Presentation at the ‘4to Taller Regional de Educación Ambiental’ in Tunja

Jaime Suzunaga presented the project and some of the emerging results in a poster at the ‘4to Taller Regional de Educación Ambiental’ held at the UniBoyacá (Tunja, Colombia) on 30 August – 1 September 2017 | Jaime Suzunaga presentó el proyecto y algunos de los primeros resultados en un poster al ‘4to Taller Regional de Educación Ambiental’ en la UniBoyacá (Tunja, Colombia) el 30 de agosto – 1 de septiembre 2017.

Land-use conflicts and governance of peri-urban spaces in Sogamoso

One of the defining characteristics of peri-urban spaces is their social, economic, cultural and environmental diversity (Lerner and Eakin, 2011). While urban and rural spaces, respectively, tend to be internally rather homogeneous, peri-urban spaces host different economic activities (e.g., agriculture, industry), and populations (e.g., long term settlers and more recent migrants often coming from rural spaces, with their respective cultural backgrounds). To govern such diverse peri-urban spaces is challenging because it is usually difficult to compose a broad and range of interests, knowledges and visions that can enter into conflict for land, resources, and political and/or social recognition.

This can be clearly seen in Sogamoso. The oriental slopes of Morcá, where agricultural production had traditionally flourished, are rich in minerals, coal and sands that are mined for use in the local metallurgic industry and the production of bricks for the growing construction sector.

Mining for coal and sand is drastically reducing the availability of fertile soil for agriculture.

Mining in this area is usually done at small to medium scale, yet its disrupting impacts on water systems, fertile soil and ecosystems in general is so dramatic that agriculture in this area has almost disappeared with the exception of home gardens.

Mining for coal and sand is drastically reducing the availability of fertile soil for agriculture.

 

A different type of land use conflict can be observed in Monquirá. This peri-urban area was traditionally a site of agricultural production and still retains part of this identity. However, the beauty of its landscape, and the reduced environmental contamination make this area attractive for the more affluent urban population seeking to move out of the urban centre, or to dispose of a holiday or weekend home. The purchase of land for residential development is made possible by recent changes in the planning regulations (which allow urban development what was formerly recognized as a suburban –mixed land-use- area), and by the concomitant rural crisis that pushes smallholders and peasants to leave agriculture to seek more remunerative and secure jobs in the city (Feola, 2017).

Residential homes (white, on the right hand side) have started to populate a traditionally agriculture oriented landscape.

While the influx of urban residents in Monquirá is not seen by everyone as a threat to agriculture, tensions exist over land acquisition for residential development, and the likely changes in the social fabric of the local community with possible social integration issues (see photo). This dynamic is similar to that observed in the peri-urban in the Chicamocha River valley south and west of Sogamoso, which is characterized by fertile soil. Differently from Monquirá, these areas are formally recognized in the latest planning regulations as ‘suburbano’, which allows mixed land-use. But, especially in the south, the residential development of upscale residential blocks and houses has effectively displaced agricultural activity.

Land-use is regulated mostly through the Municipality’s planning regulations that are formally developed in a participatory manner. However, actual participation of local communities in the decision-making process (rather than in the communications of decision taken by institutional and technical actors) seems to be patchy at best. Moreover, various actors seem to be able to exert economic and/or political pressure on the institutions to influence the development of the planning regulations, for example to extend the area susceptible of urban development at the expense of areas designated for rural uses. Key in the capacity to influence this decision-making process are financial resources, political connections, and collective organizations, none of which is characteristic of peasant and smallholders in the peri-urban spaces of Sogamoso. In addition, the local planning regulations appear to be superseded in places by, but not clearly coordinated with, national regulations, as it is the case of Mining Code. This contributes to reducing the capacity of farmers and other actors, including some social and environmental movements, to defend the space for agriculture in peri-urban areas of Sogamoso.

 

Data collection under way

The first field work phase has been under way for a couple of weeks and we have already interviewed almost 30 key informants including farmers, public servants, academics, social and environmental movement activists, academics and agri-food market operators.

Giuseppe Feola and Jaime Suzunaga interviewing a farmer

It is clear that different discourses on agri-food systems in peri-urban Sogamoso exist, and that these discourses clash sometimes in strong ways. Has agriculture a significant function in the peri-urban space of Sogamoso? And what will be its function, if any, in the future?