or to an expert in natural resource management. To answer these questions, we explored the literature and identified dimensions and mechanisms of peacebuilding to assess the impact of natural resource management in post-conflict contexts. Further, we talked to experts at the global, national (Colombia), and local levels in peacebuilding and natural resource management in the context of a project implemented in Caquetá, located in the Amazon Region of Colombia, which enables sustainable land use systems (SLUS) (e.g. agroforestry) with the goal of both mitigating climate change and promoting sustainable peace.

Land is one of the most important resources in post-conflict situations. This is especially true for land-related conflicts, which are among the most common in the tropics. In that sense, the Colombian case is a good example to gather evidence since it shows the overlapping challenges of climate and conflict risks. In Colombia, the state and the FARC guerrillas (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) signed a peace agreement in 2016 that raised hopes of ending more than 50 years of violent conflict. However, after four years, two enormous challenges to implementing the agreement in the Amazon emerged.

First, the departure of the guerrillas created a power vacuum that the state did not immediately fill. Other illegal groups moved into the territories previously occupied by the guerrillas, increasing the vulnerability of certain population groups. This led to an increase in murder rates of social and environmental activists. Second, deforestation rates increased by up to 40 percent in places previously controlled by the guerrillas. The hypothesis is that the de facto forest management imposed by the guerrillas, which prevented peasants and other actors from cutting down forest, is absent.

 

Sustainable land use systems offer innovative solutions to achieve national and global climate goals such as reducing CO2 emissions by curbing deforestation, while at the same time providing livelihood alternatives and contributing to sustain peace. The case of Colombia shows that peacebuilding activities that foster socioeconomic inclusion, the creation of functional governance structures, and the building of dialogue capacity and a culture of peace are key to evaluate the impact of SLUS projects on post-conflict peacebuilding. National and local experts ­- including farmers and indigenous communities - acknowledge that there is a lack of skills for actively starting negotiations and conflict transformation processes (e.g. within a value chain development).

This underlines that environmental conservation alone cannot have the desired long-term impact on peacebuilding if dialogue mechanisms are not established and owned by local communities. In addition, it is important to ensure access to national and global markets to include livelihoods as a mechanism for building peace. This also requires interventions in the value chain, for example for cocoa: from deforestation-free sustainable production to global fair marketing. In the long term, improving the incomes of vulnerable populations and creating a sustainable environment, can help reduce a community's vulnerability to illegal economic activities.


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