TerraViva Sustainable Landscape Approach (TerraViva project)
Gaitania, a coffee-growing community of the municipality of Planadas in the southern Tolima department of Colombia, is marked by several challenges: a prevailing monocropping production system for washed Arabica coffee, unsustainable agricultural practices, a complex history of social armed conflict, and a lack of access to markets. The absence of a landscape approach also makes decisions regarding biodiversity, climate change, and livelihoods a farm-by-farm issue at the will of each producer.
This project aims to foster a sustainable landscape approach in a post-conflict region. With initial GCBC R&D funding, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and its partners sought to understand the situational context of the Gaitania region and the interactions of governance structures, communities, and socio-economic factors with the interconnected patchwork of different land uses, ecosystems, and land cover. Research entailed mapping all relevant stakeholders that play a role in the landscape and interviewing them at length. This includes political actors, farmer organisations and cooperatives, the local environmental regulator agency, and smallholder producers from the villages which are represented by essential governance bodies called Community Action Boards. Representatives from these communities also took part in workshops where the TerraViva consortium deployed a Community Capitals Framework (CCF) research approach which allowed the consortium to view the various elements, resources, and relationships within a community from a systems perspective.
The CCF focused mainly on the assets of a community rather than on community needs and deficits. It divides a communities’ assets into natural, human, social, cultural, built, financial, and political capitals and focuses on the interaction among the seven capitals and the resulting impacts across them. Guiding questions helped the community take an appreciative approach to analyse the various capitals and how they could be leveraged to strengthen or generate more assets. Additional efforts to understand the context of Gaitania’s coffee production included the mapping of the coffee value chain, drone-assisted cartography, and desk research using secondary data sources. A study to determine the applicability of a payment for ecosystem services model in the context of the Colombian regulations and institutions was also carried out.
Culminating with a participatory multi-stakeholder dialogue, the research results will lead to the creation of a Common Territorial Agenda – a long-term development vision built from the perspective of local stakeholders to enable innovative, systemic interventions by balancing environmental, social, and economic goals of the region’s stakeholders. However, the exploratory process itself has already yielded positive impacts with the community. The differentiated approach taken to build solutions – by recognising the community’s preponderant role in the decision making to build the Common Territorial Agenda – opened spaces for smallholder producers to think broadly and collectively about the state and future of their landscape.
The CCF workshops also raised local awareness of the opportunitiesthat Gaitania’s many assets present for the community’s development and of the negative environmental and social impacts of coffee farming and production caused by the current practices implemented by smallholder farmers. Further impacts will occur once the Common Territorial Agenda is implemented and will be measurable in the long term.
Transportation was the greatest challenge faced during the implementation of the research project due the distances from Gaitania to the main population center of Planadas and each of the villages. Difficulties were compounded by the poor state of the roads and variable weather. Travelling by day and having a local informant that could report on the weather conditions were important mitigating factors to address these challenges. Given the history of armed conflict in the area, additional safety measures were implemented, however, safety issues were not present during the work performed in situ. Maintaining constant contact with Community Action Board presidents to monitor potential safety issues was also important.
The project encountered participation challenges by two of the six villages targeted to take part in the pilot project. The lack of participation was largely owed to post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding efforts that included many unsuccessful international cooperation pilot projects that lacked sustainability and impactful results. Identifying the community capitals using the CCF was an important approach to differentiate this project and help with future plans. Maintaining a strong local presence in the Gaitania was also an important way to build rapport and trust with locals and community leaders.
Lessons learnt and next steps
This research project was designed to be replicable in many productive landscapes and tested in a complex region like Gaitania precisely to increase its replicability. As landscapes are social constructs, building trust with the targeted community is pivotal to ensure continued and active community engagement. This demands local presence, constant communication with community leaders, transparency during the process, and communication of results. Understanding the local context is also a critical factor for project success.
In a community like Gaitania, historical complexities can interfere with the technical aspects of project implementation. Therefore, social awareness and sensibility are necessary for productive and respectful interactions between field staff and community members.