From sworn enemies to partners in dialogue

From sworn enemies to partners in dialogue

Colombia - 08 July, 2020

Cattle ranchers and indigenous people are often not good neighbours. The municipality of Solano, in the southern Colombian province of Caquetá, was no exception. After the guerrilla movement FARC was disarmed in 2016, a power vacuum developed in the region. Ranchers and indigenous people came to oppose each other. But by establishing a dialogue between the two groups, mutual respect and trust has grown and room has been created to work on joint solutions.

FARC’s solid power base in Caquetá ensured order and a clear balance of power in the region for a long time. The guerrilla group imposed environmental rules that controlled deforestation and promoted the protection of water sources. Small farmers were allowed to grow coca, because it provided income for the FARC through taxation, but large-scale deforestation was out of the question.

This changed after November 2016, when the peace treaty between the Colombian government and FARC was ratified. The FARC fighters left the region for designated transition zones, where they gave up their weapons as part of the agreement. In Solano this caused a power vacuum. Wealthy large-scale ranchers took advantage of the situation by moving unhindered into the region, converting large areas of forest into pastures for their livestock. They hired poor landless people to do the work. Encroachment of the already fragmented reserves (resguardos) of the indigenous people was commonplace. As a result, tensions grew between ranchers and the indigenous population.

Tropenbos Colombia, together with The Nature Conservancy, has been active in the area since 2018. The organizations are working to bring cattle ranchers and indigenous peoples together so that a dialogue can be established to discuss conflicts. Initial talks took place in a tense atmosphere, but since then a great deal of trust and respect has been built up between the two groups.

The two former sworn enemies are now working together on three issues. The first is respecting the boundaries of the reserves of the indigenous people by the farmers. Farmers have never done this before; until now they used indigenous land for cattle ranching and growing coca and cocoa. The second is making agreements about hunting and fishing. The farmers, who acknowledge that the indigenous people manage the area well, take care of wildlife management in the area together with the indigenous people. The third issue is water management. Until now, the farmers did not take good care of the small watercourses in their own areas; in cases of water shortages, they brought their cattle to the reserves. The farmers are now in the process of improving water management in their areas.