Racing against time, our work with post-conflict Colombian communities in mega biodiverse forests towards “Rutas Turisticas por los Bosques y la Paz”
Talking Transformation is working with Colombian partner, E3Asesorias, to help build the capacity of rural communities that are living in some of the most biodiverse areas in the world. They are also communities that were the most affected by the violence during the Colombian armed conflict. Botanists from Kew Gardens have found multiple plant species new to science in the few missions they have made to these communities. Paradoxically, since the Peace Agreement was signed, however, deforestation rates have risen to 80% as traumatically displaced people return to their homes and struggle to make ends meet; and because unscrupulous logging companies are taking advantage of both their precarious financial state and also the fact that these primary forest areas are now safely open to exploitation and transport for the first time in decades. These communities dream of an alternative: creating unique community ecotourism that also tells the human history of their resilience. We are working to help them achieve this dream.
The role of Talking Transformation is to facilitate the dialogue necessary to reach Community Agreements that strengthen social cohesion as part of their peace-building efforts, champion the need to protect biodiversity and the forests around them, and prevent conflict that can emerge, within the community and between tour operators through equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of this new activity. As a result of COVID-19 lockdown, what was due to be an in-person dialogue process to reach Community Agreements has now been converted into an innovative phone-based training and dialogue initiative through WhatsApp and Mentimeter. These amazing local leaders – all of whom are in lockdown with little connectivity – are participating passionately despite all the challenges. They send replies by text, photos and many through voice recordings. Our methodology seems simple on the phone but it’s adapted from socio-environmental conflict transformation, Theory U, Do No Harm conflict-sensitive programming and MEB (multiple evidence base) knowledge-sharing. The challenges following decades-long conflict are real, especially with the threats facing local community leaders who stand up for their rights. 25 community leaders have been murdered during lockdown. The strong partnership in-country with the Programa de Paz y Desarrollo in each of the regions is absolutely critical.
Key partners in the project are also the Programa de Paz y Desarrollo in each area, ThinkGalapagos (a British-Ecuadorian community tourism company) and Acorn Tourism Consulting (based out of the UK). The project is funded by UK PACT, the UK´s climate finance initiative support to Colombia.