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Cañamomo Lomaprieta — an ancient Resguardo committed to a modern agroecological conversion in Colombia

Case example # 5 of Nourishing life - territories of life and food sovereignty. Policy Brief of the ICCA Consortium # 6

Documents sources

Pimbert, M.P. and G. Borrini-Feyerabend, 2019. Nourishing life - territories of life and food sovereignty. Policy Brief of the ICCA Consortium # 6. ICCA Consortium, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience of Coventry University.


Extracts from a report prepared by Carolina Amaya and colleagues of CEMI, Colombia, 2019, based on Cabildo documents, workshop exchanges, and information provided by Héctor Jaime Vinasco, ex-governor of the Cabildo Cañamomo Lomaprieta.

The long history of struggle and recovery of the territory of the Resguardo Indígena (indigenous reserve) Cañamomo Lomaprieta is a powerful example of grassroots resistance to imposed agricultural, industrial and mining development. Located in the heart of Colombia’s coffee-producing Andes, at an altitude of 600-1800 meters above sea level, in the foothills of the Western Cordillera, the Resguardo has a warm-to-temperate climate and hosts rich tropical humid forest ecosystems. The Resguardo is one of the oldest in Colombia. Created in 1540 and with boundaries defined since 1627, it acquired in 1953 a registered public deed and collective title to an area of 4826 hectares (37.6 km2). Its 32 communities of Embera-chamí residents have been affected by five hundred years of colonization, usurpation, acculturation and cultural loss (including the loss of their own language), but they never abandoned their role as custodians of the territory and always refused to yield to a variety of invasions. The history of their struggles and resistance to claim ownership over the territory is proof of their close and deep relationship with the land. Thankfully, they have now a strong system to guarantee their permanence and self-governance as an indigenous people with its own political authority, called Cabildo, which includes a Governor, a Council of ex-Governors and representatives from all its 32 communities.

As mentioned, the region has a high potential for mining, gold in particular — an activity that has flourished locally since preColombian time. What is truly remarkable is that the Cañamomo Lomaprieta community has gained today its official recognition as mining authority at the same level as the government mining authority. This is because of its very ancient tradition and capacity to demonstrate judicious planning and rules to avoid contamination. The recognition is a great achievement and an unprecedented milestone in Colombia. The court ruling on which it is based also gives the community the prerogative to veto mining titles granted to individuals, while continuing to manage low impact, small scale mining in restricted areas with good levels of environmental safety (no chemicals, etc).

Courtesy Leonardo Parra, CEMI
The ground can be both steep and luxuriant in the Cabildo Cañamomo Lomaprieta

The ecological integrity of the territory is threatened by the demographic pressure of its twenty-four thousand inhabitants (in such a limited area!), but the communities and their governing authorities have now developed a participatory process to identify local issues and problems and provide appropriate responses. A common response is that each family diversifies livelihoods by sending some members to urban areas to earn money and subsidize the members who remain on the land. Besides providing needed resources, this avoids subdividing the family plots into smaller and smaller holdings. Another crucial response is the subdivision of the territory into zones, to conserve and restore the remaining forested areas, stop the advance of agriculture and protect the watershed’s streams and 415 identified water sources. As agriculture is the main livelihood for residents — both for local food production and income — they have also committed to an agroecological conversion of their productive plots, declaring the Resguardo free of transgenics and strengthening the movement of custodians of local seeds. All these initiatives are included in the Environment Management Plan and spelled out in a Resolution developed in a highly participatory way in 2018.

Two issues deserve to be highlighted. The first, particularly important for the Resguardo, is that there are 102 areas and 415 water springs protected by the so called “yellow lines”, which have been agreed to limit agricultural expansion. In this way, locally agreed Water Rules — which also include waste management, prohibition of pollutants and toxic products in agriculture, promotion of sewers and biodigesters, management of livestock drinking troughs, etc. — ensure access to water in good quantity and quality, which is technically a task for the State, but which the State is not providing.

The second is that the community has committed itself to be “GMO-free”, and this is respected by everyone! More broadly, the community is committed to a full agroecological conversion and to free itself from all types of toxic products in agriculture, with the active sponsorship of training programs supported by the local council. The flagship initiative here is the seed custody program. Three hundred families participate in that, and each family specializes in the care and reproduction of several native and creole seeds to plan, barter, study and defend. Several Community Houses of Seeds are centre pieces in this, serving as spaces for packaging, conservation and bartering with other communities. They are nodes of a powerful grassroots movement to stop the invasion of imported foreign seeds and their corollary of agro-industrial, transgenics and toxic agricultural products.

The community is extremely well-organised. They know the laws of Colombia as well as they know their own customary laws (Mandato Major), as both are taught to the children together with the non-negotiable and inalienable principles and values inherited from the elders. They all affirm this offers ethical foundations to the community and its willingness to exercise and defend its own collective rights to its territory of life “until death, if necessary”. The organization is called Cabildo and includes a main Governor and substitute Governor, a first and second Mayor, a first and second Alderman, a first and second Sheriff, Councillors and the Council of ex-Governors. This Council of ex-Governors is important to guarantee experience, wisdom and honesty. Having a local judicial system strengthens traditional authority and territorial autonomy. And all this is supplemented by inclusive participatory processes in developing regulations, as has recently been the case for environmental regulations and seeds conservation initiatives, known and defended by all in the Resguardo — children, youth, adults, elders, men and women alike.

The full Policy Brief of the ICCA Consortium # 6 can be downloaded below.

Document Content

  • 1/ Territories of life

  • 2/ Food Sovereignty

  • 3/ Do territories of life advance and secure food sovereignty? Eight case examples:

    • Karen people - Burma / Myanmar

    • Wampis nation - Peru

    • Abolhassani tribes - Iran

    • Djola people - Casamance, Senegal

    • Cañamomo Lomaprieto - Colombia

    • Krayan Highlands - North Kalimantan, Indonesia

    • Shellfishers on foot - Galicia, Spain

    • Xcalot Akal - Mayan territory of Yucatan, Mexico

  • 4/ Discussion

  • 5/ Expanding territories of life & food sovereignty - options for action and practical recommendations

  • 6/ Recommendations

Download here The full Policy Brief of the ICCA Consortium # 6