Integrating ecological and cultural histories to inform sustainable and equitable futures for the Colombian páramos

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Environment

Abstract

Our inter-disciplinary project addresses the first challenge of the Colombian Bio Resources call by examining: (1) the socio-ecological system of páramo habitat in Boyacá and Cundinamarca; (2) the value of biodiversity in this system to local communities and wider society; and (3) the response of páramo ecosystems to environmental change and anthropogenic pressures including social and political change. Through investigating the current and potential value of biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by páramos, both in monetary and non-monetary terms, the project will promote the economy of páramos in the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca, thereby contributing to economic development and social welfare in Colombia. We will integrate ecosystem-based and historical conceptions of human-nature interactions to reveal how socio-economic, political and cultural changes have interacted with environmental pressures in shaping páramo ecosystems over time, and use this new understanding to inform future sustainable and equitable governance options. In this way we will address the programme's challenge of "functioning and resilience of socio-economic systems" by bringing together researchers from natural sciences and humanities.

The history of high-elevation páramo habitat is fundamental in understanding the pressures this ecosystem now faces. For the Muisca people and for many páramo inhabitants today, páramos are sacred places from where the gods came that controlled water and the origin and maintenance of life. To European colonists, páramos were seen as the source of abundant mineral riches based around the legend of El Dorado. More recently, the critical importance of páramos in providing fresh water to the growing urban populations of Colombia and supporting unique biodiversity have come to the fore, along with the recognition that the system faces significant challenges from climate change and land-use pressures. These competing pressures are placing increasingly diverse demands on the system, and, despite a number of initiatives both nationally and internationally, tensions over the management and governance of the system persist. The páramo socio-ecological system is therefore ideal for addressing the challenges of the Colombia Bio Resources programme.

Our project will show how an integrated environmental-historical understanding of páramo ecosystem patterns, processes and pressures can provide insights to new governance solutions. We will take a 500-year historical perspective to analyse changes in the socio-ecological system of páramos over time, focusing on the central role of human-nature interactions and how these have changed in response to differing social, political and cultural contexts. We will quantify how páramo habitat has changed, from decades to centuries. We will consider how these changes have impacted on ecosystem dynamics, and predict what further changes are likely to occur in the future under climate and other drivers of change. We will explore how human-nature relationships in páramo landscapes have changed and compare the perspectives of local communities with other private and state actors. We will identify the potential for páramo communities to obtain monetary values from páramos and the ecosystem services they provide, examining the synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services. Our research will provide a unique historical context for the development of future governance options, including new partnerships between different stakeholders underpinned by greater social and cultural understanding. The project will deliver recommendations for mechanisms to promote more sustainable and equitable futures for páramo landscapes, in the context of key political and social challenges such as post-conflict displacement, illegal mining, changing climate and increasing water demand from urbanization.

Planned Impact

The importance of ensuring ecosystems are resilient, continue to support livelihoods and contribute to poverty eradication is a central tenet of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in the CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. Transformative pathways to sustainability are also emphasised in national and international programmes, such as Seeds of a Good Anthropocene (USA), EKLIPSE (EU), and Future Earth (international). Our research is well placed to inform these initiatives, as well as the IPBES Regional Assessment for the Americas (Decision IPBES 3/1 Annex V). Internationally, bearing in mind that most Andean cities depend on healthy páramos for their supply of fresh water, the research will have benefits for understanding páramo systems in Peru and Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. To enhance the international reach of the project, we will invite páramo researchers and NGOs from these countries to our final project workshop in order to enhance shared learning around páramo systems and their governance.

At the national level, resilience has become a key priority for Colombia, as it is for the Latin American region as a whole. Climate-resilient development now has a legal mandate in Colombia's National Development Plan. The Climate Change National Adaptation Plan (CCNAP) provides an umbrella for work on climate change, economic development and resilience, and guidance documents are starting to be produced for different sectors under the CCNAP. At the end of 2015, the Colombian Government launched Colombia Sostenible, a national-level initiative that takes an integrative approach to addressing climate change, social inequality and post-conflict challenges. Dr Lacambra's contacts with the Ministry of Environment through previous adaptation projects will ensure that the results of the research have an opportunity to influence further developments under these initiatives. We will use these contacts, and those of our other Colombian partners, to deliver high-level participation of policy makers in our final workshop.

Colombia has recently introduced ecosystem services into its biodiversity policy (MADS, 2012) and the first national mapping of ecosystem services for Colombia has just been completed (Rodriguez et al., Land Use Policy 42:609). Our project will provide the Departmental authorities of Boyacá and Cundinamarca with information on ecosystem services to feed into adaptation plans that are already being developed. Our research will also inform the national and local environmental authorities in decisions on any developments where impacts on key páramo ecosystem services are likely to occur, and what impacts on livelihoods may follow as a consequence.

At the local level, the project will provide information to the Colombian Municipalities to improve their Local Territorial planning, in accordance with the national emphasis on resilience. Continued dialogue through the project with representatives of the Ministry of Environment, local environmental authorities, community groups and other end-users will expand our existing research and knowledge network and establish further impact for the project at international, national and local levels. Specific benefits are likely to include further collaborative projects with Colombian Universities, as well as strengthening through sound science the Protected Areas System in Colombia, and building capacity in non-governmental organisations and local communities through student and staff exchanges, and practical adaptation and resilience-building initiatives.

Publications

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Title El agua de Bogotá. La historia de un páramo. 
Description This is a children's book describing how the paramo acts as a source for the water of Bogota, and how the conservation of the paramo is important for maintaining this and other ecosystem services for the future. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The book is currently with the publisher, so has not yet been formally published. 
 
Description Collaboration with Banco de la Republica, Colombia 
Organisation Central Bank of Colombia
Country Colombia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution Banco de la Republica is providing expertise on financial instruments and livelihoods
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with Humboldt Institute, Colombia 
Organisation Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute
Country Colombia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution The Humboldt Institute is providing access to previous research relevant to this grant, and also records on biodiversity across Colombia.
Impact None to date
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 
Organisation Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is providing expertise on taxonomy and paramo plant communities, as well as access to its educational programmes for publicising the research.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, Colombia 
Organisation The Nature Conservancy
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution The Nature Conservancy, Colombia, is providing access to data on ecosystem-based projects such as the Water Funds.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with Universidad de los Andes 
Organisation University of the Andes
Country Colombia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution University of the Andes is providing expertise on Colombian history and history of the paramos
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with Universidad del Rosario, Colombia 
Organisation Del Rosario University
Country Colombia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The University of York team is providing expertise in species distribution modelling, economic analysis, and historical research.
Collaborator Contribution The Universidad del Rosario is providing access to study sites and contributing to analysis of biodiversity data.
Impact None to date
Start Year 2018
 
Description Almanaque agroecologico gran Sumapaz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Alamanaque is a compilation of experiences, research and writings around the ecology, agriculture and culture of the Sumapaz paramo. Our project contributed a chapter and also assisted with production costs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Second Peasant Festival of Páramo Art 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In November 2020, a collective of artists, researchers, and audiovisual creators organised the 'Second Peasant Festival of Páramo Art' (Segundo Festival Campesino de Arte Paramuno). Artists from the rural communities around Bogotá, Colombia, took the (virtual) stage and shared their knowledge, achievements and pride about being peasants in the páramos of Colombia. Páramos are neotropical high altitude ecosystems that play a key role in capturing CO2, supplying and regulating freshwater, and supporting high levels of biodiversity. But they are also the home of peasant communities who develop small-scale potato- and cattle-based livelihoods. As a local peasant leader states, being a peasant in the páramos is an art in itself. Music, poetry and theatre are daily practices through which peasants make sense of the joys and challenges of living in and with the páramos. By celebrating these forms of "páramo art," the festival contributes not only to the visibility of peasants' artistic expressions but also to the recognition of the -still too often overlooked- knowledge they transmit. The festival originates in a collaboration between researchers at York and at the Colombian Insituto Humboldt of the IGDC project on Colombian páramos with the collective Almanaques Agroecológicos, coordinated by geographer and historian Lina Cortés. It builds on the First Peasant Agro-ecological Festival (November 2019) and the "agroecological almanac" published on the region of Sumapaz (2020), both realizations of Almanaques Agroecológicos with support from researchers of the University of York and Instituto Humboldt. With funding from NERC, a second festival was organized together with an audiovisual production team and with the support of the Colombian collective Tierra Libre. Due to the pandemic context, the rural communities of Sumapaz self-organized to keep the virus out. As a result, the organisation and presentation of the festival went entirely online. Although most artists live in remote communities with limited internet or phone connection, the festival managed to generate a participatory and corona-proof space with 53 artists. Together, they represent 11 different music groups, a poet and a theatre collective from the páramos of Sumapaz and Chingaza, located south and east from Bogotá respectively. Their home-made videos of songs, poetry and theatre were edited by the festival team and were screened during two Saturday evenings. The online event, streamed on Facebook, also offered a space for wider participation, with the event page reaching over 35000 people during the month of November.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/igdc/news/news/colombian-paramos-covid/