The close of fiscal year 2015 brings with it renewed hope and optimism for the peace process in Colombia. On September 23, President Juan Manuel Santos shocked the nation with an historic announcement from Havana. After close to four years of negotiations, the government of Colombia (GOC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached an agreement on perhaps the most complex negotiation point: measures of justice for those actively involved in the civil conflict. Furthermore, for the first time, President Santos provided a timeline for the conclusion of the negotiation process and for the signature of the final peace agreement—March 23, 2016—and the subsequent handover of arms by the FARC. Although many details remain unaddressed, Colombia is now closer than ever to lasting peace. Land was the driver of, and is the solution to, the half-century conflict in Colombia.
Throughout FY2015, the Land and Rural Development Program (LRDP) continued its work with both national and regional GOC entities to better prepare them to address the many complex issues related to land tenure security, which are essential to the post-conflict phase. The very essence of LRDP is to prepare the GOC at the regional and national levels to implement land reform and to provide rural Colombia with the services it needs to improve the quality of life for rural citizens and other vulnerable populations.
The recent National Agricultural Census paints a bleak picture of rural Colombia. Rural poverty stands at 44.7%—nearly three times higher than urban poverty. As the rural population grows older, younger generations migrate to urban centers in pursuit of employment opportunities and a better quality of life. Rural producers lack access to roads, markets, technical assistance, extension services, and basic infrastructure. Large tracts of land are concentrated in the hands of a few, and land rights in rural areas are informal and insecure. Institutional fragmentation and a lack of coordination between national and regional GOC actors prevents the government from effectively addressing the challenges that have plagued rural citizens for decades.
LRDP is bridging the gap between national GOC entities and their regional branches, building government capacity to mobilize resources into rural areas and to streamline land restitution and formalization procedures—and ultimately, to position these entities to address new challenges in a post-conflict Colombia. We covered much ground in FY2015, which was the program’s second year of implementation, and have positioned ourselves to provide targeted support to the GOC at this critical time in Colombia’s history.
Key advances during year 2 include the following:
Reducing processing times for the GOC’s land-related entities. Electronic information systems are essential for accelerating the provision of land tenure-related services to campesinos and ethnic groups. The demand for these systems will become even more critical in a post-conflict environment. To this end, LRDP is helping the GOC migrate from antiquated systems (i.e., hard copy, analogue files) to electronic systems. During year 2, we completed five such systems, achieving a substantial reduction in processing times for GOC efforts related to land restitution and formalization. These systems are now being used by GOC entities throughout the country:
- Landowner search system (Superintendence of Notary and Registry): 93% reduction in processing time for gathering landowner information from among the country’s 194 public registry offices.
- Ethnic module (Land Restitution Unit): 55% reduction in processing time for the registration and analysis of ethnic restitution cases.
- Restitution claim monitoring system (Land Restitution Unit): 40% reduction in processing time for checking the status of restitution claims.
- Restitution ruling monitoring system (Land Restitution Unit): 40% reduction in processing time for following up with relevant GOC entities on their compliance with court orders on restitution.
- Property title study system (Superintendence of Notary and Registry): 50% reduction in processing time for performing legal analyses of land parcels.
In February 2016, we will organize a joint meeting with the relevant GOC entities and USAID at which each entity will present the solutions delivered by their new system(s), as well as how other entities stand to benefit from them.
Influencing national-level policy. LRDP provided technical inputs for Colombia’s 2014–2018 National Development Plan (NDP), a four-year government plan and budget that establishes guidelines for growth and improvement in the country, and outlines the steps to achieve these goals. In particular, we advocated for the inclusion of transformative land formalization and rural development initiatives that will be key in the post-conflict era. Most of our key recommendations were adopted in the NDP—namely (1) the creation of a national Rural Development Fund (or other similar mechanism) that will autonomously and transparently operate as a link between the national and regional governments to ensure that funding reaches the country’s rural populations; (2) the creation of a national Land Authority, a new entity, empowered to streamline the currently fragmented land formalization process, thus guaranteeing greater secure land tenure for Colombia’s rural citizens; and (3) a multipurpose cadaster system that will facilitate the GOC’s ability to provide much-needed basic services to communities, providing added value above and beyond the traditional use of the cadaster primarily for tax-collection purposes.
Supporting Colombia’s Rural Mission initiative. We supported the National Planning Department’s Rural Mission initiative, a 20-year endeavor comprising some of Colombia’s greatest minds on land and rural development issues. Rural Mission seeks to modernize rural Colombia through an improved institutional, legal, and policy framework. In an important vote of confidence, Rural Mission asked LRDP to write a report evaluating the government’s current land policy. Our report, which was featured in a full-page article in a Sunday El Tiempo (see Annex E) after being presented to the government, showed that the government’s approach to land administration was out of date and out of touch. We called for a new legal framework that decentralizes land formalization, simplifies the process of accessing land, and streamlines the recuperation of public lands (baldíos).
Identifying baldíos for the Land Fund. At the end of year 2, we met one of our life-of-project goals (key indicator 2.3.1) regarding the identification of baldíos that could potentially feed into the Land Fund, an inventory of public land parcels that can be distributed to poor people. Together with the Superintendence of Notary and Registry (SNR), we analyzed 48,605 registration files, surpassing the requirement of the Constitutional Court—as called for in Sentence T-488—to review 47,429 files. LRDP was directly responsible for reviewing 34,461 files, or 71%, of the total files reviewed. This strategic project serves as a basis for the development and implementation of the country’s new formalization and land-use policy for rural lands, particularly in a post-conflict Colombia, as it is one of the key elements within the agreement on rural issues in Havana. At the conclusion of the activity, the SNR formally thanked USAID for “the valuable support provided for the compliance with Sentence T-488” and expressed its desire to “continue counting on [USAID’s] assistance in current and future projects.”
Digitalizing cadastral information. We supported IGAC in the recovery and digitalization of 2,317 magnetic tapes containing 624,039 property files from 22 departments. The conversion of these magnetic tapes is critical for the country’s land policy, as it is an input for reconstructing the context of displacement and providing key information for the processes managed by the Land Restitution Unit (LRU). It also provides cadastral information in an accessible, reliable, digital format that facilitates the tracking of the history of land parcels, an important source of evidentiary material for restitution rulings in Colombia.
Mobilizing resources for rural populations. During year 2, we secured the commitment of the GOC to allocate approximately US$4.3 million for rural development projects that will benefit communities in our focus regions.
Improving LRDP’s internal operations. Colombia’s land and rural development challenges are incredibly complex, with multi-layered challenges, shifting political priorities, and many stakeholders. In this environment, it is critical for LRDP to clearly articulate how we operate, what we hope to achieve, and how we “tell our story.” Coordinating closely with USAID in year 2, we better positioned the program to measure development impact, improve overall project operations, and overhaul our communications and messaging strategy. To this end, we revised our program indicators, developed new communications products, added high-level staff, and relied on strategic and targeted short-term international expertise.
The key advances and internal management actions taken in year 2 have positioned LRDP to help GOC entities at the national and regional levels prepare to implement activities in a post-conflict scenario. In year 2, we adapted our approach to promote development impact and to engage new entities that are critical partners in the peace process. Some of these actors include the Ministry of Post-Conflict and the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace—both of which will play an important role in the transition to peace. Furthermore, the recognition and trust established by LRDP with national and regional GOC entities will streamline implementation in year 3. With highly qualified staff in our Bogota office and five regional offices (Cauca, Cesar, Meta, Montes de María, and Tolima), LRDP is set to achieve significant impact in year 3.